Graeme Smith

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We aren’t really losing sleep over Kirsten’s presence

This is what we play for-the tough, gritty battle of Test match cricket is something that any cricketer worth his salt revels in-and we are glad to take up the challenge of beating India in their backyard. The build-up to this tour has not been ideal, with both teams going through their share of controversies, but once the players get away from the people who create the chaos, and the daily reportage of incidents true and false, it becomes easier to focus on the cricket.

Ideally, players should not have to get involved with what goes on off the field, because that is the realm of administrators. Increasingly, however, it seems difficult to focus solely on cricket, and we can do without off-field distractions on a tour as challenging as this. I think it would be better for everyone across the board to remember that this is all about cricket, and without the game, there are no jobs for anybody, be they administrators or players.

Thankfully, the cricket starts tomorrow, and once that happens, I am certain it will take over. I can't help but mention the IPL in this context, because there, too, all the hype and marketing could be seen to be taking over, but once the games begin they will assume centre stage. So as I was saying, the sheer competitiveness of Test cricket, and the man-to-man mini battles, will make sure people forget about the rows and debates that have preceded this series.

Agreed, it has been a blow to lose two of our best bowlers-Andre Nel and Charl Langeveldt-in the space of two weeks and I very much hope we don't lose them forever because they are such fantastic cricketers. But Mickey and I have a job to do, and that is to make different situations work, so we have to concentrate on that. As I said after arriving in India, we have the bowlers to take 20 wickets in a match, and Dale Steyn has already-and naturally-caused plenty of excitement. But there are also Morné Morkel, the incredible Makhaya Ntini, and Monde Zondeki, an unknown quantity in India. Our spin attack will rest on Paul Harris, who has had some past success against India. Then there's Robin Peterson as well.

So we are pretty much covered in all areas. One area of interest for me is to see how Gary Kirsten and Paddy Upton fit into the Indian set-up. Contrary to reports, we aren't really losing sleep over their presence among India's support staff, and we wish them all the best, starting about a month from now! Jokes apart, I have huge respect for both the guys, and Gary in particular has been a towering presence in South African cricket, so I really do think he deserves to be the best in whatever he does.

But that's all off the field. For now, we will do our best to beat India, and this may well turn out to be the battle for second spot in the ICC Test rankings. Of course, the on-field behaviour of both teams will be under ICC scrutiny given what happened between India and Australia recently, and it was a pity to see some great performances being overshadowed by the sledging controversy. We need to make sure that doesn't happen this time and-however clichéd this may sound-make sure cricket's the winner.

(Gameplan)

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