• ‘We wanted KP’ – Smith

    SAcricketmag,co.za can exclusively reveal that former Proteas captain Graeme Smith wanted Kevin Pietersen to be part of this season’s RamSlam T20 challenge.

    ‘There were conversations about possibly getting him, but unfortunately Kevin’s diary was pretty full,’ Smith said.

    Appointed as the tournament’s director in August, Smith has watched from corporate suites and comfortable lounges as Lions arrival Chris Gayle, Knights conscript Andre Russell, Dolphins diamond Dwayne Bravo, Titans draft Darren Sammy and Cape Cobras cameo Kieron Pollard have brought flamboyance associated with cricket in the Caribbean to South Africa’s premier domestic limited-overs tournament.

    Smith was an instrumental figure in the signing of the quintet – as well as the contracting of England wicketkeeper-batsman Craig Kieswetter to the Warriors. While Bravo has tolerated a relatively low-key start to the campaign, Pollard, Sammy, Russell and Gayle have quickly warranted the faith in them with several big performances.

    The services of the hard-hitting Gayle have been particularly lucrative for the Gauteng-based franchise. The swashbuckling left-hander has propelled his adapted team to the top of the standings, screaming through a whirlwind century, twin complementary half-tons and a telling four-wicket haul across three consecutive victories.

    ‘The conversations took place between a lot of people. There were many conversations with many players toward the start of the West Indies’ tour of India in October, when they were leaving to go there,’ Smith told sacricketmag.co.za

    ‘A lot of the time I was busy communicating with their agents while the players were busy during the tour of India – and from there I would take the communication to the various franchises. The challenge was always going to be to match up what the franchises were looking for with the type of cricketer. Some of them wanted a batsman, some of them wanted an all-rounder – that sort of thing.

    ‘I think the nice thing about the West Indians is that they bring a lot of all-round flair and a Twenty20 style that has been successful in international cricket. It has been great to see them come here and do so well. The Warriors, meanwhile, were looking for a wicketkeeper-batsman – so Kieswetter proved to be a really good fit. The most important thing is we wanted quality and we wanted players that could bring a brand of entertainment to the fans in South Africa. We also needed them to perform – and so far so good.’

    Announced as Ram Slam T20 Challenge brand ambassador less than four weeks before the 2014 edition’s opening fixture, Smith had hoped to secure the signature of exiled England batsman Kevin Pietersen. While the Dolphins, Titans and Cobras confirmed to sacricketmag.co.za that Pietersen was not on their radar, the Lions might have pursued his talents – and marketability.

    ‘With his book launch and all, it was pretty hectic. Hopefully in the future there will be opportunity for this. I only joined the ranks of the tournament two or three months before it got underway, so my preparation time was not amazing,’ added Smith.

    A man who spent more than a decade at the fore of plenty of praise and as much criticism has been enjoying life away from the game since retiring from international cricket in March 2014. While an extended stay with Surrey in English county cricket was set to prolong his playing career, it was ultimately curtailed by a knee injury. His burgeoning ventures into the corporate world with the Ram Slam T20 Challenge and his role as patron for the joint venture bursary scheme between Momentum and Cricket South Africa are ensuring a reasonably full diary, though.

    ‘It is nice not to spend months and months away from home. I’m only 33 years old now, so I’ve got time to forge a career beyond cricket and support my family. I have some busy months ahead. In terms of the downtime, away from cricket, it has been really nice to be a central part of the family, watch the kids grow and connect with my wife away from the pressures of international cricket. I’m looking forward to my first Christmas off in about 15 years, spending it with my family,’ enthused Smith.

    Meanwhile, the Proteas will continue a taxing build-up to the 2015 World Cup in Australasia without their former fearless leader – and fellow recent retiree Jacques Kallis. While late October’s ODI series win over New Zealand insisted there will be positive results beyond the veteran pair, early November’s T20I series defeat to the Aussies hampered a relatively young bunch sans the services of six rested first-choice players. The return of Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel, Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers for the remainder of the tour of Australia, though, should restore the status quo.

    ‘I think from a confidence perspective, it is so important that the guys hopefully get over the line there and do well. The most important thing about playing Australia in Australia now, is building the momentum ahead of the World Cup. Beating Australia in the World Cup is going to be a key part of the campaign. To know that we’ve done it consistently over a large period of time is so important,’ concluded Smith.

    By Jonhenry Wilson

    Photo: Backpagepix