Johannesburg: The South African World Cup team welcome Graeme Smith back into its side at the Wanderers on Sunday insisting that there will be no hard feelings despite an ugly and foul-mouthed confrontation between them last week. Smith, called-up to replace the injured Jonty Rhodes, found himself at the centre of a volley of abuse from his national squad teammates when he was batting for his Western Province side against Shaun Pollock's men in a World Cup warm-up game at Greenpoint in Cape Town last week.
He stood his ground when he was dismissed because he claimed the fielding restrictions were being ignored and that the delivery should have been called no ball. Pollock and his men were not impressed as they pointed him towards the pavilion while angry swear words were exchanged between them. "That's all in the past now. The guys will welcome him back with open arms," said convenor of selectors Omar Henry. Smith too was making conciliatory noises. When reminded that he had clashed with some of his teammates, Smith pointed out that when he played cricket, he always played to win, regardless of the opposition.
"Cricket is a game you have to play at 100 per cent all the time, even if it means getting into fights with your teammates," he said. Smith was widely regarded to have been extremely unlucky to have missed out on the original 15-man World Cup squad as the selectors carried through their intention of picking five non-white players. But Rhodes' broken hand has give him the opportunity to bid for World Cup glory and boost his already admirable average of 41 in One-dayers. "It was the toughest thing I have had to deal with in my life," said Smith of his original exclusion.
"Getting a century in the Test (against Pakistan) immediately after that made it easier to deal with, and I was also amazed at the amount of support I received. I think I have learnt a lot, and I have matured as a result of having been left out of the team," Smith told a South African news agency and added that he will make the most of his opportunity. "I knew I was on the reserve list, so I had to keep in shape, and stay focused. I played in three warm-up games, and have also been following an exercise programme," he said. "It felt horrible when I watched them walk out at Newlands for the first game against West Indies without me," he said.
"Not just because it's a World Cup - just missing out on playing for your country is always hard." Despite his call-up, Smith said he was sorry for Rhodes, a veteran of all of South Africa's four World Cups, who announced his international retirement after being dropped from the squad. "I felt very shocked because Jonty is such an important part of the team. He is a very special person, and I feel very sad for him."