Graeme Smith was officially unveiled as Cricket SA’s (CSA) director of cricket on Wednesday and already has a fair bit of work to get through. The England tour begins next week with two tour games in Benoni before the Boxing Day Test. Can Smith get the messy CSA house in order? Here are three things he needs to work on:
Watching more domestic cricket
Former Proteas and Cape Cobras seamer Rory Kleinveldt, who would have played domestic and international cricket with Smith, remarked on Twitter that during the T20 leg of the doomed Indian tour Smith didn’t know who left-arm spinner Bjorn Fortuin was.
Another incident of Smith being caught short on local cricket knowledge was during the 2019 New Year’s Test against Pakistan at Newlands, where West Indian legend Michael Holding battled to get an answer from Smith about who Theunis de Bruyn’s replacement should be.
Smith may have garnered an unmatched diary of cricket knowledge through the sheer number of matches he’s played at every level, but a first port of call for a person of his stature is extensive watching of the domestic game. Seeing players in action paints a better picture than mere performance statistics.
Widening his inner circle
Smith may be tempted to stack his coaching staff with the same people who formed part of his inner circle as a player, but would the likes of Jacques Kallis or Mark Boucher be up to international coaching?
Boucher has won a fair bit with the Titans, but when he was shorn of his international players he was found wanting. Kallis is SA’s greatest all-rounder but he’s never coached at franchise or provincial level for long enough for a conclusion to be drawn about his coaching ability.
Smith’s choice of team director and other lieutenants will provide an idea of the direction he wants to take with the team. Coaching requires different competencies than playing, which is why most former players are happy with the sanctity of employment elsewhere or in the commentary box.
Plenty of former players are coaching around the world, such as Australia’s Justin Langer, England’s Chris Silverwood and Pakistan’s Misbah-ul-Haq. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
Transformation is a necessity
One of SA cricket’s enduring transformation crimes took place under Smith’s stewardship when Highveld Lions wicketkeeper Thami Tsolekile couldn’t get a Test look-in despite sparkling domestic and SA A form.
When a freak eye injury forced Boucher into retirement on the successful 2012 England tour, AB de Villiers, who was undecided about keeping wicket, took up the gloves.
In the second Test against Australia in Port Elizabeth five years ago, Quinton de Kock was given a Test debut while Tsolekile was in the squad.
CSA have been seen to be far stricter with transformation targets in recent years, but a quote from Smith predecessor Shaun Pollock was telling:
“I must admit when Graeme said he was applying … I think you have to do it with the understanding of SA cricket and the sensitivity of some of the issues in SA cricket like diversity and the way things work. If you’re going to apply and expect things to change, that’s being a bit ambitious on certain aspects,” Pollock told IOL in November.
This is telling from Pollock, because picking your own playing 11 as captain is totally different to picking a Test/ODI/T20 squad along with the administrative staff. The jury will be out on Smith in this regard.