Former South Africa captain Graeme Smith has resumed discussions with Cricket South Africa over the director of cricket role, which he had shown an interest in before withdrawing last month.
Smith was interviewed for the post alongside suspended interim director of cricket Corrie van Zyl and former national selector Hussein Manack, and was understood to be CSA’s preferred candidate. But he then made himself unavailable for consideration, citing a lack of “the necessary confidence” in the board.
Following a report in the Sunday Times , which said Smith had had a change of heart and was on the verge of agreeing to a four-year deal, Smith confirmed he was still in communication with CSA, but acknowledged that he still had his reservations.
“Contrary to media reports I have not been appointed Director of Cricket by CSA. As previously advised I withdrew my application for the role. I am, however, in ongoing discussions with CSA, but I still have real concerns, which I have reiterated to them,” Smith tweeted.
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ESPNcricinfo understands that Smith has been in conversation with CSA president Chris Nenzani and has conveyed that his main concern was about the CSA’s senior management. But even if Smith does get on board, it is unlikely to be in time to have an effect on preparations for the upcoming home series against England, which starts on Boxing Day.
With just 24 days to go before the first Test, South Africa have neither a confirmed director of cricket nor a selection panel, although interviews for a selection convener have taken place. Patrick Moroney has emerged as the frontrunner for that, but there is no indication on if or when he would be appointed or when a squad would be announced.
In an interview with Afrikaans newspaper Rapport on Sunday, CSA CEO Thabang Moroe said van Zyl and Enoch Nkwe, the interim team director, make up the current selection committee.
Moroe’s statement came four days after CSA spokesperson Thamie Mthembu had told Independent Newspapers that CSA had a “technical team” in place to select the squad; Mthembu, however, did not name anyone but Nkwe. Given that van Zyl remains suspended for alleged dereliction of duty following delayed commercial rights payments to the South African Cricketers Association, Nkwe could have a significant, if not unilateral, say on the make-up of the squad. Most recently, Nkwe took South Africa to India, where they drew the T20I series and were whitewashed in the Tests.
Those Tests are the only red-ball cricket some national players have featured in, which means the squad must be picked on the basis of those results, and the performances in the first four rounds of four-day franchise cricket played in October-November, and the single round of fixtures that will take place on December 19. Some players who picked up injuries in India, such as Keshav Maharaj (shoulder injury) and Dean Elgar (concussion), have made recoveries and are playing in the ongoing Mzansi Super League (MSL), which runs until December 16, ten days before the first Test against England. Others, such as Aiden Markram (wrist fracture), Dwaine Pretorius (hand injury), and promising young quick Gerald Coetzee (hamstring injury), are on the sidelines, which may make selection trickier.
Nkwe is not involved at the MSL this year after coaching the Jozi Stars to the title last summer. His position with the national team remains temporary until a director of cricket, who will name the long-term team management, is appointed. Since Smith withdrew from the race, CSA has dragged its feet on making an appointment. Sources suggested that the delay could run well into 2020, with some suggesting CSA will readvertise for the post and look for options overseas.
All that leaves South African cricket mired in uncertainty ahead of an important few months for all its national teams. The men’s side play England in four Tests, three ODIs and three T20Is, before facing Australia and India in white-ball internationals to prepare for the T20 World Cup in October-November 2020. The women’s team will play in the T20 World Cup in February-March and the Under-19 side will feature in the World Cup, to be played at home, in January-February. Though the coaching staff for the women’s and Under-19 team is in place, the director of cricket was expected to roll out an overall national strategy for all cricket played under CSA’s umbrella and ensure continuity in the structures. That will have to wait.