Brilliant move, Biff

2010-08-18 12:35
Graeme Smith (File)
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town – To old-schoolers of cricket who count themselves as partial Twenty20 cynics, at least, Graeme Smith’s announcement on Wednesday that he was stepping down as national captain in that arena would hardly have got pulses doof-doofing at a raised rate.

It was tempting, certainly on the part of this writer, to equate it with notice that Mr GC Smith no longer intended having chopped banana atop his corn flakes for breakfast.

In slightly more serious vein, though, I would not be so foolhardy as to under-value the significance of the move by the big left-handed “Biff”.

It makes a great deal of sense for him, and for South African cricket … as does the simultaneous revelation that he will relinquish the ODI captaincy after the 2011 World Cup.

It was overdue, frankly, for the Proteas to start meaningfully grooming a new captain, and the ideal way to get the ball rolling is in the format that is the most lightweight of the three international codes, albeit the one with greatest populist appeal – at least as things stand.

After arguably more dilly-dallying by officialdom than has been wise, Smith finally took the bull by the horns on Wednesday, forcing Cricket South Africa into the appointment of someone (as yet undecided or at least undisclosed) to assume the reins.

Or at least some of the reins, easing the long-time burden on the incumbent as he approaches his 30th birthday on February 1 next year.

Smith, after all, has led the country into assorted three-pronged battle for the vast majority of his playing career, which encompasses a personal tally of 86 Tests, 154 ODIs and 27 T20Is.

It is an apt time for him to begin the process of re-emphasising “self”, certainly in his run-getting potential, for the benefit of the Proteas team.

Even observing the announcement off live television, Smith cut a confident and relieved figure as he made it. “I’m at peace to walk away … it was purely a personal decision. I’m excited about it.”

He has dropped strong and understandable hints for a while that he’d been wearying of the all-embracing task a tad – leadership of South Africa carries more cares than it does anywhere else -- and is keen to sample some semblance of life as a Proteas rank-and-filer.

That, in fact, is going to be deeply fascinating to monitor: perhaps more than anyone by Gary Kirsten, a former national and provincial team-mate and now coach of India, who insists Smith is a natural born leader and could hardly be imagined as anything but. “It’s just what he does.”

I suspected ahead of the Johannesburg press conference that Smith might opt out of Twenty20 international competition altogether, a la Australian counterpart Ricky Ponting, who quit that environment in 2009.

But Ponting is 35, some six years older than the South African, let’s not forget, and at a stage in life where preservation of the body and mind for cricket of greatest profoundness is a paramount concern.

And having Smith as a seasoned shoulder to lean on in the field and on the balcony may not be the worst thing for whoever fills the void, whatever the likelihood of some initial awkwardness as well.

So who will the T20 appointee be? Who will have the character for the job? (It will need character, given the lingering perception that the Proteas have been bossed not just by Smith but a too-powerful senior clique immediately beneath him.)

Johan Botha is a pretty good option with some prior experience of being present at the SA toss, although the fact that his bowling action, rightly or wrongly, flirts with illegality scrutiny from time to time may be a drawback.

Hashim Amla is being mentioned as a national captain down the line, but likelier in the Test arena where he is an increasingly influential, established presence. And do you want to disturb his blissful dominance and resolve at the crease with the responsibility of leading the troops?

AB de Villiers? Maybe, especially as he seems to be showing some greater maturity in the “PR” department of late, after a few years in which he has occasionally come across as either brash or prickly or both.

Mind you, those aren’t necessarily the worst “virtues” in a captain.

Ask Australia …


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