TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
What to get for the retiring star cricketer who would appear to have everything: Another luxury car? Another endorsement deal? Another tattoo? A new – or even another – girlfriend? Another career in cricket as a commentator or a coach? Perhaps an exercise regime to try and halt the sagging of all that diligently trained muscle?
If the cricketer in question is Graeme Smith, none of the above. Instead, Smith has landed something his generation of international players know nothing about: a real job. Two, in fact.
Having bestrode, for 12 years, the neverland of cricket like the colossus he was, Smith is now the director of South Africa’s domestic T20 tournament as well as an employee of the major sponsor of the one-day game in the country. And, yes, it seems his involvement with the latter, an insurance company, will mean more than public appearances and lending his famous name to letterheads.
You could ask how someone with no experience of running anything except to the other end of the pitch could be put in charge of an entire tournament. You could also wonder if money is safe with an insurance company that thinks nothing of appointing unqualified executives.
But those who have been within headline distance of Smith these past dozen years have little doubt that, despite his lack of relevant qualifications and experience, he will make a success of his new life.
Besides, it is not as if he had whatever the required experience or qualifications were when he was named South Africa’s captain aged all of 22. And, by almost every measure, that did not turn out badly. No degree could serve Smith as well as that truth. It is a solid gold, diamond-edged business card.
But the most striking aspect of Smith’s future as surveyed by a public still not used to the thought of his not walking out to undertake the toss is the choice he has made.
He is to be admired for not opting to become just another woeful, washed-up warbler in a commentary box somewhere – nevermind that as one of the few players or captains whose press conferences were invariably worth attending for their clearly expressed insight and bracing humanity he would doubtless have been a hit behind the microphone. Similarly, Smith would have been far more than a tracksuit with a notable face that seems to fit many impostors’ idea of what a coach should be.
There is nothing Smith can do about the fact that he is part of that crop of cricketers who spend their entire careers as unaware of the machinations of Chinese politics as they are of the price of a pair of batting gloves. No-one, after all, is bigger than the game and this is how the game moulds the modern player.
Sometimes, these players are jolted to earth – not back to earth, because they do not really live on our planet – by reality. If they are lucky, that means meeting the right partner: not for batting or bowling, but for life. If they are unlucky, it could mean having an eye destroyed by the random flight of a bail in the weak sunshine of a Taunton morning.
Happily, Smith has both of his eyes. And they would seem to be firmly fixed on his wife and young family, and now on his future. In an age of cricketers striving towards the professional brattishness of Justin Bieber, Smith has matured into a poster boy for the best of conservative values.
Time was when cricketers had proper jobs. Peter Pollock was a journalist. Ali Bacher qualified as a doctor, though he did not spend a significant time practising medicine. And while little about Rupert Hanley – the wild-haired rebel-era fast bowler – could be described as proper besides the pace at which he bowled, he became a noted artist.
But that was then. This is now, when players go straight from school to stardom and then retire to a life not all that different to what they say they are leaving behind.
Not, however, Smith. Real world, he’s here; ready or not. Apologies, Graeme – it’s Mr Smith now.