Supplied  Steve Smith at Johannesburg Airport 4
Supplied Steve Smith at Johannesburg Airport 4

Smith not haunted by return to South Africa

Steve Smith admits he had flashbacks to his week from hell when he walked back into his Johannesburg hotel, but overall his return to South Africa has shown that time does heal.

In the wake of the Sandpapergate scandal two years ago, Smith lay awake in his Johannesburg hotel room, an emotional wreck, as he waited for punishment to be handed down by Cricket Australia.

When he was finally sent home, the scenes of Smith being mobbed by security guards at Johannesburg airport endure as distressing images of his immense suffering.

Smith is expecting a torrid reception at the infamous The Wanderers ground in Johannesburg for his return match on Friday, but largely he says his experience back in the country where his life changed in 2018, has felt remarkably … normal.


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Two years ago, Smith was a global news story, but on Wednesday only three local journalists were there to hear him speak for the first time on South African soil since Cape Town.

Smith has had only one flashback since arriving last Friday, and insists he won't be haunted by his last visit.

"Only probably walking into the hotel (the same hotel as last time). Just initially I was like, 'last time I left here it wasn't pretty.'" Said Smith.

"It wasn't the best time in my life. I moved on from that, learned a lot over the last two years. It's good to be back here playing and I'm looking forward to this series.

"It's been good (so far). I've been to a few of the restaurants where people have been lovely. Guys have come up and had some photos and been really nice. That's been good. It's been pretty normal to when I've been here previously. Nothing really different. It's been good."

Smith knows that will all change on Friday night, with a sellout anticipated at The Wanderers - known around the cricket world as being one of the most savage venues for opposition players.

But he's not fearful of the abuse that might come his way in the opening Twenty20 international.

Players association boss Alistair Nicholson was at training on Wednesday and will be on hand for the match to provide any support necessary.

Smith says he’s looking forward to doing what he does best against South Africa. Picture: Brett Costello
Smith says he’s looking forward to doing what he does best against South Africa. Picture: Brett Costello

Coach Justin Langer has prepared his players for a reception worse than anything they encountered on last year's Ashes in England.

"No doubt it'll be hostile. It's hostile at the best of times here," said Smith.

"For me, it doesn't bother me too much. Justin said something the other day, that we had the dress rehearsal in England where there was a fair bit going on. I don't notice it when I'm batting, I block it out. I do notice a little bit when I'm fielding … but it's just words … it doesn't affect me.

"It's just getting on with the business and doing the job. If people want to say things great, if they don't great as well. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. I'm looking forward to it."

Smith says his memories of South Africa are - for the most part - not negative.

In 2014, he helped engineer a famous series win for Australia against their fierce rivals.

Since Sandpapergate, Smith admits he has not had much interaction with South African players, outside a few text messages and casual run-ins during the World Cup.

But Smith says he is a different player and person to what he was two years ago.

"I think for me it's not taking things too seriously. It's just enjoying it and playing the game," said Smith.

"That's why we play the game because we love it and enjoy it. And we're out there playing with our mate sand representing our country. It's a pretty big honour and privilege to be able to do that.

"For me … it's just about thinking about more the processes rather than results. Taking it day by day."