“The 2002/2003 season was my first full season of playing for South Africa. I was 21-year-old and living my dream. I was travelling around the country and to parts of the globe I had never previously seen or experienced. My whole world had just opened up and there was so much to absorb and grasp,” recalled Smith, who is South Africa’s most capped ODI captain with 149 matches.
“I recall on one occasion very early in my career being left breathless at an ATM upon the realisation that I had just been paid for a Test appearance. That shock took some time to pass!
“I was extremely anxious throughout 2002 as the squad for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2003 was due to be made in early 2003 and every training session and game played undertaken with this at the back of my mind. The question of whether I would or wouldn’t be selected was constant and prominent. At that fledgling stage of my career, it was something that I did not have the ammunition to deal with.
“I wasn’t as in-tune to being able to stay within the moment and ensuring the correct processes are in place. This period taught me an invaluable lesson in leadership, which I was subsequently able to draw on during my captaincy. I realised how important it is to communicate to both young and fringe players when team and squad announcements are imminent,” he said.
In the all-time list of South Africa ODI run-getters, he sits in fourth position to date with 6,989 runs. Smith came in as a replacement in the 2003 World Cup and captained his side to the 2007 semi-final and 2011 quarter-final. Smith played in 20 World Cup matches, scoring 747 runs at just under 40, including 17 as captain with 11 wins and six losses.
“I felt the dialogue from the management and the selection panel to me was very poor during this period. As a result, I always tried to ensure that communication in this regard be paramount during my captaincy tenure in future years,” he stressed.
“During the middle of the 2002 Boxing Day Test against Pakistan, I was warming up prior to the start of the day’s play when our then Head Coach, Eric Simons, pulled me aside and informed me I wasn’t selected for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2003.
“It is often difficult to look back and recall the exact emotions one experiences at moments like these but what I do remember is that I was absolutely gutted. Worse, I then had to go and open the batting immediately thereafter. A hole opened up within my stomach. The management of this situation was badly handled and I was left to my own devices to deal with it and move on. Padding up that morning, I remember thinking to myself that I just had to find the strength to get through the day one way or another,” he added.
“I honestly believe that the times in my career where things didn’t work out as I had planned, taught me the most about myself. It is during these times that I learned to harness an inner strength and draw from it. Whilst compliments and plaudits are flattering, they never defined me and I was careful always to ensure I never fell into a comfort zone based on praise and recognition.
“From an early age, I was always dismissive of the opinions others had of me and just trusted my strong inner belief and instinct. I was never influenced by outside sentiments and views but this changed in 2011.
“I used the two days between the Boxing Day Test and New Year’s Test to turn the hurt of non-selection into a motivating factor as I was desperate to show the public and selectors that I belonged in the team. Batting first, I went on to score 151 and put on 368 for the first wicket with Herschelle Gibbs in an innings win for us, which went some way to helping overcome my disappointment.
“After this Test series, I was chosen as captain of the South Africa “A’ team’s tour to Zimbabwe and also captained local invitation teams formed to play practice matches against the national side as part of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2003 preparation. My performances went from strength to strength and in one fixture I captained the Western Province XI to a victory over a full-strength South Africa side,” he recalled.
“Looking back, I feel that this was a defining period for me whereby I altered everyone’s opinion of my leadership abilities. My reaction and subsequent response to this disappointment, the choices I made following this and the path I chose allowed so many more doors to open, leading me into a new chapter of my career,” he said.
“One day during the ICC Cricket World Cup 2003, I went to the cinema by myself as I like to sometimes do. During the movie I had a sense that something which was to impact my career was imminent.
“I cannot explain it but soon after leaving the cinema I received a call from the then Convenor of Selectors, Omar Henry, who informed me that Jonty Rhodes had suffered an injury ruling him out of the remainder of the tournament and I was being called up to the squad in his place.
“The ICC Cricket World Cup is like no other competition, series or tour, hence, the reason for the utter desire and desperation to be a part of it. It is a pendulum of emotion throughout. The failure to bring the trophy home naturally leads to disappointment and makes it difficult to create perspective because of the overriding emotion accompanying it.
So, many times in my life and career, my attitude, thought process and response has led me down a path that I feel in many ways I have created for myself. The lesson of creating and adopting the correct mind-set was such a big factor in how I coped with almost everything that I ever encountered and throughout my leadership I believe that my teammates knew and trusted that I would always walk that path with integrity and veracity,” Smith said. Courtesy ICC