| Graeme Smith
Cape Town: Graeme Smith, who led the World XI in the first officially sanctioned Super Test 15 months ago, is weeks away from completing four years as South Africaís captain. On Monday, in the lead-up to the final Test, he took time off to speak to The Telegraph ó incidentally, his only one-on-one with any Indian publication during Team Indiaís tour.
The following are excerpts
On Graeme Smith the person
(Laughs) Iím actually a lot more relaxed than people think... I enjoy time with family... With friends and enjoy having a bit of fun... The normal things, you know... Iím just 25 after all! In this new year, though, I would like more time for myself as one can get carried away by the job...
On the time it took to settle down as captain
I got the job when I was 22 (after South Africaís early exit in the 2003 World Cup)... You donít, obviously, realise the enormity of what comes with the captaincy till youíre in the job... Of course, I had an idea, but the demands on you as a person and as a leader are huge... I had to come to terms with things in the set-up, outside the set-up and the good thing is that teammates were superb... Being young, the pressure aspect was the most difficult to deal with... Pressure from the public, from the Media...
On having grown as captain
My decision making as a 22-year-old probably wasnít as good... As captain, I trust my gut feelings a lot more now... Today, thereís more conviction in my decision making... Then, for example, I wasnít sure about giving Polly (Shaun Pollock) an extra over or two or getting (Jacques) Kallis into the attack... Things like that.
On the marks he would give himself on ten
Things have gone well, a lot of young guys have come in... Thereís more direction, I think, as things had been all over the place... Weíve done well as a one-day unit, but need to get better in Test cricket... Weíre still searching for a few answers in the longer version... One area we do need to develop is the spin department... Iíve made quite a few trips to the subcontinent (as captain) and the absence of quality spinners was felt. Iím pretty happy, but wouldnít like to rank or rate myself... In saying that, I accept mistakes have been made, but I donít have a regret... Mistakes have been part of my learning process and have helped make the person I am. Iím comfortable with who I am and where I am.
On support from predecessor Pollock
He has been superb, right down to bowling extra balls to me at nets. Polly is a very special man and, today, is at ease with himself. Thatís good for me and great for the team environment... (After a pause) In fact, four years ago, heís the one who picked up the phone and said I must take the captaincy...
On whether he has looked up to any cricketer
Iíve admired Gary Kirsten and (the late) Hansie Cronje... However, while growing up, the key for me was to be myself... You may become like your hero, but then you arenít you ... Even when I became captain, I wanted to retain my personality... Be myself... Being true to myself has been important... Itís not that I havenít taken bits from people Iíve admired, though...
On seeking Ďhelpí
Frankly, itís tough finding one person to bounce ideas off... I go to Jimmy Cook... I go to a couple of leading businessmen... I read biographies and autobiographies... Iíve read Steve Waughís books... One can learn from other captains, but most of the stuff really is the same... My view is that you could over-complicate things... Thatís the fear.
On having worked with coach Mickey Arthur for well over a year
Till Mickey came along, coaches did change... Itís nice that Iíve had some time with him...The captain-coach relationship is important and there has to be communication... Weíve struck a good balance... Captains in cricket play a much bigger role than in other sport, which is why the lines of communication (with the coach) have to be very good... Mickey and I are working towards a common goal and have a similar vision...
On his vision
To have a team which is mature and drives itself... That if we reach the World Cup final, I have a bowler who is confident of bowling the last over... I want the players to have the freedom to express themselves... Not that theyíre asked to do this, but not to do that... Expression is essential and itís important to realise who stands where. For example, (Herschelle) Gibbs wonít ever be a Kallis and vice-versa.. . Let me put it this way: Some things are non-negotiable, but I want every guy to be himself. Thatís part of this teamís environment.
On pressure and criticism
(Laughs again) Sometimes it gets to you... You canít get away from it and being an international sportsman, youíve got to cope... You develop your own mechanisms to deal with both... If you live your life by what people say about you, then itís going to be an up-and-down one... Itís important to find the path you want to take and to stick to it... The Media and public tend to get very emotional... So, stick to the path and try to stay away from the rubbish... We werenít the worst team when we lost the Wanderers Test and werenít the best when we won at Kingsmead... I keep telling the young players that itís important to put their pegs on the ground, find the level where they want to go... I donít have an issue with constructive criticism...
On what he has learnt most in almost four years as captain
Look, at 22, youíre growing both as a person and a cricketer... Iíve matured, got stronger as a person and a cricketer... Having stability as a person and a cricketer has been a challenge... Adapting to the changing circumstances... As a batsman, Iíve become more powerful... Have fine-tuned shots, have begun to play more shots... Oneís personality changes.
On whether he has looked up to anybody outside cricket
Nelson Mandela... Iím passionate about my country and he has played a huge role... He was able to work towards a new South Africa, a better South Africa... Heís a mentor for everybody... In other sport, Iíve admired titans like Lance Armstrong and Tiger Woods. Both are amazing and have had that extra to handle situations of immense pressure. Tigerís mental strength is awesome.
On whether heís conscious that being the South African captain heís even more of a role model
Iím conscious, but itís important to have a release... To be normal... (Adds laughing) Thank goodness, Iíve done the right things. Of course, one is aware that after a few drinks some may try and Ďtestí you... Staying true is important.
Finally, on everyoneís attention being on the soon-to-begin World Cup
Weíve been talking and planning... However, itís quite relaxed here... The selection of the squad, though, will be difficult... Given the talent around, I know some guys are going to be disappointed, but that canít be avoided.