Graeme Smith puffs out chest as CSA finally gets innings going
“Definetly my best day in the office. I enjoyed a nice whisky that night!”
The relief in Graeme Smith’s voice is palpable. He was, of course, referring to the day when National Minister of Sport Nathi Mthethwa approved the incoming England tour.
There have not been many reasons for Smith, nicknamed Biff for his build and ability to hit the ball hard, to haul out his finest brown water since being appointed Cricket SA’s first Director of Cricket last year. Or at least not many celebratory causes.
Smith has always been a strongwilled individual. Some would even call him stubborn. It was the DNA required in his previous chosen occupation where a shiny, hard red piece of leather was hurled at him at over 150km/h from 22 yards. And even more when the nation’s hopes were placed on his adolescent shoulders.
But even those challenges would not have adequately prepared him for his “DOC” role during these unique COVID-19 times. And if that fire wasn’t hot enough, Smith was chucked bang into the eye of a raging race storm that was burning up South African cricket while CSA’s Board and the country’s highest sport body, the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) were at loggerheads to put it mildly.
“We have all been dragged into stuff over the last few months that have been very stressful. My ultimate goal though is to get our cricket back on track and getting our teams playing well. I am really just focused on getting that work done. Covid protocol has fallen under my department, so I really took a decision on getting my head down and focusing on that. I am excited that the cricket is starting again and that our work done over the last month is starting to pay off and we’re ready to go,” Smith exclusively told IOL Sport.
After some of the darkest winter months that South African cricket has ever endured, the clouds are slowly beginning to lift with the appointment of a new interim board and there is a genuine sense that summer is finally on the horizon.
The 4-Day Domestic series starts tomorrow which will certainly allow the franchise players to shed their lockdown frustrations. And not that any further motivation was required to perform, but there is certainly plenty to play for due to a bumper Men’s international season pending, starting with the England tour later this month followed by Sri Lanka, Australia and Pakistan.
“It was wonderful to get that (domestic cricket) up and running also. We have seen rugby and football working well. A lot of effort went into getting that done. My sense is that the players are hungry to play again. They are motivated and I hope that would reward us with some outstanding performances,” the former Proteas skipper said.
“I think four-day cricket gives players a good chance to get time in their legs, build an innings and confidence. Sometimes T20 is a difficult format to get going in. I think the four-day competition allows our top players to get in, play some tough cricket, get a bit more battle-hardened. For me, one of the concerns is that England have been playing cricket consistently and our national team haven’t played together for a long period of time. Just getting our players up to that level to win matches at international level is a challenge. The more competitive cricket we put together now, the better. I am very relieved that we have some exciting cricket for the men. Now it is about securing more content for the women as well.”
It certainly is top of Smith’s agenda to get Dane van Nierkerk’s Proteas women’s team playing again. Covid19 arguably wounded the women’s game indelibly after a bumper home series against world champions Australia and tours to England and the West Indies were postponed.
At least the women’s team has a brilliant leader in Van Niekerk though. The Proteas Men’s Test side are still rudderless after Faf du Plessis’ decision to renounce his leadership stripes and join the rank and file after the series defeat to England at the start of the year.
“We have started those discussions now that Victor (Mpitsang, convenor of selectors) has been appointed. I didn’t want to do anything until we had a convenor of selectors in place. I wanted him to form part of that discussion. We are having lots of debates going about it. I won’t say we’re any closer, but we are getting to a point where we need to make a decision,” Smith admitted.
Smith’s diary is certainly over-flowing. In between daily consultation with CSA’s medical team checking on Covid-19 protocols and trying to find the best “bit of outdoor living” to ensure the players’ mental health in their bio-secure environments, he hasn’t even had time to chat with “Abbas” over his Proteas future in a while.
He’s just “chuffed” that De Villiers and the rest of the Proteas like Du Plessis, Quinton de Kock, Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje are flying the South African flag with distinction at the
Indian Premier League in the UAE. More pressing for Smith is trying to get IPL benchwarmers Lungi Ngidi and Dave Miller home soonest in order for them to prepare for the England series. “I’ve had chats about Lungi with Flem (Stephen Fleming, Chennai Super Kings coach).”
At least all the “chats” are cricket focused and trying to do what’s best for the game in South Africa. And for the moment, that’s a blessing Smith is not taking for granted.