It was a breakfast as bizarre as it could get. A mug of morning coffee had metamorphosed into a potion too hard to gulp in. Numbness ruled my body, emotion my head and I was deviously disconsolate, blinking in disbelief. The lump in my throat was excruciatingly enormous, exponentially exacerbating the agony on my plate. The skin on my face was as white as bone, out of confoundedness rather than complexion.
The dawn, with it had brought the dilapidation of an emperor and the dusk of an empire. The ring master had decided to shut shop and hang up his insignia, leaving his circus devoid of its most popular identity. That the beacon of South African cricket would vanish in a few hours reduced the ever jovial cricket connoisseur in me to a blithering toddler, stumbling in the dark.
Graeme Smith had called it a day. Curtains were being pulled down in a wink leaving fans worldwide bewildered beyond belief, flabbergasted by the fact that the theatre would continue, but without one of its greatest thespians.
Roll back the reels. A good ten years down the line. The Proteas had been bamboozled out of a world cup in their own backyard. The skipper, a senior statesman by the name of a certain Shaun Pollock had renounced his crown, putting the most coveted job up for grabs.
That a tall, left handed batsman, a bloke who was barely ten tests old would be given the top job would have been scoffed at as the hopeless hallucinations of a hyperbolic brain, even by the most bullish of bookmakers. But preposterousness won over pragmatism and the unimaginable was imagined by the men who mattered. The bosses saw the poise and panache in the boy who had turned twenty just two summers ago.
Graeme Craig Smith took over the reins, a manly desire to script a legacy of his own itched on his boyish face. With the scorn of the sceptics reverberating in the aftermath of a shambolic World Cup campaign, the job on hand was an extremely arduous one, but one Smith took to like fish to water, with a dash and dare seen in a few.
As an ideal sequel to the alliance forged by Gibbs with Gary Kirsten as South Africa’s go to opening duo, the Smith-Gibbs conglomeration was prolific in the sheer weight of runs it accumulated post Kirsten’s retirement. Smith brought with him the zeitgeist of classical batsmanship as well as the admonishing disdain of the pulverising opener which is in vogue. Playing a brand of cricket with brashness coupled with resoluteness which hundreds dream of, but only few produce, Smith made the numero uno spot in the Proteas line up his second home.
The stats do tell a tale, one that propels to further altitudes, the gallantry of this hero who cracks the whip right atop. In all of South Africa’s opening partnerships worth three hundred runs or more (four in all), there has been the larger than life presence of this man from Transvaal.
12th March, 2006. Yes, it is that epic encounter which had an ensemble of the most power packed of theatrics I’m talking about. A day when the wile in the Wanderers strip wandered away for good rolling out the stage for a whirlwind plunder of runs. The African safari that succeeded the Aussie carnage was the greatest of manifestations of a duo which had usurped the boundaries of imagination in the realm of deadly excellence.