Graeme Smith 154*, England v South Africa, 2008


England 231 (Cook 76; Kallis 3-31, Nel 3-47) & 363 (Collingwood 135, Pietersen 94; Morkel 4-97) lost to South Africa 314 (McKenzie 72, Kallis 64; Flintoff 4-89) & 283-5 (Smith 154*) by five wickets

OPPOSITION ATTACK: Ryan Sidebottom, James Anderson, Andrew Flintoff, Monty Panesar, Kevin Pietersen

The set-up for a great innings was perfect. South Africa had contrived to not win their first three post-isolation series in England despite leading in each. In 2008 they were looking to finally get it done. Going to Edgbaston one-up with two to play, everything went swimmingly for nearly two days; then it all started to unravel. England’s pace attack knocked down South Africa’s last six first-innings wickets for 84, their batsmen put together a rapid 363 and the visitors were facing 281 to win on a wearing pitch.

Not insurmountable maybe, especially with Ryan Sidebottom only partially fit, but with Anderson, Flintoff (in full Super Fred regalia) and Panesar eyeing the rough outside the left-handers’ off stump, it would be a trial. The difficulty for Proteas captain Graeme Smith was exacerbated by a back injury that should have ruled him out of the game and acute tennis elbow. But at least he was a left-hander – the right-handers would spend the day unable to pick Flintoff’s deliveries which were appearing very fast from above the sightscreen.

Smith shielded his right-handers from the threat of Flintoff and drove Panesar to distraction. He ground England’s bowlers and the partisan crowd into the dust with pushes, shoves and full-blooded drives. Despite constant pain his concentration and determination never wavered and in the increasing gloom of the fourth day steered his side to victory in match and series. The ground was quiet and emptying – patriotism overriding the chance to see one of the great Test innings.

As Rob Smyth wrote in Masterly Batting: “He left pieces of his soul all over the Edgbaston wicket”. It was indeed the innings he was born to play. Not a thing of beauty, for sure. But relentlessly pragmatic and exactly what any team would want from their captain.

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