Australia v South Africa, 2nd Test, Adelaide, 2nd day November 23, 2012

Smith's legacy continues to rise

Smith's life outside cricket may eventually take him away from cricket. But until it does, there should be plenty more to celebrate. Adelaide 2012 is proof of that.

Graeme Smith had not yet brought up his half-century when a suggestion was made on social media that he would retire early in 2014. He will be 33 then.

If the careers of Jacques Kallis, Ricky Ponting and Sachin Tendulkar are anything to go by, Smith should still have at least four years of cricket left in him after that. His recent deal with Surrey has brought that into question, though. Smith was recently married to an Irish woman who has a music career which will probably fare better in London than in Cape Town. He also has a young daughter and the need for family stability is apparent.

On his part, Smith has given an assurance that he would continue playing international cricket despite his county arrangement and so far, he has given no reason to be disbelieved. South Africa have fairly light winter schedules for the next few years and Surrey will release him for key tournaments like the Champions Trophy. Still, the obviousness that his family comes first continues to fuel speculation that he is close to calling time on his career.

After all, what is left for him to achieve? He's captained South Africa to series wins across the Test-playing world barring India and Sri Lanka. His record includes the prized destinations of England and Australia. Under him, South Africa built a Test unit that always looked like it could become No.1 and finally, it did.

What's really driving Smith is that he is not satisfied with what he has achieved. One of his first comments after receiving the mace was about retaining it, an unusually sobering statement. He said he hoped the South African team he leads in future would have the ability, "to stand firm when winds come to blow us over." In other words, Smith wants a chance to create his own era like Steve Waugh and Ponting and the West Indians of the 1970s and 80s. Smith's South Africa.

He also seems to know that to create a legacy that will bear his name, he has to build some of it himself. Alastair Cook motivates his troops by getting down and dirty with them and fielding at short leg. Michael Clarke captains inclusively and extends a hand to everyone. Smith influences with runs when they matter most.

He has done that almost since day he first started playing for South Africa. All of his 25 previous centuries came in matches South Africa have not lost. To understand the real significance of that, consider that 17 of them have come in South African victories - four of them in successful second innings chases. That list includes classic matches like South Africa's win over England at Edgbaston in 2008, the match they triumphed in to take the series-lead against Australia in Perth later that year and the epic 2010 Cape Town Test, also against Australia.

It's those innings that have led to Smith being recognised as an inspirational leader who commands attention simply by being there. He does not just tell his team to never say die, he actually keeps things alive himself. Morne Morkel, who has played under Smith for his entire Test career, confirmed as much. "He is a one of the best captains I have played under because of his passion and his pride and the way he gets us to get up and keep going is unbelievable," he said.

He must have such strong mental strength to be able to play with such determination and to have the burden of being captain at the same time
Michael Hussey

In Adelaide, Smith did it again. Even though the bowlers pulled it back, South Africa's batsmen still had a mountain to climb. A solid start would not be enough, they needed an all-day effort. Smith provided that. He survived two appeals for caught behind in a James Pattinson over when he hadn't scored a run, a missed stumping when he was on 46 and reviewed another appeal on 78, but he saw out the day.

The third was the closest. Pattinson and Matthew Wade were both convinced Smith had edged and he was given out, but he reviewed the decision. He took some time to decide to send it upstairs and had to cop words from Ricky Ponting afterwards, but in those few seconds a lot about Smith was revealed. He is not always pretty but he is almost always effective.

Smith has never been the most attractive batsman because he hacks rather than plays the ball, symptomatic of his heavy bottom hand. As Hashim Amla will testify, being asked to change your technique simply to look good (something he was instructed to do when his backlift first appeared on the international stage) is a futile exercise if your existing approach works for you. Smith's has worked for almost a decade.

But every few months, he comes under pressure to step down or leave the game altogether. Occasionally, it seems as though he is recognised more in other places than at home. Some of his most glowing compliments have come from competitors, like this one from Michael Hussey.

"He must have such strong mental strength to be able to play with such determination and to have the burden of being captain at the same time," he said. "He seems to have a lot of character and determination and passion for his country."

That patriotism was questioned as recently as last year during the series against Australia. Smith angered people with a lack of one-day form and his not returning home directly after the failed World Cup campaign was perceived as callousness. He rerouted himself via Ireland where he proposed to the woman who is now his wife. So, the fear will remain. Will Smith's life outside cricket eventually take him away from cricket? It may. But until it does, there should be plenty more to celebrate. Adelaide 2012 is proof of that.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on November 24, 2012, 5:43 GMT

    smith is a fighter throughout the career..i remember his batting at no. 10 with pluster over his arms against a furious attack to save match for his coutnry..what a brave n dedicated man he is!!hats off to this man..the GREAT GRAEM!

  • Derek on November 24, 2012, 2:06 GMT

    Smith has been a great captain for South Africa and continues to be . He has not always had the strongest SA side possible , but he certainly knows how to bring out the best in his team.He does lead from the front , and his record as an opener /captain in Tests , especially when his back is to the wall is unrivalled.

  • Paul on November 23, 2012, 21:53 GMT

    Smith is right to be less than satisfied with what he has achieved, as there's still one glaring hole in his CV - his captaincy. It has always been ordinary and remains so.

  • Shulz Van on November 23, 2012, 20:47 GMT

    One thing about the South African team which is unique. They have held their position since they entered international cricket. They were always that team to beat. They were always a feet away from that glory. They were always the 2nd best team. They were always going to be the no.1 team if they beat the no.1 team. They were the only team that beat India in India in a test series under Cronje when it was impossible for any other team even the OZs. They were first team to pull OZs down the ladder by conquering them in Australia. They are the most stubborn team in Cricket. They have been more consistent than the West indians and the Aussies. look where they are now. SA has better themselves and achieved what they wanted. They wont let go of this easily. Holding a spot for more than 2 decades is an achievement. Other teams would not have last like the Saffas.

  • Dummy4 on November 23, 2012, 20:33 GMT

    Riposte to SurlyCynic, To mention any other world team in the same breath as Peter v/Merwe' 1966/1967 and Ali Bacher's 1969/1970's SPRINGBOKS's is sacrilege, research them on this cricinfo site and learn something

  • Dummy4 on November 23, 2012, 16:20 GMT

    Smith is an absolute professional. He first captained South Africa at the age of 22. That is staggering. He was giving orders to the likes of Kirsten, Pollock, Kallis, and Gibbs who were making their debuts for South Africa when Smith was just a teenager. His conduct has been exemplary, does anyone have a bad word about him? I remember in 2003 when South Africa toured, I did not even know who he was (Nasser Hussain did not even know his first name) and he scored 277 and 259! I just hope he continues to captain a 100 Tests! What an achievement that would be!

  • des on November 23, 2012, 14:52 GMT

    Please do not even mention SA in the same breath as the great Windies and Aussie teams. This is what English journalists were guilty of when they briefly reached #1. I think SA deserve to be top after not losing an away series for so long, but if they lose this series the ranking is gone. PS: Amla did change his technique after his first spell in international cricket, it helped him become the player he is. Look at side-by-side shots of him in his first tests and now to see the difference.

  • Dummy4 on November 23, 2012, 12:48 GMT

    25 Hundreds so far and none of them in losing cause just shows what a great player /match winner he has been for South Africa. He may not be technically sound and may not look pretty but he is mighty effective. The hundred at lords against england set the stepping stone for series win and now this may go a long way in atleast saving this test.And if south africa gets a chance to tour Sl in near future i am sure he gonna win series in Sl as well since Sl minus murali is pretty ordinary.But one thing that is perplexing is what happened to paul harris. Play imran tahir in sub continent and he might be effective but in places like eng, aus and south africa. Spinners do more of holding job rather than attacking job and harris did pretty okay even against the indians who are best player of spin. I wonder how he get pushed down in the pecking order still believe that he can compliment steyn, morkel and philander better than tahir.

  • Peter on November 23, 2012, 12:35 GMT

    For me people who think he should have come home after the world cup are being petty. I'm a passionate SA supporter who nearly wept when we were knocked out of the world cup in 1999... and 95, 03, 07. Have I missed any? But at the end of the day, who gives a toss whether he comes back afterwards or not? REALLY?!!? Do you have a life?? People don't seem to realise (I don't know how, given how obvious it is) that cricketers live very unsexy lives. They spend almost half the year on the road, staying in hotels. I don't know how they do it - I'd go mad. Then, there is a week long break in between the world cup and a tour and these people want him to come home so they can slap him. He didn't choke in the game against New Zealand. If you want to slap someone, slap Faf or AB. But stop trying to be petty thieves of smith's time. Nevermind the fact that he proposed to his now wife during that trip! Shows how amazingly differently people can view things.

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