England in South Africa 2015-16 January 17, 2016

'Have to ask questions of everybody' - Graeme Smith


Graeme Smith says that everyone in the South Africa set-up has to come under scrutiny © Getty Images

Former South African captain Graeme Smith has shifted the spotlight off the field and onto the management in the aftermath of South Africa's second successive series defeat. Speaking on television channel SuperSport, Smith explained the responsibility for the recent performances should be shared by several senior personnel, including the coaches.

"The players have to take responsibility for their performances, there's no doubt about that, but the management do too. They haven't quite come into the equation of late. At the end the day the performances of the Test team for the last year haven't been good enough, so you have to ask questions of everybody," Smith said.

"How is management getting the best out of them, how are they preparing them, are they directed in the right way, do they need to be firmer, do they need to be softer? I don't know."

Smith spent a session before the New Year's Test in the nets with South Africa's batsmen and was said to be in talks to take on a consulting role for the remainder of the series. But he was also contracted as a commentator for Test Match Special and SuperSport and those prior commitments were in conflict with a coaching stint which has confined him to being behind the microphone and not in the dressing room which has left South Africa without a batting coach.

Since Russell Domingo took over the coaching job in June 2013, he has made use of three former internationals to assist in the batting department. Gary Kirsten, Domingo's predecessor, had a 50-days-a-year deal with South Africa through 2014 and Mike Hussey was on the support staff during the 2015 World Cup and briefly before the first Test on the tour to India in November. South Africa did not have any other batting experts with the squad for the rest of the India series, which they lost 3-0, or before the England matches.

In India, they managed a highest innings total of 214, were shot out for their lowest score since readmission when they were bowled out for 79 in Nagpur and did not boast a single century-stand. When Smith criticised them on air, he was called in to help.

His short time with the team did not have too much of an impact on their fortunes. Although South Africa showed more fight at Newlands, racking up 627 for 7 to put pressure back on England, they struggled at the Wanderers where they were dismissed for a paltry 83, their lowest at home. They have gone 12 months without a Test victory since beating West Indies in January 2014 and have conceded the No.1 ranking.

With several issues raging in the background - the push towards aggressive transformation, a mid-series change of captain and injuries to key members of the pace pack - the squad appears to be struggling to keep morale up and Smith has sensed that.

"Some of the decision-making around the space looks a bit worrisome for me. The team seems a bit flat. Some of the messages coming out in the press conferences don't seem positive and it's coming from senior players," he said. "You're in a big series and there is a lot of negativity among your senior players. It looks like someone needs to grab the bull by the horns and say, 'listen guys, let's wake up and let's pull our finger out and let's go and play some Test cricket'."

AB de Villiers has been of particular concern, especially for his pre-match comments ahead of the Wanderers Test, his first as captain. He did not deny reports suggesting he was considering early retirement and admitted he was "searching for answers," on how to manage his workload. After the Test, he offered some reassurance by committing himself to Test cricket but the mood was still sombre. "I almost feel like all hope is gone," de Villiers said.

That kind of talk is what Smith is urging South Africa to avoid while still encouraging them to pay attention to what is being said in the public domain about their performances. "These are all questions that need to come out of the environment. When you are not performing well, people are going to ask questions and you've got to live with it," he said.

Smith is not the only former player to express this opinion. Mark Boucher posted a message on Twitter saying South Africa should go "back to the drawing board," while Daryll Cullinan encouraged them to embrace, rather than ignore the chorus or criticism coming their way.

"There is nothing wrong with criticism as long as it is backed up by facts and has credibility behind it," Cullian wrote on Facebook. "One of the things that our cricket lacks is the maturity to embrace it, work with it and evaluate its value. This can only come from people who are secure enough in the own opinions and credibility. When they are not, they surround themselves with like-minded people, have a laager [siege] mentality, label the critics as negative who have nothing good to say and only out to breakdown our game."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • paul on January 22, 2016, 1:57 GMT

    CSA should give kev pietersen a ring, eng don't want him. he could be their captaincy solution!!

  • Gueye on January 21, 2016, 5:32 GMT

    Of course, Smith could be wrong. What does he know, he only captained SA for 100+ Tests...

  •   Asad Farooqui on January 19, 2016, 18:07 GMT

    Problem for SA looks plenty but they are not. At the moment it's only about captaining the team. Amla did best to leave captaincy and now he can focus on batting alone.

    The only problematic area for SA team is too much burden on ABDV. He should be consulted and given break time to time to keep himself fresh. ABDV can probably not play coming season of IPL to keep his cricket appetite intact. Actually it's not too much burden to captain ODI and Test team for ABDV but this is something he should be consulted and here comes Graeme Smith's role.

    Beware SA management> it would be grave mistake to make Graeme Smith play again and captain test side as its very very difficult and this could be potential catastrophe for SA team.

  • Alex on January 19, 2016, 14:44 GMT

    My advice to CSA. Bring new players. Do not ever bring duminy to TEST. I really do not want smith or fef to be captain for long term. But situation is so bad CSA need to find stable captain to quell the chaos created by amla and abd. SA looks like ship in cyclone without an anchor. Arrest the chaos appoint Graeme smith captain for 2 years. In those two year they need to find new captain. Elgar , stephen cook , steyn,morkel,philander all no good for captaincy. They all skilled players but do not have leadership. CSA need to bring atleast 4 new players. Preferably young not 33 year old stephen cook.

  • Kunal on January 19, 2016, 13:55 GMT

    Series is gone 0-3. Plain and simple. Revival is possible only in medium to long term. Thankfully no tests for few months for Proteas. ABD shouldn't captain. Stick with Cook or any other proper opener and Quinton in the team. Develop some pool of back up bowlers. Steyn and Morkel may retire by year end. Smith's reintroduction is a short term idea (not the solution as he might fail too) and hence regressive. Support staff is questionable but I don't know who should coach them. The Proteas have always had talent but have been mentally weak and so Mike Horn's services have been solicited in the past. Maybe something along those lines can help. Call Windies for a series and get a test/series win under their belt. Belief may come back! AND ALAS! Blessing in disguise to have lost the first rank. Last year's performance didn't merit it anyway. That load should hopefully be gone now and maybe they can aim to be consistently in the top 3-4 to begin with. Rebuilding time for Proteas. Good luck!

  • G on January 19, 2016, 9:18 GMT

    Parnell was the captain of the under 19 side that reached the WC final, look where Kholi is today who won it. Talent gone to waste imho.. Aiden Markram won the u19 WC.. hope he doesn't get messed up the same way..

  • GV on January 19, 2016, 7:28 GMT

    it is a strange situation for SA...they do not have a strong captain to inspire them...in this current team why not give faf a chance..the same way smith was given at a young age?...faf and elgar can be made as cap an vice cap...what SA need is to induct some new blood in to the leadership roles which currently faces a vacuum..at the same time, how SA are performing so well in ODI and T20 is also strange...

  • Krishna on January 19, 2016, 5:54 GMT

    Maybe it is afterall time for Graemes comeback. It's all too perfectly scripted! Since Smith's retirement there hasn't been a convincing opener. Even an out of sort Smith, now, looks like he could tackle the new ball. Maybe it's his for the taking..he's expressed a desire to get back into the team. Hope he works on his game and Graeme Smith the captain is what SA desperately need, their Protea Fire( for impact sake)!

  • Subash on January 19, 2016, 5:27 GMT

    After Smith, Kallis retired the question was always going to be who is going to score if AB and Amla don't? FAF looked like the guy for a while but in long term no one has stepped up to the plate. I wouldn't take the India tour with too much disappointment. The bowlers did a decent job in this eng series considering that 3 of the 4 frontline bowlers were injured. Its not just the defeats but its the resignation of Amla and the rumors of retirement of AB, Steyn and Philander that is so bothersome to me.

  • Brokensaint on January 19, 2016, 4:00 GMT

    Russel is not a strong personality hence the lack of sense of direction. Arthur and smith combined created a sense of purpose which I think was destroyed.

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