Former South Africa captain Graeme Smith is disappointed with the career graphs of his two countrymen Quinton de Kock and Chris Morris. Smith also praised India, and the captain Virat Kohli, on their recent away performances, while delivering the second annual Jagmohan Dalmiya Lecture at Eden Gardens on Friday.
While Smith stated wicketkeeper-batsman de Kock's career was "stagnating" after a rollicking start when he smacked three centuries in a row before he had played 20 ODIs, he wondered if it was a "mental thing" or a "heart thing" that was missing from Morris' development as one of the world's best allrounders.
"Recently, our bowlers have done well," Smith said while expressing where the strength in the current South African team lay. "We hope to squeeze a few more years out of [Dale] Steyn as well, but it's the batting department that worries me. Quinton de Kock - I feel he is stagnating in his career. I would've liked to see him grow into the top echelons like Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli.
"And also Chris Morris. He's a guy who's not quite lived up to his expectations. Whether it's a mental thing or a heart thing, I don't know. But I really want them to step up ahead of the 2019 World Cup."
Since January 2017, de Kock has scored 1223 runs in 26 ODIs with two hundreds and nine half-centuries. His average since then has been 48.92 - compared to his career average of 45.25 - but it's his potential that remains unfulfilled which has bothered Smith. In the same period, the people who Smith compared de Kock to, average 72.59 (Rohit) and 95.07 (Kohli) in ODIs, in 40 innings each.
Morris, 31, made his international debut in December 2012, but in the last six years has played four Tests, 34 ODIs and 17 T20Is. His search for extra speed during South Africa's tour of England in 2017 caused a back injury that sidelined him for four months. He injured his back once again in April 2018, during the IPL while representing Delhi Daredevils, and had to pull out of the tournament after just four games. Since then, Morris has also missed South Africa's contests with Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe. In 19 ODIs since January 2017, he has taken just 19 wickets at an average of almost 42. His high score in the period is only 37, with an average of 20.08.
Morris recently returned to the field after five months to represent Titans in first-class matches and T20s. In two four-day games, Morris bowled 56 overs and took 12 wickets at 16.33, but could not impress as much with the bat. He was soon brought back in the limited-overs sides for the Australia tour.
Smith also praised the performances of India's Test team in tough conditions on away tours this year. There was no lack in ability in the Indian camp, according to Smith, but he felt that the team lost key moments or took decisions that went against them during the tours of South Africa and England, eventually hurting the overall Test results. Smith, however, backed India to win the Test series in Australia if they took the "right" decisions.
"Across the board, India's seam attack is one of the best one can see," he said. "And if India toured South Africa today, they'd be certainly outstanding. We know how dominant India can be at home, and they would've been disappointed not winning a Test series in South Africa and England, because - from a bowling and batting perspective - the ability is there. India can challenge teams away, and hopefully those two tours of South Africa and England have given them some lessons to take into Australia.
"It's not an ability thing. If the captain and coach get the right combination, I expect India to be very successful in Australia. Lessons learnt, the availability of key players and making better decisions during key moments - like the decision to drop Ajinkya Rahane for the Cape Town Test. If they do those right, they'll certainly win in Australia."
Smith also addressed the everlasting debate on the health of Test cricket. He said that Test cricket needed the game's superstars to embrace the format for it to survive. Alluding to Kohli's distinct desire to excel in Test cricket, Smith said that as long as the India captain remained interested in the longest format, the format will remain sheltered.
"Kohli is an asset for Test cricket," Smith said. "The world game is lacking a huge amount of superstars. We've seen AB [de Villiers] retire and yes, there are some up and coming players who could become the Souravs, Laras or Azharuddins, but I think Virat is that guy.
"Virat wants to excel in Tests, and he's doing well to keep Test cricket relevant in a country which loves T20s and the IPL. As long as Virat keeps Test cricket as a top priority, the format will be safe."
The lecture, named in honour of the former Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) president who also served as BCCI president and the ICC president, has been a brainchild of Sourav Ganguly, the current CAB president. Ganguly's "desire" to have an annual lecture in the name of one of India's greatest cricket administrators came into effect last year when Kapil Dev, India's first World Cup winning captain, delivered the inaugural lecture.
The event on Friday also featured a panel discussion with some protagonists of the 1993 Hero Cup, whose final was held almost exactly 25 years ago at Eden Gardens where Anil Kumble's 6 for 12 helped India trounce West Indies in dramatic fashion. Two members of that West Indies squad - Brian Lara and Carl Hooper - and Mohammad Azharuddin joined Ganguly and India's T20 captain Rohit Sharma after Smith's lecture to take part in a light-hearted discussion. Ganguly also promised that the lecture would continue annually, most likely just before an international game in Kolkata.
India play West Indies on November 4 at Eden Gardens for the first T20I before the series moves to Lucknow and Chennai to end the tour.