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Ken Borland

Smith the older brother SA cricket needed … and then spurned

Posted on May 27, 2022 by Ken

Graeme Smith may have only been 22 years old when he was appointed as national captain in 2003, but democracy in this country was only nine years old then and the Proteas were a bit of a mess, so in many ways he was the big, older brother South African cricket desperately needed.

As a brash young man still trying to make his way in international cricket, Smith was probably only fully aware of the culture problems within the team after a few years. After the disappointment of the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean, Smith set about fixing the Proteas, alongside manager Mohammed Moosajee, who was appointed in 2008, and the input of life coaches like Paddy Upton and Jeremy Snape.

Protea Fire and a far more inclusive culture were born, one which acknowledged that they were representing a country which had a divided past. Honesty and Ubuntu were required, they were playing for more than just themselves.

The result was a much happier team and it showed in performance as they became the No.1 side in the world.

When Smith retired in 2014 he hoped the Protea Fire legacy would live on. How sad it must have been for him that, just five years later, the Proteas were in rack and ruin. Typical of the leader he is, Smith agreed to try and restore South African cricket to former glories by becoming Director of Cricket at the end of 2019.

But worse was to follow as the very people who had pushed Cricket South Africa to the precipice then spearheaded a campaign against Smith. It culminated in the Social Justice and Nation-Building hearings, where it seemed as many vile untruths were spoken as there were painful reminders of a shameful past.

The totally inadequate work of Advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza was finally undone this week when Smith was cleared of all charges of racism by an independent arbitration hearing. CSA gave notice of their defeat – with costs – at 9pm on a Sunday night and board chairman Lawson Naidoo issued a statement that said it was now “appropriate to recognise the extraordinary contribution that Graeme has made to South African cricket”. It was almost as if the history we know we lived through as Proteas fans was now officially approved.

Unfortunately, there is lasting damage – one only has to see on social media the bitter divisionists refusing to accept the arbitrators’ findings – and Naidoo’s closing comment – “we very much hope that he will still work in the cricket world in appropriate capacities going forward” – hints at the fact that Smith’s expertise as the most experienced captain in Test history is now probably lost to South African cricket and will be snapped up by some other country.

If it’s not bad enough losing so much talent and I.P. to overseas teams thanks to the exchange rate, we are also actively chasing away people who could contribute so much good to our sport.

Head coach Mark Boucher’s disciplinary hearing is still to come and the outcome of Smith’s arbitration suggests there is still hope that the ‘tentative’ and unproven but damning allegations made by the SJN will receive the proper, unbiased and legally sound treatment they deserve.

A new Director of Cricket is also still to be appointed, with Enoch Nkwe probably still the favourite to succeed Smith.

Having to appoint a new head coach for tough tours of India, England and Australia as his first task would not make his life any easier, but then again the good of the Proteas, who bring in 80% of CSA’s income, is way down the list of priorities of those who have grudges to settle.

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