Team dinner sets tone

An Italian restaurant close to the team’s hotel in the centre of Birmingham is famous for the quality of its food but, despite what its most ardent admirers might claim, it wasn’t the quality of the pasta that turned Herschelle Gibbs and Graeme Smith into supermen on Thursday.

But the team did have their pre-Test meal there and the atmosphere around the table provided strong signals that something special might happen. If not on the first day of the series, then certainly some time soon.

There are many reasons. Players like Monde Zondeki and Robin Peterson, new players and therefore, inevitably, intimidated and ‘outsiders’ during the World Cup, are now in the thick of the social action. There are no cliques – at least, not destructive ones.

Graeme Smith’s patriotic approach as captain may sound like jingoism, which can wear thin, but in fact all he is doing is asking for players who want to be there and want to play – at all times. Nantie Hayward, for example, was not ‘one of the boys’ when the SA team played Worcestershire because he chose not to play for South Africa.

Forget the group huddles and other, demonstrative signs of team building and national union, for they are mere decorations on a theme. Every body on the field wants to be there and they will not allow themselves to be distracted by the trappings of international cricket. At least, Smith won’t allow them to be distracted.

Smith told his team that they could “put a smile on Jacques’ face” by doing the team proud in his considerable absence. In the course of doing just that, he and Gibbs put a smile on the faces of several hundred thousand other people. This was a very, very important innings for Graeme Smith, for his team and for South African cricket. More important than he can possibly know in the next few weeks.

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