Sledgehammer should do the job

What a remarkable performance that was. A full-on live, televised press conference to announce that very, very nearly nothing would be changing at the head of the national team. Graeme Smith was standing down as captain only, from a couple of T20 games. That’s it.

He would still be available as a player, he was retiring from nothing, he was still captain of the ODI team and intended to stay on as captain of the Test team for the foreseeable future. Extraordinary.

CSA chief executive Gerald Majola spoke in glowing terms of the way Smith had led the team and team manager Doc Moosajee paid tribute, too. It looked and sounded like Smith was retiring from cricket, not just giving up the captaincy in all forms of the game. Shaun Pollock’s retirement from the game contained less dramatic performance than what we saw at the Wanderers on Wednesday morning.

If you add up the time taken to prepare and play for the Proteas in all forms of the game, throw in the captaincy commitments and media duties of the captain, you would be forced to conclude that Smith was, in essence, reducing his workload by somewhere between two and four per cent. And this in order to “…prolong my career.”

The symbolism of his decision must be taken into account. If it can be seen as significant that he was relinquishing any part of his leadership role in order to start the long-term process of replacing him, then it was more significant than not captaining a couple of T20s against Pakistan and India this summer.

But the announcement and the way it was handled was an embarrassment to all concerned. It began with a two-line press release stating the intention to hold a press conference involving Smith, Majola and Moosajee. That was it. No further detail. If the intention of those who organised that was to create pandemonium in the media world and chaotic, harmful speculation, then they succeeded. If they wanted to prove that they either had no respect whatsoever for the people who report on the game for the benefit of the public, or a complete lack of understanding of how they work, then they succeeded again.

A generic press release with such implied gravity and no detail causes media editors to have convulsions. I alone received around ten calls from people with newspapers, websites and radio programmes to fill begging for some insight into what might be so important as to merit a press conference at such short notice. In one instance, I was reminded of who pays my salary and told that it would be a good idea if I found something out.

CSA did exactly the same thing with Mickey Arthur’s ‘resignation’. At least that was a real story. Except they really thought that we could wait three days for that one rather than one for the  Smith non-story.

Here’s how it should have been done: A two-paragraph press release announcing that Smith would no longer be captain of the T20 team but would be leading the ODI team to the World Cup in March next year and remaining as Test captain. Smith will be at the Wanderers at 11:00am on Wednesday to answer questions.

The trouble with unnecessary secrecy is that it encourages people, sometimes out of desperation and sometimes out of mere curiosity, to seek the truth. And they often stumble across things which would never have been revealed in the normal course of events. Like the fact that national coach, Corrie van Zyl had no idea of Smith’s intentions. And neither did the sponsors of the national Pro20 team, Standard Bank. It would surely have been courteous, at least, to have informed them beforehand.

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