Smith intrigued by Strauss absence
Graeme Smith has stopped short of calling England a weaker team without Andrew Strauss in the line-up for the two Twenty20 internationals, but admits he is slightly surprised by the captain’s absence.
Strauss, the Test and one-day captain, no longer plays cricket’s shortest format at the highest level, meaning he is on the sidelines for a week during the two-and-a-half-month tour of South Africa.
Paul Collingwood is set to lead the team at the Wanderers today and at Centurion on Sunday, and, with both sides looking to land the first blow, Proteas skipper Smith is keen to see how the visitors cope without Strauss.
“He must have his own reasons,” Smith said. “Looking at it from a team’s perspective, he’s obviously playing well and scoring runs.
“He started the tour games and has gone well in the warm-up games. He’s a new captain and I guess he’d want to stamp his mark and sort of get his personality on the environment.
“So him stepping away for a week, I don’t know. One thing it does do is it probably keeps him fresh throughout the tour.
“It’s something I guess the England team will have to cope with. It’s an interesting dynamic and I don’t know how it’s going to affect them.”
Strauss and Smith were the focal point in the sides’ last meeting during the ICC Champions Trophy in September when the former denied the latter a runner.
At that stage Smith was suffering from cramp and was out shortly afterwards as England claimed their fifth win in six one-day internationals against South Africa – the other game was a no-result – to increase their recent stronghold over their rivals.
Smith continued: “My view on him has never been aggressive in any way. I’ve said that he’s slightly different to the Andrew Strauss we’ve played against over various tours.
“I think he’s trying to be a lot more up front and obviously captaincy does push you to the front of the team. I think he’s trying to be a lot tougher, a lot more up front in the way he’s handling himself. So it will be interesting to see how he goes on this tour.”
Reflecting on that poor recent record, which South Africa began to put right with victory over England in June’s ICC World Twenty20, Smith is determined to buck the trend.
He added: “It’s massive motivation for us, the fact that they’ve performed well against us and hold the upper hand recently in the shorter format of the game.
“We’ve trained hard and very focused on this weekend’s games. We want to perform well and I’m just excited about the opportunity.
“It’s fantastic to have England here and it’s time to get going now.”
Smith is delighted England have a strong squad in South Africa, with only Kevin Pietersen and Stuart Broad of the touring party missing today’s game through injury.
“I think it’s terrific to have a full-strength England team in South Africa. It just bodes well for a really competitive one-day and Test series to come,” Smith added.
“Kevin adds to the spice, I guess. So he brings a spice and an interesting sort of facet to the tour, so it’s great to have him here.”
Pietersen is not the only local-born Englishman in the tour party. There is also Jonathan Trott, a player who played domestic cricket in South Africa before moving to England.
Smith said he expects both players to receive hostile receptions from the crowd.
Smith added: “I guess the public is going to be very supportive of South Africa. I think whenever you tour the world, if you’re a big name player you always carry the can and carry the heat – I’m sure Kevin will carry that here.
“I don’t think Jonathan will be any different. But I certainly hope there’s a degree of respect and things are handled in the right spirit.”