Biff the Brave


It is such a great column that I feel guilty just posting this intro. Rob Houwing of News24 hails “Biff”.

Ironically it came after an innings of only three, following many months of admirably swollen scores.

Just as ironically it came in valorous defeat, 10 gut-wrenching balls from fairytale salvation, after his engineering of a mounting rack of sizzling triumphs.

But was Wednesday, January 7, 2009 finally the day when Graeme Smith unanimously won the affection of his nation?

Or perhaps I should put it bluntly another way: Bloody heck, what more now must “Biff? do to secure it?

He has won a Proteas series in England for the first time since the Beatles induced shrieks of hysterical mid-Sixties adulation, he has won in Australia for the first time ever, and even banked it safely before the drama of this Sydney encounter which barely deserved the uncomplimentary tag of “dead rubber? affair.

Through it all his commanding, assuring and advisory voice has boomed, and his heavy blade blasted – he was the most prosperous batsman on the planet, remember, for the last calendar year; that is no cursory, pooh-poohable stat.

Nor that he would become a popular choice as player-of-the-series after the wonderful theatre Down Under.

And all the while, he has lived on a near-monotonous and debilitating personal diet of jabs and pills, effectively caressing his own engine trickily on fumes as the gauge increasingly threatened to show “empty?.

On Wednesday, he took his devotion to the South African cause one step further, into the realm of courageous near-insanity.

His various doctors would have winced, and they aren’t even the ones with the multi-pronged pain or impediment. They simply scribble out the array of patch-up prescriptions for one Mr GC Smith.

He arrived for the last day of the final Test, still plastered to the top of the left forearm and apparently not even with his Test whites.

But those competitive juices – remarkable, in themselves, considering the afore-mentioned lack of “petrol? – began to stir, by his after-match confession, some 25 overs from possible Proteas survival for a brilliant (it would have been that) draw.

“I started to think about it,? was his understated take on things.

With “courage? the password to his own kingdom, he would have richly approved of the ninth-wicket fortitude offered by Dale Steyn and Makhaya Ntini, as thunder clouds swirled and lightning flashed in the distance but never quite made it to the SCG.

Not that it needed only advancing weather systems to get the Aussies sweating agonisingly under their baggy greens: dropped catches and several brushes with the stump paintwork were enough to do that as Steyn played with a straight bat and Ntini with uncustomary but highly praiseworthy restraint.

They thought it was all over when Steyn was finally adjudged leg before wicket to Andrew McDonald following a 50 partnership.

But then Smith crumpled his sick note, and the Members Pavilion roared – yes, roared rather than gasped, despite all Australians’ desperation for a victory – as his unmistakably fulsome frame came into view, descending the stairs to the compelling conflict zone.

The job remained a daunting one, even if a definite, succulent whiff of “draw? was starting to fill South African television rooms: 8.2 overs remained to attempt to see it through.

It was quickly clear that Smith was going to be able – just – to apply both hands to the handle, which further gladdened Proteas fans’ hearts.

But it also deepened the dilemma: did it mean the light-years superior batsman should try to monopolise the strike? Or should it be primarily left to the supposed “rabbit? Ntini, albeit an increasingly assured and unflappable rabbit?

These were uncharted waters, and even the Australians were beginning to behave eccentrically, with comical moments of indiscretion in the field and a mysteriously dawdling tendency that might have fatally deprived them of an extra over or two at the dogged South African pair.

Smith did see plenty of the strike in the gathering gloom yet red-hot temperature within the ground, trying manfully to look as orthodox as he could despite occasional impact-induced shockwaves through his injured hand when facing the quicker bowlers.

Somehow, I always felt the trench would eventually be surrendered, and when Mitchell Johnson (an apt customer, considering his ceaseless series endeavour) speared one through Smith’s reflex-dimmed defences off a crack in the second-last over, a famous, utterly gutsy cameo was concluded and a consolation Test match seized by Australia.

Fair dinkum, don’t you think?

Jeremy Fredericks can get a little carried away at times in the SuperSport studio, but many will concur that he got this observation right: “I hope they give Graeme the freedom of Cape Town.?

He is scheduled to arrive back in the Mother City late on Thursday night. You would hope there will be the proverbial “somebody there to meet him?.

South Africa may have lost this Test match, another in an expanding tapestry of epics featuring them, but they served further notice, rather than any receding message, that they are the new toughies of world cricket.

And Graeme Smith is at the epicentre of it all.

A cruelly bland “bowled Johnson, 3? alongside his name on the final-day scoreboard doesn’t change that fact …

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  1. Sup Morne?
    Season’s greetings to you mnr hope it’s a great year.

    I read this arti just before you put it up here, i like Houwing’s articles generally but this one is a bit over the top for me.

    I was very much a doubter before our guys even landed in Oz, i was convinced we were getting haas (again) only to be disappointed. The team made me eat my words and esp Smith.

    I just think the way this article’s been written, could potentially devalue the rest of the team’s efforts.

    What say you sir?

  2. Australia v South Africa, 3rd Test, Sydney, 5th day

    The bravest man in world cricket

    Peter English at the SCG