Former South Africa captain Graeme Smith believes Aiden Markram's appointment as interim captain for the ODIs against India was "not the right decision," and hopes that his confidence hasn't taken a dent after the home team was comprehensively beaten 5-1.
Smith, who was himself handed the captaincy as a 22-year old after South Africa's early exit from the 2003 World Cup, said 23-year old Markram, who had only played two ODIs before he was thrust into the role, should have been allowed to "grow, develop and become a strong player." Markram made 8, 32, 22, 32 and 24 in five innings as captain, and finished the series with 127 runs at an average of just over 21.
"I don't think it was the right decision," Smith told ESPNcricinfo at Wanderers. "Everyone has been talking about his leadership. Probably coming from me that doesn't make sense because I got given the job at a very young age. I think it was an interim thing, not a full-time thing. I would have rather have had him find his place, find his feet within the one-day set-up, try and get runs behind him. South Africa need players to step up and perform.
"I think in the short term, with AB coming in after three games he could have stepped in, and they could have looked at Duminy or Amla in the first couple and allowed someone like Markram just to settle. One, he was batting out of position at No. 4 at the start of the series, something he had to come to terms with, and then you've piled him under pressure not only on his own game but also as a captain. He would have gained a lot experience-wise but let's just hope his confidence hasn't taken a dent.
"His performances since the start of his career say that he can bat at this level. He's obviously got the leadership credentials from Under-19, he's spoken highly as a personality and as a person mature for his age. But I just think allowing him to grow and develop and become a strong player within the line-up, we are talking about the next-tier of cricketers. There's a drop-off between maybe four or five senior players and the next tier. So, allow those guys to develop.
"What was disappointing for me was that I don't think the other senior players stepped up around him - the Amlas, Duminys, Millers, those guys just never got it going from a performance perspective, an intensity perspective. They needed to get behind and lead the way almost."
South Africa began the ODI series against India as the world's top-ranked team and on a 17-match winning streak at home. However, injuries to key players such as Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers and Quinton de Kock at various points in the series meant they were never at full strength against a strong Indian outfit. The batting was further exposed against India's wristspinners Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, who combined to take 33 wickets in the series. Watching the South Africa batsmen succumb from a distance, Smith said they were done in by a lack of planning in their approach against the two spinners.
"You got to wonder what the chat was about in the changeroom and how they go about it," Smith said. "Obviously two world-class spinners, Chahal and Kuldeep, excellent finds for India. It's just great to see some spin come back into the game. The mystery spinners had left the game for a period of time - the Ajmals, Warnes, Muralitharans, there's been a little bit of a gap. So, it's great to see two guys like that come into the game, it makes the game really interesting to watch.
"South Africa really had no thought, no plan B or C. It was really just dot ball, dot ball, 'okay let's have a swing.' There was no real plan, let's try to build a partnership, it was almost like as the partnership builds it gets slightly easier and South Africa never found a way to do that."
Before the series began, the buzzword emerging from the South African camp was "Vision 2019," with the team's leadership group speaking publicly about its intention to give players exposure in an attempt to find the best mix for the 2019 World Cup in England. Smith said this setback against India could be a "good thing" for South Africa, provided they draw the right lessons from it.
"If the leadership strategically gets the thinking right, gets the tactics right and involves the right kinds of players, I think this can be a good thing for South Africa," he said. "They've exposed a few more players to the international game, they have a few more players to look at and think okay, 'how can I position that guy there, okay he looks like he might have something' and they've had some exposure.
"In the long run, there's still enough time for the World Cup to think this potentially could be a good thing. But that is only if Faf and Ottis [Gibson] and the selection panel get their head in the right place and strategically pick. Once the likes of de Villiers, Faf himself and de Kock are back fit, how do they put a line up together that's going to win a World Cup."