As the hotly anticipated series between Australia and South Africa is being played out down under, let us recall one of these nations’ best encounters.
The SCG, 2009. In the third and final Test, Australia needed two wickets to win the match, with 8.2 overs left. Australia were fancying their chances to win the match by taking the wicket of the last South African pair, Dale Steyn and Makhaya Ntini.
Just then Steyn was caught in the crease lbw from the bowling of Andrew McDonald. The Australian players started to celebrate their win, when a loud cheer and applause broke from from the crowd to a batsman walking from the South African dressing room with a broken hand, to save his team from losing the Test, even though they had already won the series.
Do you remember who that brave hero was?
Australia won the toss and elected to bat, amassing a total of 445. South Africa’s opening pair were in the process of giving a good start to the team, when misfortune struck.
Graeme Smith, trying to defend a delivery off Mitchel Johnson, misjudged the bounce of the pitch and the ball hit his glove, breaking his left hand. He left the crease in pain and was not seen on the field for the next two days.
Chasing a target of 375, South Africa were 8/202. With Graeme Smith injured, Australia were a wicket away from winning the match. But the South African pair of Dale Steyn and Makhaya Ntini resisted them with a partnership of 50 runs in 18 overs.
After McDonald took Steyn’s wicket, the Australians started to enjoy the victory, when the crowd rose from their seats to pay respect to the South African skipper. Having received an injection of his own blood into his right elbow, Smith was walking from the dressing room to save the match for his team, the cast removed from his fractured left hand.
Smith, being roared to the centre, tried to block out the pain, but it was there whenever he defended. It was visible, seeing the movement of the bat after the ball hit.
Leaving the balls was easier for him, so Australia introduced Doug Bollinger and Johnson, both whom were bowling above 140kmph.
Smith faced 17 agonizing deliveries to save the match, but he was undone by an in-swinging delivery from Mitchell Johnson – the man who broke his hand finally taking his wicket – with 11 balls left for the day.
Smith said to the media he was not even ready to play as he had not brought his kit for the day. As he thought situation demanded, he borrowed a shirt from Jacques Kallis, lowers from Paul Harris, while Dale Steyn tied his shoes for him.
He was not in a position to wear his usual glove, so he wore a special-made glove and braced himself to play an innings which may have made his injury worse.
But he was never worried about that. He always wanted to give 100%, such was his passion for cricket and his beloved nation. He was in such pain that he was not able to tap his partner with his left hand.
Smith said after, “I just decided to give it my best shot, If I got a first-baller, at least I tried, that was what was going through my head. There was a lot of pain, I’d just had injections in my elbow and this [his hand] is obviously not very friendly at the moment, but I was grateful I never got another knock on either part of my body.”
It says so much about his character that, having won the series, he still wanted to deny Australia any success.
It also says so much about his love for the sport of cricket and his willingness to give his best for his team without considering the pain and sacrifice for himself.
Graeme Smith is one of the bravest players I have ever seen, I rate him among greats, and this innings of just 17 balls for three runs is one of his best.