Exclusive: Cricket supremo throws out a challenge to England, after South Africa topple the world’s top-ranked Test team, India.

14 January 2022 By Paul Martin

By Paul Martin at Newlands Cricket Ground, Cape Town.

South Africa’s director of cricket, former captain Graeme Smith, has warned England his country’s Test team will be even better by the time they take on England in England during July and August. South Africa are fresh from a stunning series victory against the world’s top-ranked Test team India. They wrapped up the series 2-1 through successive seven-wicket victories in Johannesburg last week and, today, in Cape Town.

In an exclusive comment to Correspondent.World, Smith said: “We have now put in place the building bricks for big success, and our eyes are firmly on beating England. They will be tough to beat on English soil. We have a long way to improve further, But by the time we get there we will have put most of the building blocks we need in place.”

Smith knows what he’s talking about. In 2003 he scored two double centuries in his first two matches as South African captain in successive Tests in England: 277 at Edgbaston, and 259 at Lord’s. His 259 at Lord’s is still the highest score made by a foreign player at this prestigious venue.

Under his astute leadership, a mix of outright aggression and canny tactics, he brought South Africa to the very top of Test-playing nations, a ranking established during the next tour of England in a series South Africa also won. His own leadership eventually succumbed to domestic distractions and to the huge pressure of running a side that was bedevilled by political intervention. That had led to Smith being unable to demand he always had all the best players, as the racial mix was seen as more important than pure merit.

Now, though, as director of cricket he has reaped the benefits of mixed-race, Asian and black players becoming stars in their own right — the magnificent pace bowler Kasgiso Rabada with the very promising Lungi Ngidi, and — during this series — the newcomer Number Three batsman Keegan Peterson, a mixed-race player, as well as a welcome upgrade in achievement by the diminutive Temba Bavuma, who will continue to captain the one-day team. It takes on India next week in a three-match series.

Smith says South Africa is now a sought-after destination for the top teams, and Australia is now expected, he said, to come and play a three-match test series here next year. Their planned tour in 2021 and a reciprocal series was cancelled by the Australians due to their strict Covid policies, a move South Africa had described as deeply disappointing and as especially damaging because it was an 11th hour decision.

India bravely chose to come to South Africa this year despite a new strain of the Covid virus (Omicron) having been identified and first emerging here. However, India insisted that all matches had to be played without spectators (apart from officials, the media and half-filled private boxes)…so having the bi-product of denying South Africa the cheers and encouragement that normally give home teams a big advantage,

Pitches though are suited to South African bowlers, but it was an advantage that was largely negated by the high quality, unusually, of four Indian pacemen selected in each match. Neither team’s lone spinner had much impact.

Smith was quick to announce future success — the attraction of taking on both England and Australia, South Africa’s two arch-enemies.

“England, I think, is around Feb-March next year and then Australia is in August 2023 to replace the [Test series postponed in 2021]. That will be announced sometime soon,” Smith said when interviewed by host broadcaster, SuperSport,

“With series lost in Covid and the challenge is you have eight white-ball events in eight years now, you have got IPL extending – trying to fit your calendar cycle in is a great challenge for everybody. So you need to review, you need to stay with the times. And you need to make sure we keep putting South African cricket on the map.

“Our team – both men and women – needs to be performing well and be recognised and people want to play us. But we need to make sure when things are happening in world cricket South Africa is at the forefront.

Smith told Correspondent.World that he would not be doing interviews, apart from the comments he had exclusively given us. The great South African captain, the only man in Test history to have captained more than 100 Tests, is bizarrely being investigated for racism, a charge he vehemently denies.

There is little doubt that the turnaround in South African Test cricket fortunes after a lean spell can be credited in large measure to Smith’s leadership and guidance, along with the role of similarly ‘indicted’ South African wicketkeeper-batsman Mark Boucher, now the team coach.