Smith refreshed, de Villiers motivated for Aus-SA series

February 28, 2018
FILE - A Friday, Dec. 29, 2017 file photo of Australia's Steve Smith pulling the ball against England during the fourth day of their Ashes cricket test match in Melbourne, Australia. Captain Steve Smith is the No. 1 batsman in test cricket after a stupendous series against England, the Marsh brothers form a mean middle order to follow the likes of Smith and opener David Warner, and off-spinner Lyon provides an additional bowling threat on pitches more suited to spin, like the first three venues for this series. (AP Photo/Andy Brownbill, File)

DURBAN, South Africa (AP) — It should serve as a stark warning for South Africa that Steve Smith says he’s refreshed and ready to go again.

The Australia captain and top-ranked test batsman had been feeling the effects of a long Ashes summer at home. But after a couple of weeks off following the rout of England he described as “magnificent,” Smith is rested and revitalized for the four-test series in South Africa.

“I feel really good at the moment,” Smith said on Wednesday on the eve of the first test in Durban. “I had a couple of weeks off at home after what was a long summer to just refresh my mind and get myself in a good space. And since I’ve been here I’ve felt like I’ve been hitting the ball quite well and I’d love to have a big impact in this series. It’s my job to score runs. That’s what I’m here to do.”

Smith met his job targets convincingly in the Ashes, with a double-century, two centuries and two half-centuries against England, and 687 runs at an average of 137, both the best in the series by some way.

Those performances, Smith said, may have had their roots in South Africa four years ago on Australia’s last visit, when he made 100 against a bruising South African pace attack on a quick wicket in Centurion. That century, the fourth of his 23 test centuries, was the breakthrough.

“The hundred I scored at Centurion gave me a lot of belief,” he said. “They (South Africa) were a very good attack at the time, like they are now, and knowing you can get a hundred against a good attack, that gave me a lot of belief that I could do it against anyone.”

While the runs have flowed off Smith’s bat, there’s been a drought for South Africa’s top batsman, AB de Villiers. The 34-year-old de Villiers, likely in the final flourishes of his career, last made a test century in January 2015 and was subdued in South Africa’s series victory over India.

South Africa captain Faf du Plessis didn’t venture an opinion whether this would be de Villiers’ last test series.

“Your guess is as good as mine but what I can tell you is that he is extremely motivated for this series,” du Plessis said. “AB understands that he is one of the best players in the world and if he has a quiet series it makes him want to do more. He doesn’t want people talking about him not performing.”

In Durban, Australia remains happy enough with its Ashes form to pick the same team that finished that series with an innings victory over England in Sydney.

South Africa isn’t ready to announce its team for the series-opener just yet, although batsman Temba Bavuma won’t be recalled to the team after failing to recover from a hand injury in time.

South Africa’s dilemma is whether to stick with its recent policy of four fast bowlers, or sacrifice one of them to make way for an extra batsman. The other dilemma, of course, is how to stop Smith.

“He’s had a really good season, he’s scored a boatload of runs,” du Plessis said. “I hope there’s a bit of experience I can take into the game (to stop him). He’s obviously a very big player for them.”

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