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Graeme Smith the captain has always preceded Smith the player

Despite South Africa dominating in Tests recently, Graeme Smith's form had been less than his high standards © Getty Images
Despite South Africa dominating in Tests recently, Graeme Smith’s form had been less than his high standards © Getty Images

At 33, they say, a cricketer has usually seen the best and worst of his cricketing career and has a fair idea where he is heading. Graeme Smith knew it was time writes Abhijit Banare.

So what’s your favourite Graeme Smith fact? A captain who led South Africa to a record 58 Test wins? A leader who defied pain to face Mitchell Johnson with a broken arm? Or the most significant of all, leading at the age of 22 and still going unscathed? Such has been Smith’s presence in South African cricket, which seldom his ‘match-winning’ efforts or the individual high scores precede the discussion of what he has given to South Africa as a leader.

Smith’s retirement has been called as sudden, shocking and all the adjectives which could be a synonym to a premature exit. But Smith had seen it all and more significantly had the guts to take the decision. Just as captain he had been aggressive and wanting things to happen, who better than Smith to understand that history and records aren’t valued more than delivering the results consistently. He could have very well achieved 7,000 runs in One-Day Internationals (ODIs) — he is 11 runs short; and achieved the landmark 10,000 Test runs, but these records stand at a much lower pedestal for him than the success of the team which has surrounded Smith’s legacy.

It’s just that Smith’s maturity and his experience were always ahead of his age captaining the side. Even as the old warhorses, Shaun Pollock, Mark Boucher, Gary Kirsten, Herschelle Gibbs and others faded away, Smith was still young enough to merge with the new pack. At 33, they say, a cricketer has usually seen the best and worst of his cricketing career and has a fair idea where he is heading.

As captain, he had delivered with a record 53 Test wins and leading a side unbeaten at home since 2009. But as a batsman he knew the time had come. Just over a month ago, there were discussions about Smith’s future in the ODIs and the Test batting was fluctuating between the odd fifties with poor string of scores in between.

In many ways, Smith’s retirement comes on similar lines as that of Ricky Ponting. Both knew, the brilliant mind as captain still exposed the chinks in their batting. How ironic it is in hindsight, when Ponting accepted defeat against Proteas at home and bowed out to a standing ovation, and a similar feat happening to Smith in his own backyard.

Catch all the stories related to Graeme Smith’s retirement here

For years, he will be remembered more for taking Proteas to the pinnacle of Test cricket than his individual records. And it has been that way all this time. The only thing selfish about Smith is his self-belief, making his own decisions than listen to what’s happening around since the start of his captaincy. To put things in perspective, someone like MS Dhoni saw the end of an era and ushered in a new one with young players, similarly Smith did a far better job at seamlessly merging the two as the results show. Smith is one of the few players whose achievements had already made him a legend before he chose to retire.

From South Africa’s point of view, one of the best records that define South Africa’s success is, they have never lost a Test match when Smith has scored a century. He has played 109 Tests and scored 25 centuries as captain and not one of those tons coming in a loss, which has got to be a big achievement for the team. Even as he leaves a leadership void, it’s almost inevitable to look at another great player in the making — AB de Villiers to fill the gap. In terms of South Africa’s success, de Villiers has seen Smith achieve virtually everything that the nation would dream of. A fitting tribute would be for de Villiers to add an ICC trophy in South Africa’s cabinet which remained elusive to Smith in his 11 years as captain.

This tweet below says a lot about Smith in as few words as possible. ‘For Smith cricket is a way of life not life.’

How often have we misread the latter to be important? He knew it was the right time and chose to walk away himself rather than waiting for the alarm bells to ring louder.

(Abhijit Banare is a reporter at CricketCountry. He is an avid quizzer and loves to analyse and dig out interesting facts which allows him to learn something new every day. Apart from cricket he also likes to keep a sharp eye on Indian politics, and can be followed on Twitter and blog)

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