Alex Bowden blogs at King Cricket
I am both baffled and deeply troubled by the astonishing lack of concern being shown about what Graeme Smith's retirement will mean for the England cricket team. It's almost as if people don't think it's about England at all.
In the wake of England's Ashes debacle, Alastair Cook was asked whether he planned to stay on as captain. Cook said: "This has been a tough tour, but I plan on seeing this job out. I am absolutely 100% committed to the captaincy and that will remain the case until Graeme Smith tours with his South African team, at which point I will follow the lead of my predecessors and tearfully stand down. That is the way that we do things in this England team and that remains my plan."
Nasser Hussain in 2003, Michael Vaughan in 2008 and Andrew Strauss in 2012: Graeme Smith is the cue for England captains to exit. His role is vital. He keeps the team fresh and prevents stagnation. Following his retirement, the question must be asked: how are England going to cope?
There is now a very real chance that Cook could remain as England captain for another 60 years or more. Without that Pavlovian response to a Graeme Smith press conference on English soil, how will Cook ever find a way to stand down? We are facing a world in which he will just plod along, taking positives until he has the largest collection in recorded history. He'll learn so many lessons that by 2050 a creepily youthful looking Shane Warne will finally accept that Cook sort of knows what he's doing as captain.
But is that really what England want? Is Cook as captain really the future? Or, more accurately, should it be the only future? With the obvious and eternal exception of Brad Hogg, surely cricket is for young men? Half the point is that the game is forever moving forward.
This logjam at the top also has grave implications for Andy Flower's new job. He's meant to be cultivating leadership in young players, but what's the point without Smith there to clear a slot for them? Perhaps Flower's role should be hastily amended and he should instead be entrusted with developing following abilities instead. With Farmer Cook inked in at the top for the foreseeable future, the cricket team needs more sheep. A yes-men production line could churn out players infatuated with the long-standing team culture established by England's perennial leader.
What else can they do? Hope that South Africa find someone to replace Smith? I've heard at least one person describe him as irreplaceable and I have no reason to doubt that assessment, so that's simply not an option. Plus, it's out of England's hands.
The solution, perhaps, is an obvious one. England should hire Smith as part of their astonishingly extensive backroom team. He wouldn't even prove that costly, because he'd only be needed once every four years. If they do need to free up some of their budget, perhaps they could lay off a junior masseur analyst or their falafel-sourcing executive. Smith could then be paid to waltz in at some point during the summer of 2016, look Cook in the eye and his work would be done for another cycle.