Cricket

Regrets? I have a few - 'Daryn of all trades' looks back

2017-02-01 13:26
Daryn Smit (Gallo)

Cape Town - It is a rare thing in sport these days to find a player who spends his entire professional career at one club. 

Be it football, rugby or cricket ... financial allures have their say and ultimately pull sports people in all directions. 

The Steven Gerrards of the world are few and far between, but when one of those 'one-club' careers come to an end, they are worth talking about. 

The career of Daryn Smit is not glamorous. Yet, his retirement from South African franchise cricket last week caused a noticeable reaction on social media as the game's followers paid tribute to a true professional. 

Smit, who has been at the Dolphins for 14 years, has had enough. 

He is still just 33-years-old, but after a domestic career that has seen him donned 'Daryn of all Trades', Smit feels like he has given all he has. 

It is time for something new.

Unlike some of the country's bigger names who have been snapped up on lucrative Kolpak deals in England recently, Smit is taking the plunge and relocating to the UK without any guarantees. 

He still wants to play - keeping wicket is the reason he gets up in the morning - and he feels like he still has a few years left in him. 

A goalkeeper who represented South Africa at junior level, it was Smit's love for cricket, and wicketkeeping in particular, that started this path. 

As it does for almost every cricketer, it began with mini-cricket. 

"I was absolutely disgusted. For me, playing that sort of format with a soft ball and with girls in the team ... it wasn't cricket and it wasn't what I had watched on TV," Smit remembers of his first exposure to the game.

"I was very disappointed by my first introduction into cricket."

Soon after that he was hitting a hard ball, and by the time he got to high school at Northwood - Smit is a born and bred Durbanite - he had decided that he wanted to be a wicketkeeper. 

"During my time at Northwood we had a coach by the name of Grant Bashford ... he used to be a wicketkeeper for Natal," Smit recalls.

"To have a specialist wicketkeeper coaching at high school level is quite rare so I was lucky to have a mentor like that."

Smit made the Natal Schools side and went on to represent Natal U-19 and SA U-19 (2003) after school.

Smit before a tour to Pakistan with the National Cricket Academy in 2005 (Gallo).

He was first called up to the Dolphins in 2002, but he struggled to knuckle down a regular spot as first Errol Stewart and then Duncan Brown kept him out of the side. 

It also didn't help that Smit was struggling to adapt to the batting demands of first class cricket. 

"I was very much an out-and-out wicketkeeper and if I made runs with the bat it was considered a bonus," he says.

"It's only been in the second half of my career that my batting has really taken off and become more reliable."

He considers that batting struggle in the first half of his career one of the major reasons that he never challenged for international honours. Mark Boucher was obviously the Proteas' first-choice keeper at that stage, but whenever he was unavailable Smit struggled to force his way into the conversation. 

These days, however, Smit is a top order batsman. 

"I've always generally had a pretty good work ethic. It was just making that adjustment to provincial cricket where suddenly I was facing really fast bowling on lively wickets," he explains.

"I was a little bit out of my depth. It was always going to take care of itself but it was just about getting to that point. The longer you do something, the more comfortable you get."

Daryn Smit ... the batsman (Gallo).

Boucher was a high school hero of Smit's, but Dave Richardson and his "brown GM gloves with the massive webbing" filled that role when Smit was even younger and first getting into the game. 

"You probably wouldn't be able to drop a ball, even if you tried, with those things," Smit jokes when remembering Richardson's gloves. 

By 2007/08, Smit had become a regular in the Dolphins first team following Brown's retirement. 

Then, something happened that he still has some regret over today. 

As T20 cricket gained momentum and teams began to look for 'out of the box' methods, Smit emerged as a handy leg-spinner. 

He would keep, take the pads off, bowl his overs and then sometimes put the pads back on.

"I remember Dale Benkenstein was the first captain to use me but it was very much on a rare occasion," he remembers. 

"Then suddenly in 50 and 20 over cricket they realised that using me as a spinner almost allowed us to have 12 players because you could select an extra batter or seamer ... suddenly your wicketkeeper is going to take off the pads and bowl you a spell of bowling."

While it was fun and worked for the Dolphins, Smit now considers that decision to focus on his leg-spin as detrimental to his cricket development. 

"The old cliche about not having any regrets ... I think anyone who can finish a 15-year career and have zero regrets is probably lying," he said.

"If I look back now there probably are a few things that I'd do a bit differently. At the time a lot of people told me all of this stuff, but I guess you're a little bit stubborn and you put the team ahead of yourself.

"I think bowling leg spin ... it probably hindered my career and my progressions to the next level.

"The bowling probably hindered the development of my batting and it was only once I had stopped bowling regularly that my batting got so much better.

"If I had not bowled and focused more on my batting, I might have staked a higher claim for national honours. But at the time it was what the team needed. It's a tough one as a I look back now."

Daryn Smit ... the bowler (Gallo).

It is not the only regret that Smit has. 

He identifies 2013 and the arrival of Morne van Wyk from the Knights as a critical moment in his career, and one where he says he probably should have moved on from Durban. 

Smit was the side's wicketkeeper and captain. When Van Wyk arrived, he took over both of those responsibilities. Fortunately for Smit, he was batting and bowling well enough to keep his place in the side. 

But, ever since then, he has been missing out on the part of the game that gives him the most joy: wicketkeeping.

"When we signed Morne van Wyk I was promised that he wasn't coming there to keep wicket and he wasn't coming to take over the captaincy from me," an honest Smit recalls.

"That all played out very differently and at the time I decided to trust the people who told me this, instead of going with my gut which was telling me to look somewhere else to make sure that I was going to be keeping wicket.

"It backfired a little bit. It's not by any means sour grapes, but in hindsight that may have been the time to move. Perhaps I could have kept the gloves on for a bit longer.

"At the end of the day, that's my passion. I'm a wicketkeeper. That's why I get out of bed in the morning and that's what I do. The last few seasons, having that taken away has hurt quite a bit. It has meant that I've shifted my focus more towards my batting which isn't bad, but I just don't have that same passion without the gloves on."

Morne van Wyk (left) and Daryn Smit (Gallo).

When Dane Vilas was called up to the Proteas Tests squad in 2015, Smit was actually out-scoring him on the first class stage. 

But, because he wasn't keeping at franchise level, Smit was never going to be a part of the conversation when it came to finding a temporary wicketkeeper while Quinton de Kock was out of the set-up finding some form. 

There may have been no international chance, and there may have been just one trophy (the Ram Slam T20 title in 2013/14), but Smit says he has taken a lot from cricket. 

He is a fantastic public speaker (his nickname is 'Speech') and he is considered an astute student of the game, and that combination has seen him become a popular figure on SuperSport in a commentary and studio guest capacity. 

A future in commentary is not something that Smit has ruled out, but for now he still wants to play.

"I absolutely love the game and I don't see that ending anytime soon. I just think it's run its course in South Africa and with the Dolphins. There isn't too much more that I can give," he says.

Smit has devoted his entire adult life to cricket and the Dolphins.

It is a career that has ticked along well under the radar, miles away from the international spotlight that has accompanied the country's superstars.

Smith, Kallis, De Villiers, Amla, Steyn ... Smit will never know what it is like to have the fame that accompanied those names. 

Instead, he kept his head down, worked hard and simply loved cricket.

"Some of the kind words and the wishes ... it's been humbling," he says of the support he has received since announcing his retirement.  

"It's been my whole life.

"Cricket has taught me to stay humble. You can go from one high today to an absolute low tomorrow. Things can change very quickly. It has that knack of bringing you back down to earth as soon a you think you're getting ahead. It's taught me that about life too ... you can't dealt some really good cards and some really bad cards."

Smit will see out the rest of the domestic season with the Dolphins before heading off to England on what he is calling a "semi-permanent" move. 

Cheers for the memories, Daryn (Gallo).

Read more on:    dolphins  |  daryn smit  |  durban  |  cricket
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