Proteas test captain Graeme Smith’s decision to retire from international cricket and thus end his remarkable 347-match international career has shocked many. Here are eight reasons that might have convinced him to call it quits.
1 – World Cup: The emotional scarring after the quarterfinal exit at the 2011 World Cup was among the worst of Smith’s career.
Although he did not return to South Africa with the rest of the team, preferring to visit Ireland to spend time with his now wife, Morgan Deane, he was neither in denial nor running away from what had happened and his responsibility for it.
He vowed immediately to make amends by continuing to play ODI cricket, make himself an integral part of the team and travel to the 2015 event in Australasia and banish the horrors of Dhaka by winning.
Quinton de Kock’s sensational form at the top of the order resulted in Smith’s omission from the starting XI and he could see that the future did not include him. He was appalled at the thought that he might only be selected on sentiment.
2 – Fairytale endings cannot be planned or relied upon. Even Jacques Kallis, who scored a century in his final test to help win the series against India, had to do so in front of a handful of supporters on a Monday morning at Kingsmead rather than Newlands, as it was ‘supposed’ to be.
But the wretched demise of Mark Boucher in a ‘nothing’ warm-up match in Taunton instead of a blaze of glory in his 150th test at Lord’s convinced Smith that there was nothing wrong with giving the world just 48 hours notice in a test match his team had no chance of winning.
3 – South Africa’s gentle test schedule for the rest of the year – two in Sri Lanka in July, one in Zimbabwe in August and three against the West Indies at the end of the year – provides the new man with an opportunity to play himself in gently before the greater challenges of facing the ‘big three’ nations. It also failed to fill him with excitement and the motivation which had been a critical factor in his captaincy for over a decade.
4 – If Smith had not bid farewell at Newlands he may never have had another chance. He knew his days were done and, having missed the chance to announce his decision before the match, was persuaded to confirm it after three days of the test – as much to give the nation’s supporters a chance to say farewell to him as for him to say farewell to them. To have ‘disappeared’ without saying goodbye after 11 years in charge would have been a source of lifelong regret.
5 – Professional sportsmen often lack perspective and become detached from the real world. It can require a significant body blow, physical or emotional, for them to realise what is really important in their lives.
Three weeks before Smith’s decision to retire, two-year-old Cadence Smith tipped her one-year-old brother Carter’s heated milk bottle container onto herself resulting in burns severe enough to require three operations. Like all sportsmen, Smith asked himself whether the situation might have been different if he had been at home more often. If he had a ‘normal’ job.
6 – Smith signed one of the most lucrative contracts in English county cricket history last year with Surrey, the richest, most ambitious and most perennially under-achieving of the 18 counties. It was not signed purely for the money.
Smith always intended to transfer his national passion to his new job but was unable to do so last year because of his chronic ankle injury. Surrey were unimpressed when CSA announced that two tests would be played against Sri Lanka in July this year, at the height of the English summer. Smith could hardly disagree.
7 – The ankle injury which had plagued Smith for 12 months had been repeatedly misdiagnosed. When advanced scans in London revealed it to be a stress-fracture, his surgeon said: “There is no guarantee we can fix this. We cannot be sure you’ll even play again.”
Smith was stunned. “When you hear something like that it makes you reassess your priorities in life,” he said shortly after completing his rehab last year. When you’re just happy to be walking without pain, having contemplated the end of your career, perhaps the time is right to explore new avenues.
8 – “Graeme doesn’t have a classical technique,” said long-time friend Mark Boucher during Smith’s final test. “It means he has to work twice as hard as other players.
When Jacques (Kallis) went through a bad patch of form it didn’t matter because he would always come right with his technique. For Graeme it was different. He struggled for form in the first two tests, knew how much work was required to come right and thought ‘I can’t do it all again.’ That takes great honesty,” Boucher said.
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