Biff saga: Politburo 1 Cricket Public 0?

Graeme Smith (Gallo Images)
Graeme Smith (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - Whether one of South Africa’s most celebrated, gladiatorial on-field sons would have cut it as director of cricket in the crisis-torn CSA set-up will remain, at least for the time being, a matter for pure conjecture.

That follows the revelation on Thursday by long-time national captain and opening batsman Graeme Smith that he has “withdrawn interest” in the newly-created post.

The statement by the 38-year-old contained fairly expressive detail which would only have deepened a sense of disappointment - or more tangible anger and indignation in some cases? - among those in the cricket-watching public who advocated his presence in the capacity despite a lack of specialist prior experience.

The widely-respected “Biff” - in a move hardly likely to see a rekindling of his claims with the deeply embattled umbrella body any time soon - spoke of a “frustrating process over the last 10 weeks or so of discussions” in which he had “not developed the necessary confidence that I would be given the level of freedom and support to initiate the required changes”.

In relatively few words, he nevertheless seemed to say so much, conjuring up images of the big personality running into a brick wall of bureaucracy, and possibly self-importance and paranoia about any shakeup intentions on his part.

It would only have been fuelled by the subsequent lament on Twitter by Michael Vaughan, captain of England’s iconic Ashes drought-breaking side of 2005 and a one-time bilateral head-to-head rival in leadership: “Shame they couldn’t give you (Smith) a blank canvas to get on with the role ... you are exactly what SA cricket needs.”

Social media has since been flooded with observations by cricket enthusiasts, both domestically and globally, overwhelmingly suggesting that CSA has blown a golden opportunity to get a truly heavyweight international legend involved at a lofty level.

Instead, anticipate - rightly or wrongly - the blossoming of a belief that cricket in this country is led too lopsidedly by an autocratic politburo, and amidst a mounting pile of evidence suggesting an organisation dogged by infighting, factionalism, legal turmoil, callowness or an overload of “interim” status in key positions ... and a mushrooming financial crisis not helped by the hesitant start to the second edition of much-hoped-for Twenty20 panacea the Mzansi Super League.

Against the backdrop of a perfect storm ominously continuing to brew, Smith will only have accelerated the tide of anti-CSA feeling through his withdrawal statement.

It also comes at a time when, in contrastingly buoyant South African rugby circles after the stirring third Webb Ellis Cup success recently, a man from a heavily player-based background who would have effectively been a counterpart in “directorship” to Smith, Rassie Erasmus, is being lauded for his recipe toward the World Cup glory and associated contribution to a renewed sense of national unity and pride.

While he steps down from the head coach position now, Erasmus, who played 36 times for the Springboks and had a 10-year first-class career as a dynamic loose forward, simply shifts more industriously into his already-existing role as director of rugby with the national body.

In a purely cricketing achievement sense, Smith has an even broader pedigree with his length of Proteas service and weight of statistical achievement across the formats, although he would have begun a “desk” job on considerably more of a risky, fast track basis than Erasmus did.

While charismatic ex-players carry no automatic guarantees of success in positions that require padding-up of considerably different kinds much of the time, Smith would have been seen by plenty of observers as a welcome balancer in the CSA corridors, coming from cricket’s truest, top-flight trenches.

Whatever their own level of responsibility for Smith’s no-go decision, Cricket South Africa will widely be seen, in an already dangerous climate for them, to have cocked a snook at a Proteas hero, even as the process of filling the director’s position in a hurried time frame continues …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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