Today’s
topic: Graeme Smith is a strike bowler in exactly the same way that Glenn
McGrath is a half-century maker. Discuss.

It
may not have been quite as unlikely a sight as McGrath’s maiden Test 50 against
New
Zealand in 2004, but there have been few more
curious cricket phenomena in recent years than yesterday’s bowling performance
by the South African captain at the WACA.

Smith,
who had never bowled ten overs in a one day international before yesterday,
picked up three key wickets – including the seemingly unstoppable Sanath Jayasuriya
– and somehow crashed the Sri Lankan juggernaut by bowling slow spinners which
have been charitably described in the cricket press as “gentle.”

That
he did this on a Perth wicket which was playing like the centre
court at Rod Laver Arena only deepens the mystery.

Before
arriving in Australia for the VB Series, Graeme
Smith had bowled only 55 overs in his 78-match ODI career, for a grand total of
four wickets. That’s one every nineteen games.

Suddenly,
in five VB Series matches this year, Smith has bowled a third of all the balls
he’s ever bowled at this level and taken four more wickets at the enviable
average of 21.

At
the same time, the skilled and aggressive opener has consistently failed with
the bat, averaging 18 for the series and copping some extraordinary criticism
from the South African Chairman of Selectors back home.

Though
he had already bowled his country into the box seat, Smith’s 41 last night must
have been more frustrating for him than any single-figure failure this year,
because for the first time on tour he looked confident and will have felt he
had the chance to win the game at the crease.

Normalcy
has a way of reasserting itself. Graeme Smith will return to batting form –
he’s too good a player not to – and his delicate slow bowling will almost
certainly never slay as large a giant as it did yesterday. But there will
always be an unusual spike in his record, indicating the day he won a game as a
bowling all-rounder.

Peter Fray

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