Graeme Smith’s appointment as director of cricket, which Cricbuzz confirmed on Wednesday, will raise hopes that the game in South Africa will turn a corner after months of crisis caused by administrative mismanagement and poor leadership. The former captain is the first person to take on the role with Cricket South Africa (CSA), who have been rocked by calamities ranging from mounting financial losses to an increasingly hostile relationship with their only assets, the players.
But there is a dark lining in what would seem to be a silver cloud. Smith’s contract expires at the end of March, which makes him just another of the slew of interim staff at CSA. His prior commitment to commentate on this year’s Indian Premier League has got in the way. Smith didn’t immediately respond when asked if he was open to taking the reins again after the tournament.
“I am delighted that Graeme has agreed to assist CSA up until the IPL next year,” a CSA release quoted Jacques Faul, their acting chief executive, as saying.
“Obviously Graeme has had his concerns during the course of the last few months, but I am pleased to say that we have overcome those concerns and I look forward to working with him to urgently address pressing cricketing matters in particular. Graeme is statistically the most successful Test captain in the history of the game. He is a natural leader and his knowledge of the game is second to none. To have him on board to work with the professional cricket arm of CSA, as well as the cricketing pipeline, which is so vital for our game, is a massive shot in the arm for CSA during this period.”
Smith, who captained South Africa in 108 of his 116 Tests for them and won 53 of them while losing 28, was quoted as saying: “I’ve publicly stated a number of times that I would love to assist CSA in this difficult time, particularly in developing this new role of director of cricket. I’m still as passionate about South African cricket as I ever was and I’m looking forward to getting stuck into the role. There is a lot of work to be done in the next few weeks and months and my objective will always be to make a positive impact during my tenure.”
Whether Smith, 38, can make enough of a difference in three months remains to be seen. But he will be regarded as an adult in a playground strewn with selfish little bullies. He will have to hit the ground running, what with South Africa’s men’s team due to start a Test series against England at Centurion on December 26. Currently there is no selection panel and whether Enoch Nkwe will continue as interim team director in the wake of his team’s 3-0 thrashing in India last month remains uncertain.
Most of the likely squad have spent the past month playing in the ill-timed Mzansi Super League and cannot be considered prepared for a Test series. Since Faf du Plessis played his last Test, in Ranchi, his England counterpart, Joe Root, has had three first-class matches – two of them Tests in New Zealand – and a two-day game. South Africa’s players have an opportunity to remedy the situation in a round of franchise first-class matches that start next Thursday, and some could feature in the two two-day tour matches England will play in Benoni next week. But that is likely to be too little, too late.
Smith is believed to have made his appointment conditional on the removal of chief executive Thabang Moroe, and it thus would have become a possibility only after Moroe was suspended on Friday. Jacques Faul, a proven fire extinguisher as an administrator, was named acting chief executive on Saturday. But CSA’s board, who presided over Moroe’s controversial tenure, which started in September 2017 when he was appointed in an acting capacity to succeed Haroon Lorgat, have brushed off calls that they should do the decent thing and go – despite the resignation of three of their five independent directors.