A celebrated cricketer and one of the best to have represented South Africa in all forms of the game, former Proteas captain Graeme Smith was brought into cricket administration in the hope that he would fix all that’s wrong with the way the game is run in the country.
However, barely a year into the job, the southpaw who had an unblemished career on and off the field, has now been dragged into the front and centre of controversy surrounding his appointment as the director of Cricket South Africa (CSA).
While there’s been a buzz around the move, what irked the former Protea, who holds the record of scoring the highest number of Test runs as captain (8659), were some media reports quoting his detractors as questioning his appointment to the post.
Smith was formally appointed interim director of cricket, CSA, in December last year after Thabang Moroe, the CEO, was suspended over alleged unfair practices in the job. Smith later inked a two-year deal, with the option of extending it by another year.
Process of appointment questioned
His critics have cast aspersions on the process through which he was appointed and the proposed extension to the post.
Graeme Smith, for his part, offered a straight bat to his detractors, saying he was appointed through an exhaustive process and there was nothing remotely fishy about it.
“If you look at some of the things which are being said around appointments, my appointment, and the appointments of my staff, I think some of those things are extremely unfair. It was good to see the (CSA) president (Chris Nenzani) put that straight with his most recent comments,”an official release by CSA quoted Graeme Smith as saying.
Speaking to Sport24, the CSA president said, “There’s a false perception that these appointments happened at the same time but they didn’t.”
Seeking to emphasise his point, Nenzani said, “The appointments he (Smith) made were endorsed by the board. If you look at the urgency of the situation at the time, we needed to have a management team in place. And we wanted to give the director of cricket a handle on that (Mark Boucher’s) appointment as coach.”
Many of the critics sought to tie Smith’s appointment to the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement in a bid to build a narrative around ‘favouritism’ and ‘selectivism’ in South African cricket. To that, Nenzani said that the BLM movement ‘cannot be a witch-hunt’.
Smith, in his defence, further said, “Cricket South Africa courted me for a while, I went through the same interview process as everybody else in getting the job. I got involved because I’ve got cricket at heart and want to be a part of the solution. I want to create a strong Cricket South Africa.”
Dismissing criticism around the appointment of former keeper-bat Mark Boucher as coach, Graeme Smith said, “I made a number of appointments in December, not just Mark Boucher. I brought in the permanent staff like the team manager Volvo (Masubelele), Justin Ontong, Charl Langeveldt, Enoch Nkwe, and the medical staff.”
Nenzani said that while he was all for former players opening up on their unsavoury experiences during their playing days, the BLM movement shouldn’t be used to ‘push agendas’.
The likes of Makhaya Ntini and Lonwabo Tsotsobe recently opened a can of worms, claiming they were subjected to racial bias during their playing days. While Ntini claimed that he was ignored and isolated while his teammates made evening plans, Tsotsobe said “things that they did to my mentor, the person I looked up to”, were done to him.
Smith may have cleared the air on his appointment, but the question is will that drown the noise around the larger issue of racial bias and injustice in South African cricket.