Graeme Smith is the only cricketer in history of Test cricket to captain a team in 100 or more Tests. In 108 Tests as a captain of South Africa, he was victorious in 53 Tests, lost 28 and the remaining 27 Tests were draws. He tasted success in the ODI format too as a leader and led South Africa to victory in 92 of 149 ODIs.
The former South African opener had incredible numbers as an opener in Test cricket as well as ODI cricket. In 205 Test innings, Smith scored 9265 runs at an impressive average of 47.76 with 27 centuries to his credit. Out of the said 27 centuries, 5 were big double hundreds and Smith had it in him to play the big innings. In ODIs too, he scored 6989 runs in 194 innings at an average of 37.78 with 10 centuries.
The history of appointment of Smith as the skipper of South Africa is an interesting one. South Africa were knocked out of the 2003 World Cup in the group stages and the team management was looking to groom a young leader who could lead the team for a long period and Smith was the chosen one.
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The left-handed opener had played in only 8 Tests matches and was just 22 years of age when he was given the responsibility of leading the South African team in Tests and ODIs. Subsequently, he became the youngest man to lead South Africa.
Smith’s first assignment as a captain in Test cricket was a tough series against England in England and he did not disappoint. In the said Test series against England, Smith announced his arrival on the big stage with two double hundreds. An innings of 277 at Edgbaston and 259 at Lord's showed his class and the temperament to succeed at the highest level.
He won the Wisden cricketer of the year in 2004 but as a captain in Test cricket he did not enjoy early success. His first major success as a Test captain was a Test series win against West Indies in 2005.
The years 2008-2009 saw the emergence of Smith as a leader. South Africa had not won a Tests series in England since the year 1965 and Smith led his team to a historic Test series win in England in 2008. Australia were in their prime in 2000s and South Africa under Smith beat a strong Australian side by a margin of 1-2 in Australia.
From the years 2009 to 2012, Smith continued to lead his team and beat the top sides in their own den. Two drawn series against India in India in 2008 and 2010 was also one of the highlights of his career as a Test skipper.
In 2012, South Africa reached the number 1 ranking in Test cricket under the able leadership of Smith as South Africa recorded away Test wins in England and Australia. Smith called it a day in the year 2014, which took the cricket world by surprise. The Johannesburg born leftie achieved success at the international level especially in Test cricket as a skipper as well as a player.
The year 2019 was one of the worst years for South Africa in international cricket as they lost a Test series against Sri Lanka at home for the first time, had an early ouster from the 2019 World Cup and were white-washed in a Test series against India in India. Thereafter, Smith was appointed as the Director of South Africa Cricket on an acting basis for a period of 3 months.
The move is a positive one for South African cricket considering Smith's past experience of leading the team as well as motivating and inspiring the younger generation of players. Smith will look to ensure that South African cricket is back to its golden days and dominate world cricket once again. When Smith started his international career, Dr. Ali Bacher once quoted:
"This is a guy who you know will climb Everest for South Africa.”
And Smith has certainly scaled the Everest and will be remembered as one of the most successful, respected and inspirational captain in the history of Test cricket.
Sportskeeda wishes Graeme Smith a happy 39th birthday.