JOHANNESBURG Feb 1 Birthday boy Graeme Smith did not contribute much with the bat against Pakistan but it was still his day at the Wanderers on Friday as he captained his 100th test and basked in the adulation of the crowd.
The 9000-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 time, flanked by sponsor representatives and sports minister Fikile Mbalula. His parents watched on 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 had all begun.
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 team mates and members of the South African set-up.
They were heartfelt and sincere, more confirmation, if any were needed, that Smith has the respect of all around him. As he left the field, the cheers grew louder and he turned to salute all around the ground.
For a player who has had a love-hate relationship with South Africans 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.
He strode to the crease but his nerves were quickly apparent as he sparred at the first delivery of the day, a wide ball from Umar Gul.
His demise came as he tried to work a full-length Gul ball on to the leg-stump and instead managed a nick behind to Pakistan wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed, prompting a sense of anticlimax in the stadium and a polite send-off from the crowd. (Reporting by Nick Said, editing by Pritha Sarkar; email@example.com +27832722948 Messaging firstname.lastname@example.org)
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