TIDE IS TURNING FOR SMITH AND CRICKET SA
GRAEME Smith has never been afraid of a challenge. Anyone that takes on the leadership role of a national team aged 23 rarely is.
But even Smith must have been wondering how broad his shoulders really were after his first few weeks in the hot seat as Cricket SA’s acting director of cricket.
Not only were the Proteas’ Men’s team losing to England at home, but the former Test veteran was being hauled over the coals for handing out “jobs for pals” and being part of a “whitewash” that was reclaiming cricket in South Africa.
There was also an elephant in the room that required Smith’s urgent attention. Faf du Plessis’s tenure as Proteas captain was coming under increased scrutiny, particularly with the skipper being short of runs in the Test format.
To add to Smith’s “To-do-List” was the dismal performance of the Junior Proteas in the ICC U-19 World Cup on home soil, while the Proteas’ Women’s team were not inspiring any form of confidence ahead of their trip Down Under for the ICC T20 World Cup.
It’s no wonder I see Smith every morning in the gym, hitting the treadmill hard, in a bid not just to keep his fitness levels up but to also maintain some form of sanity.
The past week I’ve been greeted with a bigger smile though. It seems like the initial teething problems starting any job seem to be ironing themselves out.
It has helped that Smith has tackled some of the pressing issues head on. The first on the list was sitting down with Du Plessis, and making Faf realise that he still had a crucial role to play within the Proteas set-up, but that the team needed to move on with a new leader in the form of Quinton de Kock.
It gave the Proteas direction and it inspired confidence in the young lads playing for De Kock. And once they also realised they could not rely solely on De Kock as the team’s primary source of runs, there was a sudden transformation that saw the likes of Heinrich Klaasen, Janneman Malan and Jon-Jon Smuts flourishing under the new regime.
Suddenly, the smiles were back and the results were forthcoming and South Africa trounced a powerful Australian team, including the likes of David Warner, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazelwood and Pat Cummins 3-0 in the final act of the summer.
It was a result that would have given Smith belief that he was not running into a brick wall.
But the real ray of hope would have been the Women’s team’s performance at the T20 World Cup. Although Smith would not have had much to do with the preparation of the team in the build-up to Australia, he has since been monitoring Dane van Niekerk’s side closely.
The “feel-good-factor” around women’s cricket is exactly the positivity cricket in South Africa desperately needs after the past 12 months. Smith is not oblivious to this fact and is desperate to help improve the structures around the team even further.
He also realises there is a unique bond that exists in that team and knows that any changes that are to be made need to be subtle and in accordance with the spirit and ethos of the squad.