Book re­veals John Smit as a ‘de­cent, hum­ble bloke’

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - GAVIN RICH

A FEW weeks ago for­mer ten­nis star An­dre Agassi, in an in­ter­view about his con­tro­ver­sial bi­og­ra­phy, ap­pealed to read­ers to read the book and make up their own minds rather than rely on me­dia puff. The same should be said about The John Smit Story: Cap­tain in the Caul­dron.

This is a book that is about far more than Luke Wat­son’s af­fect on the Spring­bok team, Camp Staal­draad, Peter de Vil­liers or the bad blood be­tween the Boks and the Bri­tish and Ir­ish Lions.

It peters out at the end, where there is per­haps too much per­sonal in­dul­gence that the av­er­age reader won’t find at all in­ter­est­ing. For in­stance, Smit de­votes a chap­ter to ad­vis­ing young play­ers of the pit­falls of be­ing a pro­fes­sional, and some of his team selections are made up of play­ers and friends many peo­ple would never have heard of.

His bi­og­ra­pher, Mike Greenaway, does an ex­cel­lent job of bring­ing the Spring­bok cap­tain’s voice through in the work, and those who did not know al­ready would have been left with a true im­pres­sion of what Smit is – apart from be­ing the most cel­e­brated Bok cap­tain ever, he is just a re­ally de­cent, hum­ble bloke.

This even comes through in the more con­tro­ver­sial chap­ters, which are dealt with in a typ­i­cally Smit even-handed man­ner and without vin­dic­tive­ness. While Smit is forth­right in the way he tack­les the im­pact Wat­son’s be­hav­iour had on the Bok team, he tem­pers his crit­i­cism by point­ing to how Wat­son ap­peared to ma­ture this sea­son, as well as as­crib­ing some of Wat­son’s mis­takes to a dif­fi­cult up­bring­ing.

As for the part which some news­pa­pers high­lighted where he ac­cuses the De Vil­liers crit­ics of be­ing racist, if you read all that he writes about De Vil­liers, rather than just take out se­lect quotes, it be­comes ap­par­ent that he doesn’t dif­fer much from most of the crit­ics.

Yet it’s not the con­tro­ver­sial chap­ters that make this a highly read­able book, but rather the many lit­tle anec­dotes that give the reader an in­trigu­ing in­sight into Smit’s life, his mind and the mas­sive, al­len­com­pass­ing un­der­tak­ing that it is to be Spring­bok cap­tain.

Smit writes in de­tail about the rou­tine he goes through be­fore a Test in pre­par­ing the play­ers for action, the ef­fort he goes through such as putting notes un­der each one of their doors the night be­fore and the detailed study he does of the be­hav­iour of the play­ers as the bus heads to the match. This tells him how he needs to treat each player in the im­me­di­ate build-up to the game, what mes­sage to put across.

Ul­ti­mately it is be­cause of the finer de­tail which you won’t see high­lighted in the me­dia that you should read the book.

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