Graeme Smith’s most significant leave – his decision to pull out of the race to be Cricket SA (CSA) director of cricket – since his retirement has led to predictable wailing by the cricketing public about a missed opportunity.
Having never been backward about coming forward with an opinion since he led with that lantern jaw as an opening batsman, Smith was typically forthright in the statement he released on social media on Thursday.
“Despite my obvious desire to make a difference during the long and, at times, frustrating process over the past 10 or so weeks of discussions, I have not developed the necessary confidence that I would be given the level of freedom and support to initiate the required changes,” he said of a procedure in which it sounds like he was initially headhunted and still had to be interviewed.
Smith’s frustrations seemed to stem from how long the process to woo him dragged on for, despite the fact that CSA chose to pursue him, as well as the gnawing feeling that, while the position was invented to establish a line of accountability, he still wouldn’t have the freedom he needed to feel like the buck stopped with him.
In a strange way, it’s no surprise the process to find CSA’s director of cricket has lost one of the better candidates for the job – it’s becoming a South African thing that appointing someone to whatever significant sporting position has to descend into a farce.
If you don’t buy it, think about the Bulls ending up with the last man standing – Pote Human – in their bid to replace John Mitchell, and the Southern Kings’ process to find a coach being overshadowed by Peter de Villiers’ qualifications to the point of it being terminated.
And don’t be surprised if finding a replacement for Rassie Erasmus descends into a similar bunfight.
The outrage at Smith ruling himself out isn’t exactly unwarranted – he took over an ailing Proteas team as a 22-year-old captain and ultimately led them to the top of the world, taking in a first series victory against Australia and the most successful record as captain in test history.
If Smith’s time with the Proteas taught him anything, it is how to build a winning team, complete with soft touches like culture.
But an unpopular opinion, as the kids like to say, is that Smith pulling out of the director of cricket race – as damaging as it is to the already tarnished reputation of a CSA that has latently seemed incapable of completing any task without drama – is probably not as disastrous as many think.
We forget that the three remaining candidates for the post, Corrie van Zyl, Hussein Manack and Dave Nosworthy, aren’t exactly not cricket people.
Van Zyl played for and coached the Free State, has coached the Proteas and held the high-performance manager post at CSA; Manack’s playing career was mostly behind the iron curtain of apartheid, but he’s commentated on the game and has been a national selector; and Nosworthy has a good track record domestically and in New Zealand.
What all three have over Smith is that they have first-hand experience of the business of cricket and they are used to manoeuvring in the politics space that masquerades as sports administration.
Not to condone political jockeying instead of a clear strategy to get South African cricket on the right path, in a way, Smith’s withdrawal proves that he wouldn’t have the stomach for the politics.
The other problem Smith would have presented for the CSA hierarchy is his choice of team director for the Proteas, which would have been his first bit of business once in the job.
Chances are, he would have preferred old Proteas team-mate Mark Boucher, though his employers have a lot vested in interim team director Enoch Nkwe succeeding.
Of course, the process’ next hurdle will be to see how Van Zyl’s current suspension affects his chances of getting a job he seems most qualified for.
But that’s a “shock” for another day.