The Mercury

I’m sorry, says Graeme Smith

- Zaahier Adams

ACONTRITE Proteas Test captain Graeme Smith yesterday apologised to cricket fans for not returning home after South Africa’s humiliatin­g exit at the Cricket World Cup.

Smith was speaking at his first public engagement on home soil since the event.

The Proteas fell embarrassi­ngly at the quarter-final stage to New Zealand in Bangladesh, prompting the “choker” label to be imprinted on the national cricket team yet again.

The 30-year-old Smith, who had quit the one-day internatio­nal captaincy before the cricket jamboree on the sub-continent, went to Ireland instead to visit his pop star girlfriend, now-fiancee Morgan Deane, who was also present yesterday.

He then returned to India to fulfil his Indian Premier League commitment­s, before going back to Ireland before the completion of the tournament after sustaining a knee injury, from which he is still suffering.

“I know that my extended absence from South Africa has been the subject of much comment,” Smith read from a prepared statement.

“I apologise and make no excuses for it, but I ask the South African fans to understand that I was feeling incredibly emotional at the time.

“What I did not take into account was the public’s reaction to this decision. With the benefit of hindsight, my decision to not return home directly after the World Cup should have been explained sooner.”

Smith has never been the South African cricket public’s favourite son – even at the height of his powers – and with his image at an all-time low after the World Cup, the previous record-holder of South Africa’s highest Test score even took a “sabbatical” from social networking websites for the past couple of months to steer clear from the abuse that was hurled at him. He has only been recently been more active again.

“Expectatio­ns are always high and there is always a lot of emotion,” he said. “I think they (Proteas fans) were led into a lot of that. I made the best decision at the time. What I was going through emotionall­y, where I was in my personal life. I still feel that at the time the decision was right, but it is understand­able that the fans were upset.”

It is understood that Smith was emotionall­y distraught after the World Cup disaster, and besides seeking solace in Ireland, that he was considerin­g to quitting the Test captaincy, but after consultati­on with those close to him, he has reconsider­ed.

The Proteas have lost just one Test series in their last 16 dating back to 2006-07 under Smith’s captaincy, which includes away series wins over Australia and England in the 2008-09 season. However, the record has been marred recently with consecutiv­e home series draws against England and India.

Smith’s personal contributi­on, though, cannot be faulted during this period. In spite of his limitedove­rs woes, he has averaged 47 runs (compared to his overall 49) over the past 12 months in Test cricket, which has included two centuries.

“I’ve been in the job for eight years, and I grew up as South African captain. I’ve learnt along the way. Been through a lot of good and tough times, I know that South African fans demand a lot from the team and rightly so.

“As captain of the team, you are the highest point in the tree,” Smith added. “On a personal level, I admit that my own form has not been what I had hoped it would be of late, but I will be working hard over the next few months to once more attain the standards I expect of myself.”

Meanwhile, former South Africa fast bowler Allan Donald, who had verbally committed to becoming New Zealand’s fast bowling coach, has withdrawn from the role, which should open the way for him to join up with Gary Kirsten’s new Proteas management team.

Cricket South Africa (CSA) have scheduled a press conference for today to unveil the new Proteas coach, with Kirsten set to be at the helm.

Donald was strongly associated with the Black Caps after assisting them in the World Cup, but has now turned towards the country of his birth.

“We did everything possible to retain Allan but it is understand­able that a role in South Africa would be attractive to both him and his family,” New Zealand Cricket chief executive Justin Vaughan said in a statement yesterday. Warriors coach Russell Domingo is expected to complete the new Proteas brains trust.

CSA are also expected to name master batsman AB de Villiers the new one-day and Twenty20 captain, with Hashim Amla his deputy in both formats.

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