Graeme Smith did not contribute much with the bat against Pakistan on his 32nd birthday yesterday, but it was still his day at the Wanderers yesterday as he captained his 100th Test and basked in the adulation of the crowd.
The 9,000-strong crowd sang happy birthday to Smith as he celebrated turning 32 and received a cake in the shape of “100” on the field at tea as his parents watched from the stands.
“This has been my favourite birthday,” he told the crowd on the first day of the first Test. “I would have liked to have scored a few more runs but this is a very proud moment for myself and my family.”
A group of boys from his alma mater, King Edward VII School in Johannesburg, cheered and sang with gusto for him, and Smith made a point of thanking them. It was perhaps a poignant reminder for him of where it all began. He was also presented with a giant depiction of a Proteas jersey, signed by both sides, as messages of congratulations were displayed on the scoreboard from South African team-mates.
For a player who has had a love-hate relationship with South African fans down the years, it must have felt like complete acceptance at last. And it was. The only thing missing were the runs.
Having made a century in his 100th Test as a player against England last year, the Wanderers faithful were egging him for a similar achievement against Pakistan. But he only mustered a scratchy 24 against a visiting attack that received plenty of help from the wicket.
His demise came as he tried to work a full-length Gul ball on to the leg-side and instead managed a nick behind to Pakistan wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed, prompting a sense of anti- climax in the stadium.
Pakistan claimed six wickets in the final session to bowl South Africa out for 253. The visitors then had a testing two-over spell before the end of play and closed on six without loss with Mohammad Hafeez and debutant Nasir Jamshed at the crease.
Meanwhile, at the women’s World Cup, defending champions England were left stunned in their tournament opener as Eshani Kaushalya’s late fireworks saw Sri Lanka claim a last-ball one-wicket win after a nail-biting finish in Mumbai. Kaushalya blasted five fours and three sixes en route to 56 off 41 balls to pull the underdogs back from the brink after they had lost quick wickets in their pursuit of 239. The winning hit was a six off the last ball.