Captain Smith battles (media) 12th man

For many, many years South African players who toured Australia were convinced that all the local media – from television to newspapers – manipulated their coverage of the tour to favour the home side and make life difficult for the touring team.

I only ever saw evidence of this once in five tours and consistently argued that there was a sense of paranoia in Proteas touring teams and that, instead of circling the wagons and becoming defensive, they should engage the local media as much as possible and make friends with them.

Even that solitary incident was more amusing than harmful, although a young Jacques Kallis quickly learned how the tabloid media worked – and how happy they were to be economical with the intended meaning of words.

Kallis was asked an innocent-sounding question about Don Bradman during his second tour of Australia in 2001. He dutifully replied that he was the greatest batsman of all time and that his record would never be beaten. He was asked what Bradman’s greatest strength was, and young Jacques suggested that every aspect of his game was obviously a strength but that his powers of concentration were obviously exceptional given the number of huge innings he compiled.

Kallis was asked whether concentration was also one of HIS greatest strengths. He replied that he hoped it would be.

The following day the headline in the Adelaide Advertiser was: “I can be as good as Bradman – Kallis.”

Something similar may just have happened to Graeme Smith – and the Proteas are still a week away from arriving in Australia!

The Proteas captain was asked to comment on a subject bound to cause a great deal of emotion during the three-test series – the form and career of one of the country’s greatest modern day players, Ricky Ponting. As you can see, Smith went out of his way to respect and praise a man who has consistently produced match-winning performances against the Proteas:

You probably thought you’d seen the last of Ricky Ponting after the last series!?

“I’ve got the greatest respect for Ricky and what he has done during his career. He’s churned out enough amazing performances against us over the years, so I don’t need reminding of what a brilliant player he is! He’s not a man we will be taking lightly although, probably for the first time in his career, he’s a bit of an unknown factor. But I know the man and there’s no doubt he’s been training the house down and will be desperate to make an impact at this stage of his career. I just have to believe that we have the bowlers capable of exploiting a few things in his technique and turn things in our favour.”

What appeared in the Herald Sun newspaper was rather different. The “greatest respect” was gone. So were the “amazing performances against us” and the “brilliant player.” Gone, too, was the “I just have to…” What did appear was: “SOUTH AFRICAN captain Graeme Smith believes he has the bowlers to exploit Ricky Ponting’s technical foibles in the epic showdown which will point the veteran towards England or retirement.

The reason I argued that media bias was more imagined than real was because I never saw it or heard it from the people I shared press and commentary boxes with, many of whom became and still are some of my best friends. I have come to the conclusion that it must be sub-conscious.

Graeme Smith left Australia four years ago as one of the most respected touring captains ever to visit the country. Hell, after the Sydney test when he batted with a broken hand there wasn’t an Aussie bloke in the country who wouldn’t have bought him a beer. Such affection would not be in Michael Clarke’s or his team’s best interests this time around.

Much better to have Smith being a disrespectful Ricky-basher.

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