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