Smith senses England frailty
South Africa believe they have left England with some tricky questions to answer after their second-innings collapse in the drawn first Test at Centurion.
England lost five wickets for 13 runs on the final evening on Sunday, before Paul Collingwood and Graham Onions’ last-ditch resistance rescued a nail-biting stalemate with nine wickets down.
South Africa captain Graeme Smith senses that experience may have put a collective doubt in English minds for the remainder of a series which resumes at Kingsmead on Boxing Day.
“We’ve probably given them a few question marks, especially over the batting line-up,” Smith suggested.
“When you collapse like that it always leaves a negative taste, and I think we have left them with things to think about.”
Smith has no such concerns about his own team.
“Over the five days we performed really well,” he said, reflecting on a seesaw match at Centurion.
“It’s about bringing that into this game now and carrying on that strong-headed style of play.”
It was Test debutant Friedel de Wet who was largely responsible for England’s wobble against the second new ball.
Yet Smith has confirmed de Wet is likely to be the man to make way - rather than either of his pace colleagues Morne Morkel and Makhaya Ntini, or spinner Paul Harris - if Dale Steyn recovers from his hamstring injury.
Asked if it will be a difficult decision whom to drop, Smith said: “Not in my mind. The three guys who have had the job over the last period of time have been really successful at it.
“Makhaya brings a lot of experience to our attack. He maybe didn’t bowl as well as he would have liked in Centurion, but he’s a guy I really support and has been integral through my captaincy, so I back him to come through and bowl well in this Test.
“Morne brings some variety to the attack with his pace and bounce. It was terrific to see Friedel bowl well, but if Dale is fit I think it will be a straight swap.”
As for Steyn, who was rested in the one-day international series but seemed on track for the first Test until a last-minute hiccup, Smith is optimistic.
“Dale has been progressing all week,” he reported. “I wouldn’t like to drag it on to the morning of the Test.
“Him pulling up as stiff as he did on the morning of the game was a surprise to all of us, so we hope this time we can have a decision made the night before at least.”
Jacques Kallis’ bowling would be another major benefit to South Africa, if he were fully fit again - the all-rounder managed only three half-pace overs at Centurion - after his broken rib.
Smith, however, is cautious: “I would be conservative to push him hard in this Test,” he said.
“Obviously, having him able to bowl at some stage would be great. It allows us a lot more variety and a lot more options with the attack.”
After searingly hot conditions for the first Test, Durban is all about energy-sapping humidity, a factor both teams must consider before naming their attacks.
“The humidity is a massive issue, and the overhead conditions are always important,” added Smith. “There has been rain, so the surface is key.”