South Africa's early World Cup exit April 4, 2011

Smith's no-show stokes fans' wrath

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After seven weeks battling tough, foreign conditions at the World Cup, most players would be forgiven for wanting a break. There's the odd one, like Ricky Ponting who may be fighting to prove a point and will go straight into another series, but some, like Shahid Afridi, will welcome some rest. Another - Graeme Smith, who stepped down as South Africa's ODI captain after the tournament - used the downtime to move on with his life.

Smith did not return to South Africa with the rest of his team-mates 10 days ago, even though the World Cup was his last assignment as captain. For a few days, there was no word of his whereabouts, but then it emerged he had flown to Ireland to be with his girlfriend Morgan Deane. In that time, the pair became engaged, a fairytale ending for Smith's mini-vacation.

Nothing about that story would have been considered unusual had South Africa not crashed out of the tournament in spectacular fashion, losing in the quarter-finals to New Zealand. The team's record of never having won a knockout game in a World Cup stayed intact and, after bringing their most dynamic squad to the tournament as well as their best attitude, answers were needed. A section of South African fans had wanted those answers from Smith himself, even though he had stepped down as skipper.

Strictly speaking, Smith gave them his thoughts when he addressed the media, and the public, at a post-match press conference in Dhaka. It was a medium that was slightly removed from the South African public, but as had they watched the television inserts and read the stories, they would have had his explanation. However, because they wanted it first hand, they have since called his no-show everything from cowardly to just plain selfish.

The real crux of the fans' anger lies somewhere in the galaxy that has become social networking, because unlike a face-to-face conversation, the two parties can't simply part amicably and wait until the next time they meet to resume talking. On the internet there is no next time, there is simply all the time. When Smith started the conversation with his fans, the day he opened a Twitter account, that was something he either should have known or should have had told to him by his employers, Cricket South Africa.

He is not the most active tweeter, unlike AB de Villiers or JP Duminy, but he is still out there. During the tournament, he posted a few times. After the loss against England, he said: "I believe in this team…we have the opportunity to shape today and tomorrow and we will be there when it counts. Thx to our loyal supporters." It was the kind of message that helps the die-hards keep the faith and draws the disbelievers in, and fuelled his following on the site.

However, his last message is dated March 16th: "So gonna be offline in Bangladesh…thx for all your supportive messages for the team. Chat soon. : -)" How soon, the fans may have wondered? They didn't want anything specific from him, he didn't have to say that he was sorry, like Afridi did, he didn't have to admit that South Africa were outplayed and out-thought like Daniel Vettori did after New Zealand's semi-final loss to Sri Lanka. He just had to say something, so his followers didn't feel abandoned.

The situation was not helped by Cricket South Africa (CSA) announcing a press gathering on the day the team landed back in the country. The branding went along the lines of "come to the airport to welcome the boys home". The arrival was marketed needlessly, creating a hype that should only have happened had the team returned victorious. Had the players slipped back into the country and a small press conference been held, few would have noticed Smith's absence.

The magnitude of the event didn't allow for that and it was immediately evident that he had not flown home. The team management said he had stayed away for "personal reasons," revealing no more about where he was. It was outgoing coach Corrie van Zyl and team manager Mohammed Moosajee who addressed the media, not Smith. Instead of reacting with mild irritation which wore off, some South Africans have behaved like scorned lovers.

Their jokes about Smith's relationship have had a nasty edge, as though they are deliberately taunting him. "Graeme Smith's fiancee bought him cuff links, he bought her a choker," was one of the more cunning and less vulgar ones. In their sarcasm, they've failed to see that Smith did something completely human by taking some time off after a tough period. In his hope for privacy what Smith and his management failed to do was be prepared for the effects of a growing culture of no privacy that social media creates.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dr_Van_Nostrand on April 6, 2011, 7:03 GMT

    Huh? I don't see what he has done wrong.

  • I_Love_My_India on April 6, 2011, 6:12 GMT

    I am an ardent fan of Jonty Rhodes, Cluesner, Kallis, etc. Probably that made me a loyal fan of SA. But I never liked Graeme. May be the way he talk to the press, I dont know. I dont care whether he goes to Hawai or Uganda, to propose his girl friend or divorce her. But though he stepped down as a captain, I guess he should have gone with his team, face the fans and then he could anywhere and do what ever he wanted. If I am correct, in the series against India, after the first test, he was confident and told a lot about his team, where as Dhoni said SA the better team won the match. In the second one, after the loss Smith never admitted about the other team's strength where as Dhoni was silent about his team. I really hate his attitude, probably an elder brother of our Prince Ganguly.....

  • harshacc on April 6, 2011, 1:44 GMT

    Guys give him a break.The South African media/public can still keelhaul him and make him walk the plank once he is back in South Africa.

  • Cricket_theBestGame on April 6, 2011, 1:03 GMT

    DaisonGarvasis - you summed it up beautifully and it goes for each and every captain that played in the w/c.

  • Piyush_Advani on April 5, 2011, 16:25 GMT

    Graeme Smith rocks!Why accuse him when it was the middle order to blame?

  • MrGarreth on April 5, 2011, 10:58 GMT

    Im a South African I wish my fellow Saffers would get over it already. what's done is done. Badgering Smith wont help. He is no longer the captain so it is pretty much a pointless exercise to have a go at him. I sincerely believe that this was one of the best sides we have produced and that they allowed the pressure to get to them. Smith was in the change room after he had given SA a good start. He was counting on his middle order and they let him down. What could he have done? I suffered the heartache too but I dont think sending harmful messages to the boys helps. They KNOW they let down the country is that not enough? They were in tears in the change room for God's sake. I often question the humanity of some of these so-called "fans". It sucks but I will never give up on the Proteas, I know they have the talent they just need the application. Heartache is good sometimes. It makes you hungrier. Hunger overcomes fear. Its a basic nature.

  • on April 5, 2011, 10:01 GMT

    I dont think he needs to specially apologize or account to anyone. People watch cricket because of entertainment and SA and Smith have provided them that regardless of victory or defeat. He is free to do what he wants and I guess no others have really any rights to crucify him here. He played his Cricket to the best he can . He also has his life on his own. I guess people who criticize him must put themselves in his shoes!

  • Sameer_Ponnada on April 5, 2011, 9:54 GMT

    @ DaisonGarvasis... well said mate..

  • DaisonGarvasis on April 5, 2011, 7:56 GMT

    Smith ows nothing to none. He lead the team and played the game of cricket. Now the tournament is over and he has other things to in life as well. There were 14 teams playing and one team won it. That doesnt mean all the other 13 captians and players need to go and beg for forgiveness to the public. They represented the country and did so because they were best in their countries. Now if he go back to South Africa in a direct flight or in a diverted flight is nothing to do with the public. Moreover he has gone to propose to start a new life. All the ones not liking that needs to get a life.

  • kaapi on April 5, 2011, 6:57 GMT

    I don't think he is answerable to anyone outside his cricketing commitments, is he? This guy is a great bloke, let him have his peace and return double-charged. Explanations are not going to deliver the cup, move on! Don't make a great player sore, and distract him.

  • Dr_Van_Nostrand on April 6, 2011, 7:03 GMT

    Huh? I don't see what he has done wrong.

  • I_Love_My_India on April 6, 2011, 6:12 GMT

    I am an ardent fan of Jonty Rhodes, Cluesner, Kallis, etc. Probably that made me a loyal fan of SA. But I never liked Graeme. May be the way he talk to the press, I dont know. I dont care whether he goes to Hawai or Uganda, to propose his girl friend or divorce her. But though he stepped down as a captain, I guess he should have gone with his team, face the fans and then he could anywhere and do what ever he wanted. If I am correct, in the series against India, after the first test, he was confident and told a lot about his team, where as Dhoni said SA the better team won the match. In the second one, after the loss Smith never admitted about the other team's strength where as Dhoni was silent about his team. I really hate his attitude, probably an elder brother of our Prince Ganguly.....

  • harshacc on April 6, 2011, 1:44 GMT

    Guys give him a break.The South African media/public can still keelhaul him and make him walk the plank once he is back in South Africa.

  • Cricket_theBestGame on April 6, 2011, 1:03 GMT

    DaisonGarvasis - you summed it up beautifully and it goes for each and every captain that played in the w/c.

  • Piyush_Advani on April 5, 2011, 16:25 GMT

    Graeme Smith rocks!Why accuse him when it was the middle order to blame?

  • MrGarreth on April 5, 2011, 10:58 GMT

    Im a South African I wish my fellow Saffers would get over it already. what's done is done. Badgering Smith wont help. He is no longer the captain so it is pretty much a pointless exercise to have a go at him. I sincerely believe that this was one of the best sides we have produced and that they allowed the pressure to get to them. Smith was in the change room after he had given SA a good start. He was counting on his middle order and they let him down. What could he have done? I suffered the heartache too but I dont think sending harmful messages to the boys helps. They KNOW they let down the country is that not enough? They were in tears in the change room for God's sake. I often question the humanity of some of these so-called "fans". It sucks but I will never give up on the Proteas, I know they have the talent they just need the application. Heartache is good sometimes. It makes you hungrier. Hunger overcomes fear. Its a basic nature.

  • on April 5, 2011, 10:01 GMT

    I dont think he needs to specially apologize or account to anyone. People watch cricket because of entertainment and SA and Smith have provided them that regardless of victory or defeat. He is free to do what he wants and I guess no others have really any rights to crucify him here. He played his Cricket to the best he can . He also has his life on his own. I guess people who criticize him must put themselves in his shoes!

  • Sameer_Ponnada on April 5, 2011, 9:54 GMT

    @ DaisonGarvasis... well said mate..

  • DaisonGarvasis on April 5, 2011, 7:56 GMT

    Smith ows nothing to none. He lead the team and played the game of cricket. Now the tournament is over and he has other things to in life as well. There were 14 teams playing and one team won it. That doesnt mean all the other 13 captians and players need to go and beg for forgiveness to the public. They represented the country and did so because they were best in their countries. Now if he go back to South Africa in a direct flight or in a diverted flight is nothing to do with the public. Moreover he has gone to propose to start a new life. All the ones not liking that needs to get a life.

  • kaapi on April 5, 2011, 6:57 GMT

    I don't think he is answerable to anyone outside his cricketing commitments, is he? This guy is a great bloke, let him have his peace and return double-charged. Explanations are not going to deliver the cup, move on! Don't make a great player sore, and distract him.

  • Viper2.0 on April 5, 2011, 6:52 GMT

    Well if this is supposed to be unprofessional,i still remember the day when India were knocked out of the 2007 WC and the then Indian Captain Rahul Dravid went straight to Kerala to enjoy his honeymoon with his newly married wife,which made every Indian fan angry!!

  • on April 5, 2011, 6:45 GMT

    at the start of the tournament my favourite was SA, they are the complete alround team.....this was their best chance to win world cup, because australia presented weak team......i thought Srilanka will be the spoiler for the SA......

    Tendulkar's last world cup, so India should definetly win for him, that too on home soil......but our bowling and fielding is very weak....

    so i felt india should win against SA and let SA(because yet to win any major trnment,chokers tag etc) win the cup.....but its other way happened......Dhoni is the captain for all, including india inc....he taught us,what strong belief on you and your team make great wonders.....

    hats off to our dhoni and boys, he is the real motivator for me.....

  • DaisonGarvasis on April 5, 2011, 5:52 GMT

    Guys, let him be. He didnt want to lose the match. Now after the event where he goes is his choice. What were the people going to get if he went back to SA after the event? And what did they lose now that he went to Ireland? Yes SA didnt win the world cup. That has nothing to do with Smith, going to Ireland, Hawai, get engaged, get divorced or whatever....

  • landl47 on April 5, 2011, 2:35 GMT

    How awful of Smith- I expect some of the South African fans will even demand that he be removed as captain now. Yes, I know he has stepped down, but do they?

  • on April 5, 2011, 1:47 GMT

    I think after the post inetrview he said his saying so let it be,Smith went to get ingage and I think it is wonderful and it has to be respect by all, Smith is a kind of bloke who has put all the hardwork in try hard as all the rest of all the players from 1992 show his loyalty had rocky relationship but never lost the plot like blokes as in Nel, Lootsman,Gibbs etc, he has keep his cool, Smith made a correct desition and I belive Cricket SA knew about it, it is great that he is not a tweater freak, because private live is part of success as well, I support you smitty show some pics of your engagement and get abck her and strting to make runs mate. gazz

  • hansie_gill_ on April 4, 2011, 20:19 GMT

    We do not need any answer from the chokers or jokers..............whole system to be changed.........cricket is finished in RSA ?

  • cabinet96 on April 4, 2011, 19:58 GMT

    Look at his Facebook page, disgusting some of the comments on there. There the cowards hiding behind their computer screens, we are with you Smith.

  • SATID on April 4, 2011, 19:41 GMT

    Why is no mention ever made of the administrators with their laughable credentials responsible for the parting of Mickey Arthur so short before the World Cup. As Jake White and Gary Kirsten proved achieving success is a journey of patience and the creating of structures towards an ultimate goal. Can the SA public for once realize that cricket is merely the sideshow to the political ambitions of few. CSA is a circus with very little interest past personal agendas and large egos. The only issue with our players was reading yet again a week BEFORE a huge game 'how confident we are' and 'how we will make a nation proud' bs...we would prefer you show us next time and keep your Nostradamus predictions to confines of team. FYI talking about 'why we will not choke' is not exactly mental preparation for world domination.

  • SA2015 on April 4, 2011, 19:25 GMT

    Yes, a different approach is needed. he has been captain for 9 years now, with no real sucesses (60% success rate in fact). It may be wrong to critisize him taking the time off, but remember, the fans are actually angry because there have been many stories over the years about the bad politics he has brought into the SA team, and maybe this act is just seen as a confirmation that he is not 100% committed. On the field in the past two years he has batted very half-heartedly, and fans feel very offended when they have such passion for the sport, but clearly their captain does not want to do whatever it takes to take the team to new heights.

  • SaifQazi on April 4, 2011, 19:18 GMT

    Mr Firdose Moonda, very well written and all that, but i think what you should had written in the beginning, that Smith was entitled to have a break, you had written this in the end. I just felt, he deserved a bit of time off after such a loss and the way he took it was absolutely fine. I can well understand the kind of mood he would had been and who knows, he wasn't in the right frame of mind to face his own people to whom he neither could apologise nor state that they were outplayed.

    All things aside, Mr Moonda, may be you should written the last few sentences in the very first paragraph:) just my observation:)

  • on April 4, 2011, 19:13 GMT

    Gimme a break - Got anything good to say about Smith or South Africans? The guy went to Ireland to propose to his girlfriend - good for him. As for South Africans' reaction - I'm not sure I believe its as serious as you make it out to be.

  • on April 4, 2011, 18:30 GMT

    Smith is no longer the captain. He stepped down at the conclusion of the World Cup. The outcome wasn't solely his fault. Those taunting him now need to get a life. It's up to him what he does now.

  • alfonsopacket on April 4, 2011, 18:07 GMT

    Diabolical India...easy there bro. The diabolical things about that WC was the coach, unprecedented media hype and the wrath of unforgiving fans. Arrogance will never stand you in good stead, especially when you are down. Those who live by the sword and all that...Ricky Ponting will testify to that. Smith is prepared to take them on, I wouldnt worry too much about him. And his fiance is certainly smokin hot...;-)

  • SundarAdiseshan on April 4, 2011, 17:41 GMT

    As a leader one is bound by certain principles and ethics. Every action of a leader is dissected as he hogs the limelight during good times, bad times, lousy ones et al. Nonetheless, everyone understands personal space, privacy etc but it needs to be times well. Smith lost it here and so did the management. Smith owes an explanation to the supporters though I am sure he has none. They just choked. An admittance to this might have been his salvation. Last but not the least, he needs to step down from all forms of cricket and measure his true worth as a player alone. Here he will have some questions to answer himself before thrusting his chest out and point fingers. He never led from the front......period.. Sorry Graeme, you did have a long rope for quite some time. You did not have the hands for it..

  • on April 4, 2011, 17:09 GMT

    let the man be...like Boris said..but while i was scanning through this article i saw Bangladesh was sending an "A" team to South africa..really ..seriously....i mean their national side plays like a club side from Australia..i am sure all aussie state sides can thrash the daylights of bangladesh..seriously the team that should be relegated has the audacity to send an "A" team..what a joke... not a bangladesh hater just a realist:)

  • toughthinktank on April 4, 2011, 15:56 GMT

    & I thought its jst the indian medial which does not make sense...

  • desny007 on April 4, 2011, 15:54 GMT

    Probably he choked in mid air.. Thats why he could not make it to south africa... BTW where are all the SA supporters who were making so much noise since dec and when they beat us in the group game... On paper they should be the team that should have been handed the trophy even before the tournament started, well i guess human is to error, we all thought SA cricket team is the one to watch out for but reality is they are pretty ordinary... get well soon guys, hang in there your time will come

  • boris6491 on April 4, 2011, 14:46 GMT

    It is comical to think that people attribute SA's bombing out of the world cup to Smith. Certainly, as the captain and a key batsman, he would have some influence towards that result but it is simply ridiculous to hang him because he has decided to take a holiday from a tough period at 'work'. This just seems like the media is out to hang him and the fact that he did not return home to face the music made it worse. I think people should leave him alone, he maybe a public figure, but he is also a human being who deserves to have a life external to cricket. It is not the captain or the players that are responsible for the debacle. It is a mental sentiment, a lacking temperament and a constant recollection of history leading to pressure which they cannot overcome. To me, a different approach is needed with this team. If Kirsten could transform the diabolical India of 2007, surely there is a coach/management team who can do the same for a team as talented and able if not more.

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  • boris6491 on April 4, 2011, 14:46 GMT

    It is comical to think that people attribute SA's bombing out of the world cup to Smith. Certainly, as the captain and a key batsman, he would have some influence towards that result but it is simply ridiculous to hang him because he has decided to take a holiday from a tough period at 'work'. This just seems like the media is out to hang him and the fact that he did not return home to face the music made it worse. I think people should leave him alone, he maybe a public figure, but he is also a human being who deserves to have a life external to cricket. It is not the captain or the players that are responsible for the debacle. It is a mental sentiment, a lacking temperament and a constant recollection of history leading to pressure which they cannot overcome. To me, a different approach is needed with this team. If Kirsten could transform the diabolical India of 2007, surely there is a coach/management team who can do the same for a team as talented and able if not more.

  • desny007 on April 4, 2011, 15:54 GMT

    Probably he choked in mid air.. Thats why he could not make it to south africa... BTW where are all the SA supporters who were making so much noise since dec and when they beat us in the group game... On paper they should be the team that should have been handed the trophy even before the tournament started, well i guess human is to error, we all thought SA cricket team is the one to watch out for but reality is they are pretty ordinary... get well soon guys, hang in there your time will come

  • toughthinktank on April 4, 2011, 15:56 GMT

    & I thought its jst the indian medial which does not make sense...

  • on April 4, 2011, 17:09 GMT

    let the man be...like Boris said..but while i was scanning through this article i saw Bangladesh was sending an "A" team to South africa..really ..seriously....i mean their national side plays like a club side from Australia..i am sure all aussie state sides can thrash the daylights of bangladesh..seriously the team that should be relegated has the audacity to send an "A" team..what a joke... not a bangladesh hater just a realist:)

  • SundarAdiseshan on April 4, 2011, 17:41 GMT

    As a leader one is bound by certain principles and ethics. Every action of a leader is dissected as he hogs the limelight during good times, bad times, lousy ones et al. Nonetheless, everyone understands personal space, privacy etc but it needs to be times well. Smith lost it here and so did the management. Smith owes an explanation to the supporters though I am sure he has none. They just choked. An admittance to this might have been his salvation. Last but not the least, he needs to step down from all forms of cricket and measure his true worth as a player alone. Here he will have some questions to answer himself before thrusting his chest out and point fingers. He never led from the front......period.. Sorry Graeme, you did have a long rope for quite some time. You did not have the hands for it..

  • alfonsopacket on April 4, 2011, 18:07 GMT

    Diabolical India...easy there bro. The diabolical things about that WC was the coach, unprecedented media hype and the wrath of unforgiving fans. Arrogance will never stand you in good stead, especially when you are down. Those who live by the sword and all that...Ricky Ponting will testify to that. Smith is prepared to take them on, I wouldnt worry too much about him. And his fiance is certainly smokin hot...;-)

  • on April 4, 2011, 18:30 GMT

    Smith is no longer the captain. He stepped down at the conclusion of the World Cup. The outcome wasn't solely his fault. Those taunting him now need to get a life. It's up to him what he does now.

  • on April 4, 2011, 19:13 GMT

    Gimme a break - Got anything good to say about Smith or South Africans? The guy went to Ireland to propose to his girlfriend - good for him. As for South Africans' reaction - I'm not sure I believe its as serious as you make it out to be.

  • SaifQazi on April 4, 2011, 19:18 GMT

    Mr Firdose Moonda, very well written and all that, but i think what you should had written in the beginning, that Smith was entitled to have a break, you had written this in the end. I just felt, he deserved a bit of time off after such a loss and the way he took it was absolutely fine. I can well understand the kind of mood he would had been and who knows, he wasn't in the right frame of mind to face his own people to whom he neither could apologise nor state that they were outplayed.

    All things aside, Mr Moonda, may be you should written the last few sentences in the very first paragraph:) just my observation:)

  • SA2015 on April 4, 2011, 19:25 GMT

    Yes, a different approach is needed. he has been captain for 9 years now, with no real sucesses (60% success rate in fact). It may be wrong to critisize him taking the time off, but remember, the fans are actually angry because there have been many stories over the years about the bad politics he has brought into the SA team, and maybe this act is just seen as a confirmation that he is not 100% committed. On the field in the past two years he has batted very half-heartedly, and fans feel very offended when they have such passion for the sport, but clearly their captain does not want to do whatever it takes to take the team to new heights.