Graeme Smith Biography
Few can deny that Graeme Smith stood through his playing days like a colossus in front of his troops, charging headlong into the enemy lines, blazing a trail for his worthy men to follow. Every aspect of the man was eloquent with the much discussed and rarely witnessed trait of leading from the front. His giant frame could be made out as he stood in the slips under the green cap, active, confident and eternally optimistic. One look at the field was enough to gauge who was in charge. He was out there to win, by playing hard and tough — sometimes perhaps a bit too tough.
As batsman it was pure substance. The drives were clubbed without any semblance of the caress. The closing of the bat face to force the ball through the on side couldrarely be termed elegant. The grip remained incorrigibly bottom-handed. He hacked the ball with a degree of brutality that sometimes seemed less than humane. The focus was strictly on making runs, not an inch of pragmatism sacrificed for style. Perhaps that is why Smith did not enjoy the same amount of press and plaudits like the several brilliant men with whom he shared the dressing room, men like Jacques Kallis, Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers.
But yet, if we look at the trail of numbers left along the way his massive boots did tread, we find that Smith is easily among some of the all-time greats. The pile of his runs is rendered even more impressive because many of them are worth their weights in gold.
His gum-chewing countenance and the grammatically questionable batting technique often did not project the impression of a master of crisis. But Smith was one of the best fourth innings batsmen the world has ever known.
In all, he scored 9,265 runs scored at 48.25, with 27 hundreds; as many as 1,614 of them were amassed in the fourth innings at an incredible average of 50.44. It came down several notches after the last dismal series against Australia, but still stands in the zone of greatness. In successful chases, this figure goes up to levels of the inconceivable. Smith had been part of successful fourth innings pursuits in 22 matches, in 21 of them as opener. He scored 1,141 runs in these efforts at a mind-boggling average of 87.76, with four hundreds and a strike rate of 69.3. This implies that when chasing in the fourth innings, Smith came out all guns blazing and most often the guns continue to blaze till no opponent was left standing.
This appetite for impossible chases was not limited just to the Test matches. In that famous ODI against Australia at Johannesburg, as South Africa launched their audacious assault on the target of 435, Smith blitzkrieged his way to a 55-ball 90, adding 187 with Herschelle Gibbs for the second wicket in 20.5 overs. He has scored 2,705 runs in 58 successful chases in ODIs, at an average of 55.20 and a strike rate of 85.
As captain his record is very nearly unbelievable. He played just 8 Tests as one of the boys before he was hauled into the hot seat as a young lad of 22. From then on, he led the next 109 Tests — more than anyone in the history of the game. And he won 53 of them — once again more than any skipper has ever done.
However, it was not only image of the destroying batsman with sledgehammer subtlety that fully traced Smith’s characteristics. There was another fourth innings effort, at SCG with a broken hand, that did not amount to more than three runs and was played in a losing cause.Yet it painted his picture in stark colours of blood and bravado.
He retired early, perhaps too early according to some. However, the period between 2002 and 2014 can very well go down as the Graeme Smith era of Protean cricket.