Graeme Smith is back — and carrying a big bat
SA’s iconic leader will become the new director of cricket
South African cricket’s Captain Fantastic, Graeme Smith, is back — and in the powerful position of director of cricket.
The most successful Test cricket captain in history at first withdrew from consideration for the job, but has now apparently been persuaded to take it up.
He will start work in the coming weeks, just before England begin their tour here. Cricket SA was under pressure to appoint someone to the job after the national team’s recent poor performance on tour in India.
The Proteas have suffered five successive Test defeats this year and were also eliminated early from the World Cup.
Smith will take on the job with the important, and lucrative, tour by England set to start on Boxing Day.
England will play four Tests against SA, three one-day internationals and three Twenty20 matches.
The director of cricket position was first proposed after the 2015 Cricket World Cup when SA were beaten in the semifinals by New Zealand.
It became essential after SA were beaten by England, Bangladesh, India, New Zealand and Pakistan in this year’s World Cup.
The Proteas did win against Sri Lanka and Australia, when it no longer mattered in the tournament.
SA’s difficulties extended to the Test matches. The Proteas lost at home against Sri Lanka, the first Asian Test team to win a series in SA.
The series defeat by Sri Lanka at home was followed by three heavy defeats against India away. The latest defeat also cost Proteas coach Ottis Gibson his job, with only an interim coach appointed in his place.
● Graeme Smith is set to be named Cricket SA’s new director of cricket in the coming weeks.
The Sunday Times has it on good authority that Smith will put pen to paper on a fouryear contract that will run until the end of the next Cricket World Cup, which will be hosted in India in 2023.
Insiders privy to behind-the-scenes dealings informed this newspaper that Smith was a shoo-in to replace the suspended interim director, Corrie van Zyl, for the top cricket post in the country. Van Zyl acted in the position for the disastrous Indian tour when SA were whitewashed.
It is understood Smith will have carte blanche to decide who will be the team director. The post is currently occupied by Highveld Lions coach Enoch Nkwe on an interim basis.
Chief among his duties will be to oversee all the national teams, develop a strategy for improving the domestic game as well as drawing up a long-term plan to be successful at the 2023 World Cup in India.
“Because it is a new position, CSA want to give him the confidence of deciding how things must be arranged,” said another source. He must set up his stall in the way he believes will help turn the tide for the national teams.”
CSA started engaging Smith, 38, at the World Cup in England and further negotiations continued beyond that.
Smith, who turned out 345 times for the Proteas across all formats, and captained them 284 times, got the CSA nod ahead of Hussein Manack, Dave Nosworthy and Van Zyl who were also interviewed for the position.
Van Zyl was suspended early this month for dereliction of duty. He stands accused of failure to pay commercial rights fees for last year’s Mzansi Super League.
“We are still busy with the process. Once we are comfortable where the process is going to lead, that is when we are going to announce the successful candidate,” said Thabang Moroe, CSA CEO.
Smith became the youngest captain of SA when he assumed the role aged 22 in 2003 following SA’s World Cup disaster.
He went on to become the most successful skipper in Test cricket history with 53 wins, surpassing Australian great Ricky Ponting’s 48 Test wins.
South African cricket has been in free fall punctuated by an early exit at the 2019 World Cup in England and Wales.
The horrendous World Cup ousting was followed by an equally appalling showing on the India tour. Out of seven Tests in 2019, SA have lost five consecutive ones against India away and Sri Lanka at home.
It is against that backdrop of adversity that Smith, who famously batted with a broken hand against Australia in Sydney 10 years ago and got a standing ovation from the crowd, is seen as someone who can bring the bite back into the national team. When
Smith assumed the captaincy as a 22-yearold in 2003, SA had just been bundled out of their own World Cup.
“It seems that CSA officials have agreed that he is the first person to come in as captain and changed how we play cricket.
“Instead of being a tame SA that was a punching bag for everybody, we learnt how to fight back through him.”
Smith’s appointment will represent a turnaround from developments of a few weeks back when he pulled out of the race.
On November 14 Smith tweeted that he had pulled out of the race.
“Following the news in the media this week that I [was] interviewed for the CSA director of cricket role, I feel it necessary to confirm that I have unfortunately withdrawn my interest in the role.
“I would love to have taken on the role. However, despite my obvious desire to make a difference, during the long and, at times, frustrating process over the last 10 or so weeks of discussions, I have not developed the necessary confidence that I would be given the level of freedom and support to initiate the required changes.
“My passion for our nation’s cricketing fortunes remains steadfast and I give my heartfelt best wishes to whomever does take the role on. I will continue to support the teams and give my advice and guidance whenever I can.”
That whomever has turned out to be Smith himself. Smith was not available for comment.
Graeme Smith received a hero's welcome when he returned to SA after the Proteas’ victory over the Australians in 2009. He played the third Test with a broken hand and got a standing ovation from the crowd.