I have known, worked with and admired Graeme Smith for many years. Over the years he taught me some valuable coaching lessons.
I first met "Biff" when he was a 18 year old lad straight out of school. He played some club cricket in the UK and was in my Hampshire Board XI for a few games. I was impressed with his maturity and sense of fun; less impressed with his "grubby" technique.
The key lessons that I learnt from the great man are:
Listen to your body; Not everybody
I was a young coach who knew about technique. In my view, this Smith bloke wouldn't play 1st class cricket.
His technique was poor. His grip was closed, his stance too cramped and he hardly hit the ball through the off side. He had no chance..
9000 Test runs and nearly 7000 ODI runs later it could be said that my initial view was poor!
Graeme found a way to politely ignore the advice that told him to change his grip, stand taller at the crease and lead with his head; choosing to listen to his body instead. It's a vital message for all players: Trust yourself first and sift the information from coaches that supports your preferences.
Let me give you another example. In a championship match against Leicester, Graeme came out for some pre-match throws. He hit his first 3 balls sweet as a nut and then walked off saying "cheers Garas, I feel great today". He went on to score 311 in 255 balls getting out in the 80th over of the day!
Talk about knowing yourself!
Change the environment. Change the behaviour
Graeme was my captain at Somerset in 2005 we played a group T20 game away at Northamptonshire. Our warm up was terrible, the atmosphere in the changing room was nervous and negative. Biff and I chatted about it only minutes before we went out to field in front of a full house.
Biff then jumped into my seat and started jabbing me in the ribs. I whacked him back before he picked me up, threw me into my seat, gave me a smile and shouted to the squad "right lads, let's go and be brilliant today!".
3 overs later, with ice on my ribs, Northants were 18-2 and we were alive and firing, the nerves were a distant memory. We won the game and progressed out of our group.
Graeme had done something which distracted the group from their nerves and negativity, changed their focus and placed a positive statement over the top. This is high quality NLP practice.
Amazingly, Smith was only 23 years old.
Big players stand up in big matches
The Mark of a great player is how they impact upon the biggest games and the toughest situations. Graeme Smith did this repeatedly.
Somerset were chasing down 114 in a reduced overs T20 Final against Lancashire at the Oval in 2005. Smith and Marcus Trescothick stood at the top of the stairs ready to face Flintoff, Anderson, Chappel, Cork and Symonds.
Young Player: "We're gonna win aren't we coach?"
Garas: "Yes fella"
Young Player: "He (pointing at Smith) is going to be Man of the Match isn't he?"
Result: G. Smith 64 not out. Somerset win with 11 balls to spare.
When South Africa were under pressure, Biff always led from the front. His 90 in 55 balls set up the onslaught which helped chase 434 in a world-record ODI innings against Australia in 2006.
In 2008, his 154* was a masterpiece against my England team as he single handedly chased down 283 to secure South Africa's 1st series win in England. Whilst the loss hurt, I couldn't help but be proud of my mate.
I have learnt a heap from Graeme Smith, is there anything in here that you can take into your game or your coaching?