Sport

Ton-up Smith breaks post-retirement mental-shackles

By Antoinette Muller 15 May 2014

Graeme Smith notched up his first century since retiring from international cricket on Wednesday. The former South African skipper hasn’t had the easiest time adjusting, admitting that he was mentally drained after his retirement. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.

Cricketers retiring can take many different routes. Some make a quick move into the commentary box, others pursue a TV career of some description. Others become journalists while some fade into the background. Some have the luxury of still managing to get a few years of cricket out of their bodies. Going cold turkey from doing something you have done your entire career is something many have said to struggle with over the years.

South Africa has had two of their greats call it a day in the space of just a few months. While Jacques Kallis is waltzing around in colourful clothing, Graeme Smith is taking a more subtle wind-down to the last few years of his career.

The change is only subtle because it’s without the hoopla of T20 leagues. County cricket is a harsh mistress because there is so much cricket that’s played. For Smith, that has been one of the challenges of his move to Surrey. The four-day season has barely just begun and on the weekend, the team will have to shift to the T20 format.

It’s a different mind-set to international cricket and the amount of cricket played is quite intense. Every day you’re onto another challenge,” said Smith.

Surrey managed their first win of the season on Wednesday and in front of a modest crowd at The Oval, Smith mustered his first century since retiring from international cricket. He had gotten a few starts when he arrived, but hasn’t quite managed to convert those until now.

It was an innings that wasn’t quite played in the Smith way. There were more cover drives in one innings that he had managed in seasons for South Africa. Yet, it was so typically Smith. His demeanour, as ever, personified frustration from Surrey’s struggles this season so far. Smith must have realised that he would have to take it upon himself to get his side over the line. Batting at a run-a-ball during some parts of his innings, before eventually being dismissed for 103, he set the foundation to help Surrey chase 267 for victory.

It’s a score that has been a long-time coming and Smith admits that he had a lot to adjust to after his retirement. From stepping back from a job that he had done for over a decade, to dealing with moving to another country and having had his daughter undergo surgery following an accident with boiling water, Smith’s transition has been far from the usual, steady adjustment.

“I’m not going to lie, it hasn’t been easy. I was mentally drained after retiring. Dealing with everything that went on as well as my daughter was tough. And on top of that I had to deal with relocating. I’m starting to feel a bit more relaxed now and the family is settling. I enjoy the club, they’ve been really good to me,” the former SA captain explains.

The hundred on Wednesday was vintage Smith, though, and like so many of his other heroic efforts , it came in the fourth innings. For the first time since playing for Surrey this year, he managed to play without a jersey. Perhaps somewhat in jest, Smith admits that coming from 30-degree sunshine in Cape Town to playing cricket in mid-ten degree temperatures has been quite some change.

It’s been a fairly interesting adapting period after retirement. I had to mentally regroup after all of that and then come here and adjust to the weather. I’ve been feeling my game has been mentally coming together,” said Smith.

After the mammoth task of leading South Africa for over a decade, a captaincy job unlike any other in cricket, South Africa looked a relieved man at his farewell press conference. He still omits that aura, and it’s something which will be quite useful for Surrey.

For Smith, this is coming full circle. Just like South Africa were stuck at a challenging juncture when he took over, so are Surrey. Relegated from the First County Division last year, Surrey have had a tough start to the season. With a wealth of youngsters in the side, it’s not too dissimilar to Smith’s early days at South Africa. Just like South Africa had to change perceptions following the fall-out from the Hansie Cronje fixing scandal, Surrey have to change perceptions of being a club who has started to lose popularity amongst the Ova faithful. He also shares the challenge with Surrey coach Graham Ford – the same coach alongside whom he made his Proreas debut.

“It’s brought back a lot of memories. I made my debut with Fordy, so we’ve done a full U-turn from the beginning. It’s been interesting to have built the South African team up to where it is today and where you’re the best in the world and see players grow. And then you have to start from the beginning. It’s exciting to be in this position,” Smith explained.

Most English fans will remember Smith for only the bad things he did to English cricket. Runs after runs flowed from his bat in the most unorthodox way and he felled captain wherever he went. What nobody will deny is that Smith is one heck of leader and a player. For years, many English fans might have been wishing their team had somebody like him and now, they finally do.DM

Photo: South African captain Graeme Smith is dejected after being dismissed by Australian bowler James Pattinson for 10 runs on day 1 of the first test match between Australia and South Africa at the Gabba in Brisbane, Australia, 09 November 2012. EPA/DAVE HUNT

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