Mumbai: In the wake of AB de Villiers' shock retirement, former South Africa captain Graeme Smith has predicted that the trend of players hanging their boots early to play in attractive Twenty20 (T20) leagues will become common, and called upon the International Cricket Council (ICC) to come up with a solution for this predicament.
"Players will retire slightly earlier because of the options that they have in domestic cricket in which they earn good money. They travel less, there is less pressure on them and their families. So I think it is something that the ICC need to consider in terms of administering the game," Smith told Firstpost on the sidelines of CEAT awards.
Smith's statement comes a few days after de Villiers, his former teammate, announced retirement from international cricket because he was "tired". Though de Villiers mentioned that he has no plans of playing overseas, his retirement is a reflection of where international cricket is heading right now.
Cricket South Africa (CSA) are in constant pressure to make sure that their out-of-favour players don't seek Kolpak deals. West Indies' players continue to play in T20 leagues all around the world even after Cricket West Indies' offered temporary amnesty. While CWI has mostly been reactive, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has been proactive and already restricted its players to only two T20 leagues per year. Smith insists this is a "big issue."
"I think free agencies is a big issue in our game for the ICC. I think the decisions they make going forward in terms of creating context in cricket, how to set up the calendar year etc. is going to be very, very important," he said.
De Villiers was stuck in a similar quandary for the last two years. It was an open secret that his aim was to win South Africa a World Cup. He also skipped Test cricket from January 2016 to December 2017 to focus all his energies on the 2019 World Cup. But he was criticised heavily for picking and choosing and eventually made a comeback in whites before announcing retirement.
When asked if the criticism may have led to his decision, Smith said, "Maybe. I think even then international cricket was on his brain. I thought he came back (in December 2017) and played really well. So I did think he will go the 2019 World Cup. There's still a lot of cricket before the World Cup. And who knows? Maybe he wanted to spend more time with his family or something else... I am guessing. I will speak to him when I get home. But I think we must appreciate what he's done in international game and I hope that he does play a couple of T20 tournaments around the world," the 37-year old said.
The timing of de Villiers' departure is likely to hurt South African cricket. With the World Cup only 12 months away, the Faf du Plessis-led ODI side had their hopes pinned on de Villiers. His absence will be too hard to fill in such a short time, and Smith reckoned that coach Ottis Gibson and Faf will have to rebuild their team intelligently in the coming months.
"It is going to be a huge challenge especially when you lose a player who has got a massive x-factor and can win games by himself. Who replaces that? No one can. I think they need to be smart. The current talent pool is still okay. But how Faf and Ottis Gibson set up that team now will be interesting to see," Smith remarked.
De Villiers' international debut came under Smith's captaincy in 2004. Together, both of them have been involved in lot of important victories, both home and away. When asked to sum-up his his teammate's career, Smith said, " It's been absolutely brilliant. He has captured the imagination of every cricket fan around in the world. I think he is a very smart cricketer, smart batsman with huge amount of imagination and ability. It was great to have captained him through a large part of his career and seen him grow into a man and a wonderful player that he became."
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