Graeme Smith (Gallo Images)
While some have been reasonably surprised by Graeme Smith’s return back to the front lines of South African cricket, former Proteas coach Gary Kirsten believes it was inevitable.
“Biff”, as Smith is affectionately known as, was appointed as Cricket South Africa’s full-time director of cricket a fortnight ago having previously fulfilled the role in an acting capacity.
He has already garnered steady support, particularly from the national women’s side, whose captain, Dane van Niekerk, labelled him a “stand-up guy” with a clear vision.
“Quality leadership, they do get it right…” Kirsten, a World Cup-winning coach with India, told a leadership webinar hosted by Wits Sport this week.
“That’s why I’m very excited that Graeme is back in South African cricket. A guy like him finds a way, they just know what they need to do to get the best out of different environments and the best out of people.”
The 52-year-old former left-hander, who was the first South African to play 100 Tests, is more intimately familiar with Smith’s virtues as leader than most, having been both a team-mate and coach of him.
“Graeme took over the reins as South African captain as a 22-year-old. I was kind of a Test veteran by then (in 2003), but right from the outset I could see that this guy is going to become a great leader. He just had the credentials,” said Kirsten.
Smith would go on to become the most successful Test captain in the history of the game, skippering the Proteas in 109 matches, winning 53.
Both are records.
More importantly, he managed to navigate a challenging start to his tenure by spearheading the Proteas’ rise to the top of the ICC Test team rankings under Mickey Arthur and then Kirsten.
That steeliness will be vital as CSA attempts to tackle various issues, ranging from severe financial difficulties, a potential influx of UK-based players to continued scepticism over its corporate governance.
“A guy like Graeme has the underlying leadership quality of being able to front up to pressure,” said Kirsten.
“He never shies away from that. He’s become a great leader by example. Guys like him don’t mind putting themselves in the toughest of situations.
“From my experience, Graeme is a great presence and orator. He’s almost like a father figure to a lot of people.”
– Compiled by Heinz Schenk