It wasn’t surprising when Graeme Smith retired during the last test against South Africa, but it was still a sad moment for world cricket and obviously for South African cricket. Smith was appointed captain of his national team, aged just 22 and still seemed wet behind the ears when he led his side out for the first time; against England at Lords in 2003.
The man once referred to as ‘whatsisname’ by Nasser Hussain started his reign as he meant to go on, with a monumental 277 lasting almost nine hours and causing Hussain to resign as England captain in the process.
Indeed, Smith had somewhat of a habit of disposing of England captain’s over the years, seeing off Hussain, Vaughan and Strauss. But it is Michael Clarke and his rampant Australian team, who have now won seven of their last eight Tests, who finally did for Smith. The three pronged Aussie pace attack has bamboozled Smith throughout the series and left him averaging just 7.5 from his six innings.
He has always been a man who has made runs in spite of his technique rather than because of it. His crab like stance and shuffle into the leg side became his trademark as bowlers got bored waiting for an outside edge and strayed onto his pads.
Smith was seen by the CSA management as a completely new direction after the travesty at the 2003 World Cup and the on going fallout of the Hanse Cronje affair. He ruffled feathers when he first came in and immediately dropped Lance Klusener as he believed him to be a divisive player in the dressing room.
Sometimes seen as an arrogant and cold character during his earlier years, English crowds warmed to Smith after his spell at Somerset in 2005 where he lead the cidermen to almost universal acclaim. I remember going to the County Ground in Taunton when I was younger just to see him line up alongside Sanath Jayasuriya, he breathed new life into a stumbling Division Two club and laid the platform for Justin Langer to build upon.
He also grudgingly earned the respect of English fans through his uncanny knack of always scoring runs when it mattered most. South Africa never lost a test in which he scored a hundred and his unbeaten century against England on a wearing Edgbaston pitch in 2008 was a master-class in 4th innings batting.
Smith took up dual Irish citizenship last year to allow him to visit his in-laws more easily, but now that he has retired from the international stage, this move has another outcome. Smith would now be able to play for Surrey as a non-overseas player, leaving a space vacant for another overseas pro. Although, due to financial restraints this is unlikely, it is a tantalising prospect for Surrey. At the very least they can look forward to a full season from Smith – fitness permitting.
The retirement of the South African captain also adds to an increasing number of great players to exit the game during the last two years. The golden age of batting appears to be ending and the retirements of greats such as Tendulkar, Dravid, Smith and Kallis further adds to this thought.
For me, as somebody who grew up watching cricket throughout the 2000’s, the list of great players who are no longer in the game makes for depressing reading. In addition to the four I’ve already mentioned, I’ve also seen the end of Warne, McGrath, Gilchrist, Ponting, Hayden, Langer, Lara, Flintoff, Strauss, Laxman, Murali and Pietersen.
It’s time for the new generation of world cricket to stand up and produce the memorable performances that will be spoken about for decades. I can see the next three years being dominated by Clarke, Amla, Johnson, Cook and De Villiers. It was also be intriguing to see how long the Sri-Lankan duo of Snagakkara and Jayawardene can continue for, but for now it’s goodbye to Graeme Smith and his number one Test Side. AB (the heir apparent) will need to gather his men quickly to come back from a brutal series against Australia.