They have been friends and senior Proteas team-mates for many years, but even Jacques Kallis was a little taken aback by Graeme Smith’s mid-Test announcement of his retirement from international cricket.
Kallis has only been out of the Test arena himself for a few weeks, after his own decision to step down during the India series, and he told SuperSport anchor Mpumelelo Mbangwa during a tea-break TV interview at Newlands on Tuesday: “I think it came by surprise to a lot of us.
“Having spoken to him a little bit, I knew he was there or thereabouts — but I didn’t realise he was that close.
“It’s a difficult call to make, when this has been your livelihood for so long. It doesn’t just get made overnight; he’s obviously spent a lot of time thinking about it.”
Asked to suggest reasons for Smith quitting, Kallis said: “It’s probably the culmination of a lot of things. He’s a family man and that would have played a big part in it.
“There are lots of pressures that come with being captain, too. A lot of people won’t know what he has to put in behind the scenes.
“It’s certainly a shock to the system when you actually tell all the guys (in the national team). The one thing I hope Graeme will have taken from me is that one day you wake up and you just know it’s time.
“What it is you can’t put your finger on … but you do just know.
“The one thing that suddenly struck me … I woke one day and just realised I wasn’t as up for the challenge as I needed to be, and I didn’t want to let either the team or myself down.
“I’d said that when I didn’t really want to get out of bed is when I should start thinking about it, and the day unfortunately came.”
A lean-looking Kallis lifted the lid a little on his own plans to try to prolong his one-day international career to the 2015 World Cup.
“I’ve spoken to Russell (Domingo, the SA coach) and fortunately there’s a lot of one-day international cricket coming up; I think 20 to 25 games, so there’s lots of time to play lots of cricket.
“Gary Kirsten is still involved with the Proteas side and I will do lots of work with him over the next year while the guys are away on Test tours.
“I can then do much work on my one-day technique – I don’t have to worry as much about getting too close to the ball or behind the ball; now I can give myself more room and play a bit more freely.
“There are lots of challenges and opportunities for me to improve as a player, and by no means do I see myself as a guaranteed spot in the one-day side. No one is guaranteed a place.
“I need to put in performances and am motivated to do that. Hopefully I can make a difference and help lift that World Cup – it would be the cherry on top.”
Considering that a trio of crusty veterans – Mark Boucher, Kallis and now Smith – have fairly recently followed each other into Test retirement, the great all-rounder quipped: “We just need one more for a good four-ball.
“There are a few green-keepers around the country who are shuddering because (Smith) can take some proper divots and mess things good and proper! I’m sure we’ll spend a fair amount of time playing golf.
“But hopefully there aren’t any more retirements from the team in the near future. It’ll be a new and exciting era for South African cricket – some places have come up now for youngsters to put up their hands and grab the opportunity.
“I believe we can stay there and thereabouts at No 1. There’s still some very experienced players in that dressing room – it’s just a matter of settling down again.
“I don’t see our cricket going too low too quickly. There’ll be some tough times to learn from, but we’ll stay (competitive).”