South Africa lack good all-rounder at No.7, going into World Cup: Graeme Smith
Graeme Smith, who retired in 2014, is also hopeful that Kagiso Rabada will carry a lot on his shoulders in the absence of Anrich Nortje.
South Africa are lacking depth in their batting in the absence of quality all-rounders, an aspect that could affect the team's chances in the World Cup, reckons former skipper Graeme Smith.
There was a time when South Africa boasted of world class all-rounders like Lance Klusener, Jacques Kallis and even a bowling all-rounder like Shaun Pollock but Temba Bavuma's team doesn't have a quality batter at No. 7.
"Where they fall short is, they don't have a lot of depth in batting like some of the other teams have. Who is going to be that all-rounder for them at No. 7? Marco Jansen or someone else," Smith said during an exclusive interview with PTI.
For South Africa to succeed, left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj's control and wicket-taking ability will go a long way, in case Bavuma wants to leave an impression as a leader.
"Whether they go with two spinners or not but Keshav Maharaj needs to have an outstanding tournament. Obviously, he has Tabraiz Shamsi on his wings but reliability of Maharaj is key to Temba as a captain," said Smith, who scored nearly 7000 runs in ODIs.
The 42-year-old, who retired in 2014, is also hopeful that Kagiso Rabada will carry a lot on his shoulders in the absence of Anrich Nortje and Sisanda Magala due to injuries.
"Rabada, we all know how world class he is and we would like him to have an incredible World Cup tournament. Always carries a lot on his shoulders and you need a couple of key players to play well and then push through knock-out of the tournament and give yourself good chances back-to-back to hold that trophy."
Nortje's absence will hurt South Africa on those batting friendly tracks.
"I think Nortje in particular, to win in India in a long tournament, you need players who can contribute. Nortje's pace through the air, wicket-taking ability is certainly going to be missed."
The key to South African campaign will be the top six batters, he said.
“If South Africa need to be successful, they would need their 6-7 big players to really have a great World Cup. If you look at top-order you have Quinton, Temba and in that middle-order, really you have really good players of spin, power players like David Miller, Heinrich Klassen and Aiden Markram that's going to be key area for South Africa if they are going to be successful.”
Focus on cricket conversations
South African cricket over the years has gone through phases where cricket virtually took a back-seat but come this edition of World Cup, Bavuma's team needs to stick to serious conversations regarding the game, feels Smith.
Will the current group of players be able to shed the chokers' tag?
"There has been so much happening around South African cricket that key for the group is to have strong cricket conversations. Keeping it to cricket will be most important things for this group," Smith opined.
During the 2021 T20 World Cup, Quinton de Kock refused to take a knee as a mark of support for the 'Black Lives Matter' movement and internally the situation in the dressing room wasn't conducive.
While Smith wasn't explicit in what he meant by stick to cricket conversations only but it is understood that outside noise has often cluttered the Proteas players' minds.
"They should challenge each other, train hard and get better. Commit everything to every game and focus on cricket aspect and keep out the noise," the big-bodied left-hander of yesteryears said.
Smith has played three World Cups and understands the disappointment associated with losing close games.
"I am pretty clear about which are the ones we should have won and ones, where we were simply not good enough. There are lot of things that go into winning World Cup. You need players, you need a bit of luck and conditions that you are playing in and their last game on 11th of November and that's a long time.
"Lots of different conditions and lots of travelling and they can keep it to good cricket conversations and training. That's what they can control."
Relevance of ODI cricket
Smith, who has worked closely with Cricket South Africa, is currently the Commissioner of SA20 and is a witness to the changing landscape of world cricket where the relevance of the ODI format is being debated.
"It will be an interesting time to see how ODI cricket progresses. From my perspective, the calender is already full with franchise cricket and bilateral cricket. It will be interesting to see how ODI cricket finds space between World Cups, that will be an interesting dynamic to see."
Quinton de Kock has announced that he will retire from ODIs after World Cup and Smith finds the senior opener's decision perfectly logical.
"Quinnie is a personality, who has always enjoyed his time away from cricket. We know cricket these days requires immense amount of travelling and commitment and him as a personality always enjoyed a balance. His decision to retire is based one obviously opportunities to play franchise cricket but also opportunities to stay at home.
"That's always been clear in the way Quinton has operated as personality. I retired at 33 and I look at his (Quinton) record and he has played a lot of ODI cricket already.
"I played 196 ODI games and I don't think he (145) is far off that. He has played a lot of cricket and how Quinnie is as a personality, he has probably made the best decision for himself where he is with himself and his family."
The onus will be now on country's cricket boards to keep players interested in playing for the country, said Smith.
"Franchise leagues are well-managed, well run and there are financial opportunities as well. So pressure is there on home federations to kind of get there and be strong and keep players interested to play for national team and contribute."
It is up to countries to generate a pool of talent so that the national team remains robust.
"Other aspect of conversation is having real depth of talent. Outside Australia, England and India, certain nations don't have that depth of talent. That's what other nations need to ensure that you have 30-35 players available to be selected for your nation all the time."
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