When Graeme Smith and Jonathan Trott played together for South Africa
Something interesting occurred in the 2000 edition of the Under-19 World Cup.
The Under-19 World Cup is presently on in Bangladesh. More than being the biggest prize for some of the best young batsman and bowlers from across the globe, the competition also serves as a platform for all of them to show that they are on track to be considered for the big league.
The Under-19 World Cup in recent times has proved to be a launchpad for several players who have eventually become lynchpins in their respective senior sides. Some of the prominent examples that come to mind are that of Kane Williamson, who was in the New Zealand setup in the 2008 edition, Virat Kohli, obviously, captained the side to the title that year, Kagiso Rabada was an important member of the South African side that won the competition in 2014.
The 2000 edition of the tournament that was held in Sri Lanka saw something interesting occur which perhaps at that point in time did not catch the attention of many spectators. 18-year-old left-hander Graeme Smith and another batsman of the very same age, Jonathan Trott, were like any other players, looking to showcase their talent to the world. Little did anybody know then what was in store in the coming years.
Opening the batting for his side, Smith had a very successful outing on the slow wickets in the Emerald Island, scoring a total of 348 runs in 6 completed matches (2 were washed out because of rain), at an average of 87 that included 4 fifties and finished as the highest run-getter of the competition.
Trott, on the other hand, had a much more subdued tournament, notching up 140 runs in the competition, while batting at number 4 with one score in excess of 50 at a very good average of 70.
During the course of the tournament, the duo batted just once together in the Plate Final, putting nine runs before Smith was dismissed for 51. Though it was India who went home as the eventual winners, the Proteas went home as the Plate Group winners.
Two diverse international careers
When you are the highest run-getter for your country at a World Cup, it is rare for such an effort to go unnoticed among the men who matter. Smith was picked for the senior Protean team two years later, making his Test debut against Australia in his home ground of Cape Town. Batting at Number 3, he made 3 in his 1st innings but gave a much better demonstration of what he had to offer in the second innings, scoring 68 off 147 balls, even though the visitors eventually went on to win the Test.
But if one has to assess the contribution of Smith to South Africa, then one has to just have a look at the period of his career post the 2003 World Cup.
After a disastrous campaign on home turf where they had failed to go beyond the Group Stages, a 22-year-old Smith was given the responsibility of reviving the fortunes of the team and from the start, the omens looked good. The left-hander led from the front, scoring two double hundreds at Edgbaston and Lords against England in 2003, the latter of which broke his county’s record for the highest individual score in Test cricket.
Smith led the team admirably and ensured that South Africa became not just a very good team at home but all over the world. Some of his biggest accomplishments as captain include winning Test series in Australia, not once twice but twice (2008 and 2012), winning in England in 2008 and 2012, the latter of which took the side to the top of ICC Rankings, drawing series against Pakistan in the UAE, a place where the Men in Green have enjoyed a lot of success etc.
As much as Smith will be remembered for his triumphs, he should also be credited for the role he played in the emergence and eventual success of the likes of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander etc. By giving them a chance to go and do their best, Smith imbibed a sense of confidence within them that saw each do very well in their careers.
An aspect of his personality that isnt spoken often is what a tough character he was. The 2009 Sydney Test when he came out to bat in the second innings despite having a injured hand and battled his way to 10 deliveries before being dismissed is a prime example of someone who refused to buckle down and took adversity with a straight face.
He eventually finished with 9265 runs in 117 Tests and 6989 runs in 197 ODIs and captained his country in 108 Tests, winning 53 of those and in ODIs led them in 149 matches, winning 92. He retired from international cricket in February 2014, as the most successful Test captain in the history of the game.
If Smith’s was a career that began almost soon after his excellent run at the U19 World Cup, it was completely the other way round for Trott. For starters, he shifted base from South Africa to England and got a contract with the midlands county side Warwickshire and on his second-XI debut for them scored a record 245 that earned him a contract with the senior county side.
With his solid back-and-across technique, it did not take Trott much time to become a key part of his sides’ batting line-up and season-after-season he kept racking up the runs. Eventually, the call up to the England team arrived in the summer of 2009 when in the final Test of Ashes at the Oval he made his Test debut and in the second innings played a vital innings of 119 that helped his side eventually win the Test and win the coveted urn back.
For the most of his career after that, the right-hander proved to be a composed batsman for England in both Tests and ODIs. He was always in his own bubble and it didn't seem to affect him as to how the other batsman batted. He always seemed in control of his batting and seemed to be on his way to become one of England’s better players at Number 3.
However, just when everything looked bright, a match came his way that was to alter not just his cricketing career but also his life. In the opening Test of 2013/14 Ashes at Brisbane, Mitchell Johnson was breathing fire. The hosts had woken up their big dog and let it go to do the damage.
The opening delivery of the 15th over of the England innings saw Johnson bang one short that hit Trott straight on his left glove and forced him to take evasive action. In the second innings, the former once again got the better of the latter, getting him off the short ball caught at the midwicket boundary.
However, little did anybody at that stage know about what was to follow, As England headed to Adelaide, Trott was in a flight heading back to England because of a stress-related illness.
It subsequently proved to be a premature end to a career that promised so much and even though he made a comeback to national colours as an opener after some fine performances for his county, the second coming didn't prove to be very fruitful and he retired from the game in April last year.
While such stories of players starting out together and eventually drifting away to different teams isn't very common nowadays, it certainly makes for an intriguing story and one can only hope in the years to come, we perhaps hear a similar tale emerging out of the 2016 Under19 World Cup in Bangladesh.
Here’s a video of Smith, Trott and Jonty Rhodes talking about their South African connection: