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‘Extremely hurtful’ – Graeme Smith hits back at accusations of racial bias as captain

Smith Tsolekile
by Wisden Staff 3 minute read

Graeme Smith, the former South Africa captain and current Cricket South Africa director of cricket, has hit back at allegations of racial discrimination against him. Thami Tsolekile, Smith’s former team-mate, had accused him of bias against black players during his time as skipper.

Tsolekile, a wicketkeeper-batsman, played three Tests for South Africa in 2004, during the early part of Smith’s tenure as captain. He was banned for 12 months in 2016, following allegations of match-fixing. In a recent interview with Marawa Sports Worldwide, Tsolekile alleged that Smith kept him out of the Test team, also accusing Smith of making him feel isolated during his captaincy tenure.

Responding to the charge through a statement published on social media, Smith said his “personal relationship challenges with several players, of all races, had been well documented in the past” and it was “impossible for him to win everyone’s approval” of his time as skipper.

He said that his stint was “littered with a lot of players who were left out of the team before they thought it was time because it was a collective decision to take the team to a new direction”, citing examples of established players such as Lance Klusener, Shaun Pollock and Makhaya Ntini.

Smith, who led South Africa in 286 international matches between 2003 and 2014, the most for the country, maintained that he neither had a say in selection matters nor was he in charge of player contracts, denying the “allegations and insinuations”, which were “extremely hurtful”, in the “strongest possible sense”.

Responding to Tsolekile’s claims that he was ignored on team trips, Smith said there were times when players had to travel separately, splitting based on the format, which was a common trend on tours.

On Tsolekile’s claims that he was sidelined despite being considered next in line to Mark Boucher after 2012, which Tsolekile termed “pure racism”, Smith argued that it was always challenging for Tsolekile, a specialist wicketkeeper fighting for just one spot in the team. He insisted a panel of selectors made the decisions, adding that Tsolekile was drafted in as a reserve keeper to AB de Villiers on the England tour that year, which was clearly communicated to him.

Smith, who went on to cite the example of Australia’s Steve Waugh, said that even the best captains had detractors and maintained that he tried his best to explain decisions taken during his time in charge.

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