As has often been said, any good comeback needs some true believers.
Former South African Test captain Graeme Smith and former Pakistani all-rounder Azhar Mahmood, attending the Masters Champions League player auction in Dubai, both hinted at a wish to ‘unretire’ their respective retirements.
Expressing a desire to play in ARY’s Karachi Kings team in 2016’s upcoming Pakistan Super League tournament, Mahmood’s wistful remark was “Good luck and pick me.”
Speaking to ARY News about the PSL, Azhar Mahmood clarified that he had never really retired. Having played 223 T20 games with 4689 runs on board at time of going to print, he is also one of the T20 specialists now finding himself in demand as a coach, a definitive change in direction for a player who started his Test career with 3 centuries.
A constant with English county side Surrey for the last decade, that erstwhile cricket bible, Cricinfo, describes him as an English type seamer. Azhar Mahmood is 40 years old but if Pakistan can give the 39 year old Rafatullah Mohmand a T20 debut, then even the ongoing Bangladesh Premier League had no excuse to exclude Mahmood from this year’s draft.
Graeme Smith said ‘I am on the cusp’ and in the same breadth described tourists South Africa’s recent loss to India as disappointing. Having interviewed him several times in the last 8 months, he grants international media a lot more time and this may very well be, because he no longer has a strict playing schedule to adhere to. He is very detailed in his public speeches, this being indicative of a precision to detail and a focus on the job at hand – both qualities that raised him in good stead as captain and which he has retained outside the field too.
Having retired at only 33, it was Jacques Kallis who earlier this year hinted there may have been more than his cited ankle injury,behind Smith’s decision. Kallis was quoted as saying, ‘Graeme was kind of forced to retire.’
The SA team though, has changed. With AB De Villiers now seen as the power behind the team and Dale Steyn being either injured or rested, more often than not, Smith would have to adjust to new guns such as Kagiso Rabada. One pressing matter is whether he would be willing to play as a non-captain. Cricket South Africa have yet to comment on the matter but after a grueling tour of India, the South-Africa England series may yet play a role in Smith’s fate.
Many a cricketing comeback has been made, not least by Pakistan’s eternally young player, Shahid Afridi, but then his retirements were a pressurising tactic against his board at the time. Sri Lanka’s Sanath Jayasuriya and New Zealand’s Martine Crowe were less than successful, both returning dismally after turning 40. The recent All Stars T20 tournament has also given the impression that unless recently retired and fit a la Sangakarra, the chances of a player returning to his peak performance is less than low. At 34,Graeme Smith still has age on his side and given that Pakistan’s Test captain Misbah-Ul-Haq is scoring runs at 41, Azhar Mahmood too, may find inspiration closer to home.