Biff’s comfort in broadcasting
Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing (File)
See all the wives and girlfriends of cricket players at the ICC Champions Trophy.
Like plenty of other South Africans, I hope Graeme Smith, at 32, still envisages several years of further duty to the Proteas, particularly at his Test-level speciality trade.
But the national captain in the five-day arena is, of course, a one-day international batting absentee at present due to surgery to that troublesome ankle of his, which has given him a brilliantly timely opportunity to try his hand at television punditry as his colleagues battle their way through the ICC Champions Trophy.
In what may just be a taste of things to come further down the line in life, he has made frequent trips to Randburg during the tournament, and certainly enhanced SuperSport presentation of Proteas matches with his intimate expertise on the squad.
What I have liked is that “Biff” has just been himself, coming across simply and naturally as the current player rather than a deliberately-schooled TV personality (some of whom develop unintentional or deliberately-cultivated personal habits and idiosyncrasies at the trade).
He’s never had a problem engaging with the print media - I speak from experience of seldom unrewarding dealings with him - and his many years of leadership have also meant he’s had extensive knowledge of facing bright camera and studio lights anyway.
Smith has pretty honestly and lucidly, thus far, explained how a particular individual or the team collectively may be feeling in height-of-combat situations, although there are probably also times when protective and loyal instincts, as a still-active member of the broad national playing pool, have come into play and he has moderated any criticism.
The more acid test of his suitability to be a contracted critic - should he actually aspire to that, of course - will come when he is more genuinely an ex-player and may have to be prepared to be scathing or judgmental at times of people he knows closely and likes.
Fronting television presentations, of course, a la Richie Benaud, Mark Nicholas, Tony Cozier and the like, requires an even more challenging set of skills, and I am not certain that would be Smith’s cup of tea.
But as a member of an extended panel of conventional cricket analysts, he’s cut it so far - do readers agree? - and also proved to the more mischievous among us that it is possible for Messrs Wessels and Smith to share a studio without a bouncer’s intervention being necessary ...Rob’s Awesome Foursome
1. South Africa v Scotland, rugby Test match
Nelspruit, Saturday 17:15, M-Net, SS1, SHD
A fittingly cold shiver still goes down my spine whenever the words “Scotland” and “Springboks” are paired. I was at Murrayfield, you see, for the last time the Boks lost to these opponents, 21-17 in November 2010, which cruelly scuppered their Grand Slam quest. The outdoor press box on a miserable, frigid day in Edinburgh is no place for the faint-hearted, I assure you. Mbombela Stadium on a mostly sunny, expected 21 deg C Lowveld winter late afternoon? Ah, that sounds infinitely better ... even though I will be joining the telly-viewing public on the day, rather than being at one of my favourite soccer World Cup venues on my virtually game-a-day 2010 travels. English commentary is in the hands of Matthew Pearce and Bob Skinstad, Afrikaans handled by John van Rensburg and Kobus Wiese, and Xhosa by Lonwabo Mtimka and Kaya Malotana. The Boks by at least 33 points, I fancy. 2. South Africa v West Indies, ICC Champions Trophy cricket
Cardiff, Friday 11:30, SABC3, SS2, SS4, CSN & SHD2
The Proteas are first up on this enticing weekend featuring activity by all three of our major national sports teams: an eliminator against West Indies at Sophia Gardens, scene of their tourney-opening crash to India. South Africa’s recent track record against the Windies is grounds for great optimism: victories in each of the last 12 ODI encounters, including successive home-and-away 5-0 whitewashes in bilateral series. But of course there will be a cynical old lobby out there suggesting a dose of Murphy’s Law is imminent for SA at a major tournament ... I say no more! Personally, I believe AB de Villiers’s side will stave off booby-traps or jinxes and tee up a semi with a bit to spare.
3. Ethiopia v South Africa, World Cup soccer qualifier
Addis Ababa, Sunday 15:00, SABC1
Bafana made some commendably hard yards in beating Central African Republic 3-0 in neutral Cameroon last weekend, but now crunch time really faces them, with victory at (very) high-altitude Addis Ababa probably necessary if they are to reach the final phase of qualification for Brazil next year ... and defeat disastrous as it would instantly clinch the Ethiopians’ onward passage. It’s going to be tough, despite the hosts’ still greatly inferior FIFA ranking (106th to their 60th): they have won six and drawn just one international at home since early 2012. My forecast, alas, is a hard-fought draw – maybe a repeat of the 1-1 first-round outcome at Rustenburg? -- at least still giving Bafana a ray of hope for the essential leapfrogging they must do in the group when the closing ties are played.4. US Open golf
Ardmore, Saturday & Sunday 19:00, SS6 (SS1 Sun), CSN & SHD
SuperSport’s coverage is limited to days three and four from Merion, although ESPN carries the earlier play for those who intend to “camp out” for four days/nights in front of the telly. Coverage begins from around 19:00 on each of the weekend days, and a late-night finish on Sunday won’t matter too much to many South African viewers mindful of the fact that Monday is a handy public holiday for sleep catch-up purposes. Local experts have been lukewarm about a possible South African winner at the course which has been very rain-plagued in the lead-up. Of course Ernie Els is a two-time winner of this Major, although both the proverbial donkey’s years ago now ...