SA have a treasure in captain Smith
When the South Africa team take the field at the home of cricket, Lord's, for the third and final test of the series, it will be another milestone for the Proteas' youngest ever test match captain – another in the list of many that he has notched up in the eight years that he has led the side since being entrusted with the reins at the tender age of 22.
He will pass Australia's legendary captain and batsman, Allan Border, and go to the top of the all-time list of most test matches as captain. Border captained his country 93 times. For Graeme Smith, it will be match number 94 as captain of South Africa – and it has been a successful reign too, as he has won 43 of those test matches.
While the beginning of his tenure was filled with issues here and there in the media, he has certainly led from the front and worn his heart on his sleeve, even if it sometimes got him in hot water. By and large his work with the team has been fantastic and he has built up a side that South Africans can boast about as they have made their way to the top echelons of the cricket world and stayed there for a long time.
He chases a second consecutive series victory in England which would be no mean feat in an era where England have been near unbeatable at home. The cherry on top would be to become the number 1 ranked test team, which will happen is South Africa win once again, or even if they manage just to avoid defeat.
In terms of South Africa, there is no doubt that he will go down as the country's greatest captain to date, even though many may want to debate that. The man has done things that no one – certainly not at the time of him getting the job – expected of him. Had he done half of what he has, it would have been an acceptable and credible job considering the age at which he took over.
To say that there are issues that surround the next test match would be an understatement of note. The Proteas will hope that the Kevin Pietersen saga will not serve as a distraction for them either and that they can keep their focus amid what will surely be constant mention of the man who is not there. It is a big hole out of England’s side, no matter how much they try to deny that. It does not mean that they cannot win though, as there are other fabulous players in their ranks.
Andrew Strauss plays his 100th test match, and his 50th as captain of England. It could not come under more difficult circumstances and one can’t discount that it could be the end of him if his team loses or fails to win. My basis for that statement is the fact that Smith has ‘presided’ over the end of a couple of England captains on his previous visits to the country. It could be No 3.
High praise for Smith came from a former captain, Shaun Pollock, who will be working as a broadcaster at Smith's record-breaking test match as captain. He said, “I think longevity as a captain is not an easy thing to attain. Graeme was thrown in at the deep end as a young man and has grown into a fine leader of the Proteas. His achievements both as a team leader and individual have made our country proud and he deserves a lot of respect for that. To break the captaincy record is a real feather in his cap and I wish him all the best for however long he decides to continue doing the job.”
Cricket fans, followers and supporters will have various favourite memories of the man, from the 438 match at the Wanderers to the 154 not out to win the test series at Edgbaston the last time the Proteas were there in 2008.
The one that will be high on many lists of memories – if not top – is when he walked out at the Sydney Cricket Ground with a broken hand to try and stave off defeat in the third test of a series against the Aussies that was already won. Such huge events and occurrences have been synonymous with the man’s time.
Congratulations to Graeme Smith on test number 94 as captain and may there be many more tests and victories.
Here’s are two lists, to put his achievement into perspective:
Most tests as captain
Graeme Smith (SA) 93*
Allan Border (Aus) 93
Stephen Fleming (NZ) 80
Ricky Ponting (Aus) 77
Clive Lloyd (WI) 74
Steve Waugh (Aus) 57
Most tests as captain of South Africa
Graeme Smith 93*
Hansie Cronje 53
Shaun Pollock 26