Biff quitting would be hasty

2011-06-04 15:42
Graeme Smith (Gallo)
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town – Often when dramatic changes are made, it is important that some things tossed up in the tornado settle back on the same turf.

Revolution can be exciting ... and it is coming, as Cricket South Africa prepares to finally confirm that Gary Kirsten, the Cape Town-born, World Cup-winning coaching darling of India more recently, will henceforth guide the Proteas.

CSA has earmarked Monday for the official announcement, but some 48 hours ahead of it the cat is out of the pretty thin bag in some media.

Saturday’s reports have not been accompanied by any green light from within the corridors of power, but there are also very few reasons to suggest they will be proved embarrassingly wide of the mark.

I have been insisting on this forum for several weeks that Kirsten must and almost certainly will be named the main man, even as I absorbed some accusations of thumb-sucking.

My own deep throats in the game, you see, have consistently been adamant it was only ever a question of “when” the Kirsten appointment would be made, as CSA patiently allowed the former Test opening batsman his much-desired breathing space with his family after the World Cup, before getting stuck into the occasionally complex meat of the contractual deal and related issues.

Kirsten being unveiled will quite obviously represent a great coup for the country and CSA must get kudos for facilitating it ... it was only fitting after his thoroughly stellar stint in India that one of South Africa’s favourite sons, and from a distinguished cricket family, be coaxed home.

Key lieutenants will reportedly be Warriors coach Russell Domingo and a former national team-mate of Kirsten’s in the form of fast bowler Allan Donald -- although some New Zealanders may be bemused by the last-named man’s linkage to the new regime because only on Friday a new deal as bowling coach with the Black Caps was being described as a “formality”.

Probably a little less clear-cut, but almost as seismic a step as Kirsten’s ascension to Proteas power if it occurs, is the accompanying speculation that long-time Test captain Graeme Smith will step down when he hosts his own press conference in Johannesburg tomorrow.

Some reports suggest he will use the occasion primarily to “come home” (some would argue unacceptably belatedly, it is true) after South Africa’s latest World Cup failure and discuss with local media collectively for the first time the team’s heart-breaking exit at the hands of the Kiwis after such fine, hard yards leading up to the knockout phase.

But others maintain he will unexpectedly relinquish the Test reins, after surrendering both the Twenty20 and ODI leadership in a staggered process; the untried AB de Villiers is being mooted as new beneficiary in each instance under the Kirsten tenure.

Smith’s long-time manager, Fiona De Souza of ProSport International, couched her words fairly carefully when approached by Sport24 on Saturday, but reiterated that “as things stand Graeme is Test captain of South Africa” and also that “the (captaincy)issue is in the hands of CSA; it’s their process now”.

Her implication, it seemed, was that the big Cape Cobras customer will not be dropping any bomb personally on Sunday.
And nor, in this writer’s humble opinion, should he.

In a soon to be hugely-altered national squad landscape, there seems no good reason why the 30-year-old – by extension, still with decent gas left in the tank -- should vacate a post in which he has found meaningful success for his charges considerably easier to come by than in one-day cricket.

He ought to remain, at least for the time being, one bastion of solidity and continuity while likely instant-cricket counterpart De Villiers cuts his leadership teeth in those particular folds.

I have had my own fears in recent months, as Smith struggled for big one-day scores and similarly so in sporadic Indian Premier League appearances, that the hefty left-hander has fallen out of love with cricket to some extent.

He has been on the near-ceaseless, globe-trotting treadmill for many years, taken some physical punishment of note for the cause, and may well simply be mentally jaded and hotel- and aircraft-fatigued.

You would imagine that is nothing a sizeable (for a change) off-season can’t cure.

Personal decline in statistical standards as a batsman has also affected “Biff” significantly less in Tests of late; he sports centuries in four of his last 12 appearances in the five-day arena and maintains an average only a shade under 50.

He is tempted, understandably, to sample life as a weight-off-the-shoulders “rank and filer”, after leading South Africa in all but the first 10 of his 90 Tests for the country, but he can do so in the limited-overs environment, assuming he continues to justify a place there -- and granted, he may have some catch-up to do.

Ironically, the very Gary Kirsten finds it especially hard to envisage Smith -- whose “presence” as a Test captain he has sampled first-hand and richly acknowledged himself – not leading the troops he represents.

“It’s just what he does,” Kirsten once sagely and admiringly said to me.

All this Proteas change at the top could be terribly exciting. But whoa there ... let’s not get too carried away, shall we?

Read more on:    graeme smith  |  gary kirsten  |  proteas

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