Getting youngsters into a stale Protea T20 side is a bigger issue than captaincy

2010-08-25 00:00

AFTER much hype about relinquishing the T20 captaincy, Graham Smith’s announcement last week was a damp squib.

There was an air of expectancy and much speculation as the world’s media gathered for the press conference called by Cricket South Africa. Would Smith announce that he was retiring from T20 cricket? Would he draw the line on his one-day international career? These were some of the educated guesses.

A live televised press conference lured us all into thinking that we would hear breaking news of great import. Instead we heard Smith confirm that he would no longer captain the T20 side and that he would give up the captaincy of the ODI team after the World Cup next year. With all due respect, so what?

Apparently there was stunned silence at the completion of the press conference as the media came to terms with the insignificance of the announcements. The fact that Shaun Pollock’s press conference to announce his retirement from world cricket was understated by comparison highlights just what an anticlimax this was. A press release confirming Smith’s resignation as T20 captain and his intentions regarding the ODI captaincy would have sufficed in my opinion. Instead, the media were left scratching their heads for a story and wondering quite rightly what all the fuss was about.

In the aftermath, it is understandable that stories have emerged about possible rifts in the team and between the coaching staff and rumours that Cricket South Africa has given Smith the squeeze. How else could you spice up such a dull story?

Smith made his reasons for relinquishing the T20 captaincy clear. Being able to play as a senior player and not as captain would lighten his load of responsibility, lessen the pressure on him and therefore help to prolong his career as a cricketer.

Having assumed the captaincy at a young age, Smith has performed the duties of captain admirably for some time. At the age of 29 he is still a young cricketer and his decision to relinquish the captaincy is surely premature. By comparison, Australian captain Ricky Ponting took the decision to retire from T20 cricket completely at the age of 37.

Smith’s decision has paved the way for Johan Botha (who is just a year younger) to take over the T20 reins. Botha is an exciting player and a competent captain who has already proved himself. He led the Proteas last season in the absence of Smith who was recovering from injury.

Last week’s press conference has drawn a veil over the real issues facing South African T20 cricket.

Getting the balance of the side correct and pruning the “deadwood” need to be priorities for Corrie van Zyl and his selection panel.

Injecting young blood into the stale Protea T20 team is a far more important issue.

South Africa’s T20 record is poor and wholesale changes need to be made before Cricket South Africa can get their T20 campaign back on track.

• Neil Johnson is a former Natal, WP and Zimbabwe all-rounder who lives and coaches in Pietermaritzburg.

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