SA20: Graeme Smith convinced new T20 competition can boost South Africa’s Test team

Graeme Smith is the only player to captain an international side in more than 100 test matches and is now commissioner of the new SA20

South Africa’s record-breaking former captain, Graeme Smith, says the country’s new limited overs SA20 competition can also help the struggling test team recover past glories.

The T20 tournament begins on 10 January as MI Cape Town host Paarl Royals in the inaugural game (1630 GMT).

Smith – who led South Africa in 108 tests, 149 one-day internationals and 27 T20 matches – is now commissioner of SA20 and insists it will also benefit the longer format of the game.

“The problem we’re having is the talent is still around,” Smith told BBC Sport Africa.

“But the standards have definitely separated a lot more between the level of the international game and our domestic one.

“We are really looking to bridge that gap, to expose our players to better coaching, medical fitness, the investment into the game, the exposure to the top-quality internationals.”

The “challenge” for test cricket

South Africa’s recent three-Test tour of Australia ended in defeat, with the first match of the series lost inside two days – the seventh shortest Test in history.

The second match was lost by an innings and 182 runs, all but ending the Proteas’ chances of reaching the World Test Championship final in June.

Ahead of the final test, current captain Dean Elgar said more games were needed in the longest formatan opinion echoed by the national team’s batting coach Justin Sammons.

“I can feel the disappointment at how our Test team performed in Australia,” admitted Smith.

“People want to watch, they want to see the quality teams playing Test cricket against each other and the storylines that come from there.”

Smith insists Test cricket remains the pinnacle of the sport, but thinks some one-day cricket might have to make way to allow room in the calendar for the growth of the T20 format.

“The challenge for Test cricket is the growth: is it the same impact when two minnows are playing each other? You could probably say that for most formats.

“When the top nations are playing it is always of interest. That’s what we want, to keep South Africa strong so it remains a competitive nation, certainly in the Test cricket format.”

Tapping into Africa’s cricketing potential

Smith, who remains South Africa’s youngest – at 22 – and most successful captain, already has plans to expand SA20 beyond his homeland.

“We’ve got a few nations close to us that have a bit of cricketing history: Kenya, Zimbabwe and Namibia – but how do we go out and interact with the rest of the continent?”

One of the ideas is to take SA20 games on the road – potentially starting in Angola next year.

“It’s been too long,” added Smith, referencing Africa’s last major international tournament, the T20 World Cup held in South Africa in 2007.

“We’ve had no global cricket since. This is going to be the biggest one and we hope that everyone will sit up and take notice and celebrate with us.”

Smith is also happy to work alongside the African Cricket Association (ACA), which has his own plans for two new pan-African limited overs competitionsrather than view possible competitors as rivals.

“We’ll sit down post season and discuss with the Africa team and see what the opportunities are and how we can handle it,” said the 41-year-old.

“We both can work together. How that looks, and how that business side comes together, I guess it’s a long strategy session!

“I think the intent and the motivation is there to grow the game and to make an impact.

“We have that opportunity now through the six (SA20) teams.

“We are going to make new heroes who will play for South Africa all around the world. That’s our goal.”

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