Sa cricket fans adore Smith
February 01, 2013, 09:28:27
Ex Business Day
THAT South Africans adore Graeme Smith was made plain in the happy chaos of an autograph signing session in a Johannesburg shopping mall on Tuesday.
Smith is about to become the first player to captain a team in 100 Tests. Friday will mark his 99th Test as captain of South Africa. He also captained an International Cricket Council World XI in a Test against Australia in Sydney in October 2005.
Smith took the reins of South Africa’s Test team for the first time against Bangladesh in Chittagong on April 24 2003, in only his ninth Test.
Hundreds of fans were greeted by a giant poster of a Proteas shirt emblazoned with details of each of Smith’s 26 Test centuries.
The rest of the space was given over to the supporters’ congratulations to Smith for being on the cusp of captaining a team in 100 Tests.
Several square metres were soon covered in scrawled appreciation for world cricket’s longest-serving current leader.
Smith, who will reach the milestone when he leads South Africa against Pakistan at the Wanderers on Friday, beamed throughout what was clearly an enjoyable time for him.
He was interviewed for the fans’ benefit, and they had the opportunity to tell a television crew what they thought of the national skipper.
But the most illuminating assessment came from Jacques Kallis, the only member of the South Africa squad who has been a Test player for longer than Smith.
"To achieve what he has achieved I don’t think will be achieved very soon again, if ever," Kallis said.
"He’s proved a lot of people wrong. He’s stood up and faced the criticism and produced the results. He leads from the front and that’s what you want in a leader.
"If he says something, he’ll be the first guy to go forward and do it. He doesn’t ask any player to do anything he wouldn’t do himself."
Hashim Amla praised Smith’s consistency as a batsman, which has seen him score 8,624 runs at an average of 49.28.
"He’s taken so much responsibility, and the fact that he’s still here and putting in big performances for the team is a tribute to the person he is and the commitment he has given to the Proteas," Amla said.
South Africa are in the market for a new vice-captain in limited-overs cricket after Amla’s admission on Tuesday that he was "considering stepping down" as AB de Villiers’s deputy.
However, changes in the current leadership will not be formalised until the current national contracts expire next month — and there is at least a suggestion that more radical reassignment is on the cards.
The captaincy issue came to a head during the one-day series against New Zealand earlier this month, when Faf du Plessis took the reins after De Villiers was banned for a slow over rate.
"When they asked me to captain, I wanted to concentrate on my batting," Amla said. "There is no point me being vice-captain if I’m not going to captain when the captain isn’t around."
Selection convener Andrew Hudson corroborated Amla’s explanation. "We will take this into account going forward — he may end up relinquishing the role," he said.
Hudson’s further assertion that "we need to look at each format having an established captain and vice-captain" could mean that much more than Amla’s position will be up for discussion. De Villiers has already given up keeping wicket in limited-overs matches, and there will be concern that he is struggling to come to grips with captaining and fulfilling a key batting role.
Du Plessis captained South Africa in the Twenty20 series against the Black Caps because De Villiers was rested and Amla was reluctant to take his focus off his batting.
The Proteas won that rubber 2-1, but Du Plessis could not prevent them from going down to the New Zealanders by the same score line in the one-day series.
However, if a permanent change is contemplated, Du Plessis is the obvious choice.
He has played just four Tests, 29 one-day internationals and seven Twenty20 internationals, but he has already established himself as a fixture in the South Africa side.