Australia in South Africa 2013-14 March 3, 2014

The end had been coming for Smith

A picture on Instagram, Irish citizenship, a young family and a long time at the helm. There was plenty pointing towards Graeme Smith preparing to call time on his career. It has been an immense one.
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In the next 48 hours, Graeme Smith will represent South Africa for the last time. Three days short of 12 years as an international cricketer - and on the ground where his career started in 2002 - South Africa's most successful, longest-serving shepherd will leave his flock to tend to themselves.

The news has come suddenly and surprisingly, but not entirely shockingly. Anyone who spent teenagehood and beyond doing something they cherished will want to grow up at some point. Smith has come of age through cricket and through captaincy. He has now come out the other side.

Smith led South Africa through their most successful period in Test history. They have been on an unbeaten run away from home for almost eight years and have not lost at home in five years. He has been in charge of the top batsman, top bowler and leading all-rounder, all at the same time. He has taken them to No.1 in the world and kept there for 19 months. He has been their talisman and their frontman, a frontman in every way including the literal, opening the batting in difficult conditions and averaging almost 50 as he approaches the end.

Many people will not understand why the end should come now but the truth is that it has been coming for some time. Almost a month before the day Smith announced his decision to walk away, he gave his first hint that he would do so. He posted a picture on Instagram of his wife and and two young children with the caption. "Always miss these guys when away!..... last one I promise." Now we know what that meant.

That was a firm sign and one that was discussed on these pages at the time but the indications had been building for a while. Two weeks before that, Smith traveled to Ireland to collect the certificate confirming his citizenship to that country. When it was reported, he assured fans he was not turning his back on South Africa. He tweeted: "I love my country and remain always a loyal South African. Half my family is Irish now and visiting them is easier with dual nationality."

Before that, in December 2013, a story sprouted that Smith had threatened to resign the captaincy over selection issues. He killed that suggestion too. In November 2012, Smith signed a three-year deal with Surrey which he could not fulfill in its first because of an ankle injury. He had to cut short his stay in London, where he had relocated with his young family, and expressed disappointment.

Smith's family is ultimately the reason he has reached this point and we would have known that as early as after the 2011 World Cup. That was his last assignment as ODI captain and he earned the wrath of the public when he did not return home from the tournament with the rest of the team but instead went to Ireland to propose to Morgan Deane. An over-sensitive public loathed her then but soon grew to love her as the woman who turned their captain into a softer, nicer and more laid-back person.

With marriage and fatherhood, the other side of Smith emerged. Far from the bubblegum-chewing hard-arse that stared opponents down on the field, Smith allowed his gentle, loving side to come to the fore. The nation grew to adore him in his new role, even when he did not score the runs they wanted.

But cricket is a results-driven game and eventually the lack of positive numbers will catch up. Smith has gone eight innings without a half-century, which is not that many especially considering that less than six months ago he scored a double-hundred against Pakistan in challenging conditions against a challenging attack in the UAE. Still, what Mitchell Johnson has done to him in this series has exposed old weaknesses and it seems Smith has had enough of scar tissue being exposed.

Not for the first time in his career, Smith will exit in ungainly fashion. South Africa are two days away from the end of the series against Australia, a series which they will have to fight hard to draw. Should they manage that, they would extend their unbeaten run to 15 series. If they do not, it will be the first time since March 2009 that they have been defeated.

Either way, it is the end of an era. An era that began and ended in August 2012 when Mark Boucher retired and South Africa became the No.1 ranked Test team. An era that looked more like ending when Jacques Kallis retired after the Boxing Day Test last year. But an era that can be rightly be called the Smith era. It belonged to him and now it's over.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • on March 4, 2014, 23:11 GMT

    I think it was a very hard decision for Graham to make, one of the big factors for his retirement at this point is his family. He still has young children who really need to see more of their Dad and spend quality time with their father. He could have decided to continue for another year or two, but believe he decided to put his family first, a very wise decision.

  • on March 4, 2014, 20:56 GMT

    More than anyone else the person concerned knows the right time to move on. Clearly in Smiths mind the time is now. Good luck to him in his future life.

  • on March 4, 2014, 20:02 GMT

    12 years as captain together with added pressures and responsibilities off the field (press conferences, selection meetings etc) Graeme you have done a nation proud. Not only that but as a player your stats show what a fine cricketer you have been too! Best wishes for the next chapter of your life.

  • shammini on March 4, 2014, 19:28 GMT

    Every cricket fan will miss you Biff. One of the most respected leaders of the game who led by example. The decision to quit, although premature in many eye, is well thought out. AB has clearly shown he can be the next leader, atleast in the shorter format. Good luck with your future Biff. Hope to see your class in county games :)

  • Aussasinator on March 4, 2014, 19:26 GMT

    A tremendous captain and leader of men. He left at the right time and unlike a Ponting, did not continue through lost series after series , and wait to be kicked out. he had character and grace, which Aussies, other than Border and Taylor can never have. have a nice life Graeme. You were the master.

  • Hello13 on March 4, 2014, 18:22 GMT

    Nice to see how many people came out to say goodbye to him. Oh wait.

  • SevereCritic on March 4, 2014, 17:26 GMT

    Ugh - that's 3 people in 2 series that Johnson has forced into retirement -- Trott, Swann and now Smith.

  • on March 4, 2014, 17:00 GMT

    Smith and Kallis we cricketers we all loved for their grace and dedication and professionalism. They showed that you can be a great cricketer and a great gentleman at the same time unlike our dear friends Australians when they were at the top...We will miss Smith and Jack...two of the best ambassadors of the game. Smith deserve to give team to his family. He was thrust upon huge responsibility as a younger by Ali Bacher so I am sure he has paid the price for that.

  • marubini on March 4, 2014, 16:16 GMT

    We always knew that the day will come but it came sooner than expected,it was love and hate relationship between smith and us the supporters bt to tell the truth eveyone will miss him he contributed positively to the s.a team.#farewell graem "biff" smith.

  • mrmonty on March 4, 2014, 15:55 GMT

    Goodbye Biff, you took the SA team from the perennial No.2 next to Aus (under Hansie) to No.1. You made the team more than the sum of its parts. Your courage and conviction were there on every occasion. Sad to see you go, wish you all the best for whatever life has in store for you.

  • on March 4, 2014, 23:11 GMT

    I think it was a very hard decision for Graham to make, one of the big factors for his retirement at this point is his family. He still has young children who really need to see more of their Dad and spend quality time with their father. He could have decided to continue for another year or two, but believe he decided to put his family first, a very wise decision.

  • on March 4, 2014, 20:56 GMT

    More than anyone else the person concerned knows the right time to move on. Clearly in Smiths mind the time is now. Good luck to him in his future life.

  • on March 4, 2014, 20:02 GMT

    12 years as captain together with added pressures and responsibilities off the field (press conferences, selection meetings etc) Graeme you have done a nation proud. Not only that but as a player your stats show what a fine cricketer you have been too! Best wishes for the next chapter of your life.

  • shammini on March 4, 2014, 19:28 GMT

    Every cricket fan will miss you Biff. One of the most respected leaders of the game who led by example. The decision to quit, although premature in many eye, is well thought out. AB has clearly shown he can be the next leader, atleast in the shorter format. Good luck with your future Biff. Hope to see your class in county games :)

  • Aussasinator on March 4, 2014, 19:26 GMT

    A tremendous captain and leader of men. He left at the right time and unlike a Ponting, did not continue through lost series after series , and wait to be kicked out. he had character and grace, which Aussies, other than Border and Taylor can never have. have a nice life Graeme. You were the master.

  • Hello13 on March 4, 2014, 18:22 GMT

    Nice to see how many people came out to say goodbye to him. Oh wait.

  • SevereCritic on March 4, 2014, 17:26 GMT

    Ugh - that's 3 people in 2 series that Johnson has forced into retirement -- Trott, Swann and now Smith.

  • on March 4, 2014, 17:00 GMT

    Smith and Kallis we cricketers we all loved for their grace and dedication and professionalism. They showed that you can be a great cricketer and a great gentleman at the same time unlike our dear friends Australians when they were at the top...We will miss Smith and Jack...two of the best ambassadors of the game. Smith deserve to give team to his family. He was thrust upon huge responsibility as a younger by Ali Bacher so I am sure he has paid the price for that.

  • marubini on March 4, 2014, 16:16 GMT

    We always knew that the day will come but it came sooner than expected,it was love and hate relationship between smith and us the supporters bt to tell the truth eveyone will miss him he contributed positively to the s.a team.#farewell graem "biff" smith.

  • mrmonty on March 4, 2014, 15:55 GMT

    Goodbye Biff, you took the SA team from the perennial No.2 next to Aus (under Hansie) to No.1. You made the team more than the sum of its parts. Your courage and conviction were there on every occasion. Sad to see you go, wish you all the best for whatever life has in store for you.

  • on March 4, 2014, 13:55 GMT

    Thanks for the wonderful memories. Wish you all the best.

  • KingOwl on March 4, 2014, 13:00 GMT

    He is only 33 years! Why is he retiring? Sure, he has not been in form. But surely, the thing to do is to fight your way. It is frankly disappointing. I always thought of him as a fighter. When stars such as Sachin and Sanga play till their late 30's or even 40's, surely GS could play another few years? This seems like a cut and run. Having said that, I have always had great respect for Smith. He led from the front on numerous occasions. Perhaps he has lost the love for the game. If so, it is understandable.

  • Amol_Gh on March 4, 2014, 12:41 GMT

    The longest captain ever and successful too. Being youngest is a compliment too. Has taken his teams to heights of glory when it was down in the dumps long back in 2004. The most reliable batsman ever in the 4th innings of a Test. When he scored a century SA NEVER has lost. An Era ends. I hope SA do not stop here and I hope they carry forward his legacy by maintaining the Top Rank.

  • tamperbay on March 4, 2014, 12:07 GMT

    With all respect, he was one of the ugliest batsman to watch, but a great competitor and earned the respect of all aussie fans.

  • on March 4, 2014, 10:10 GMT

    when most of ppl criticize his early days of captaincy , i just felt in my inner heart and feel as he can be one of the best captain and who can contribute with bat period of consistency... right now i proud i judge him rightly ... well done RSA for brave decision ...

    Congrtas SMITH for very good contribution to RSA.Hansie cronjewas one of the best captain in south africa , now i can say Grame smith is almost beat the best ...

  • on March 4, 2014, 9:48 GMT

    Zaheer Khan should retire now. He ain't getting any more wickets

  • on March 4, 2014, 9:02 GMT

    Respect for the cricketer and the man...as an aussie he played cricket the way we liked to see it played. Didn't back down, led from the front with his words and followed them with his deeds. All countries go through the renewal process and especially after the team has been on top of the world as, as you age it becomes harder to maintain the drive to get back what you once had and becomes harder as your long time team mates also retire.

  • tripple-Digits on March 4, 2014, 8:46 GMT

    SAD END to an up and down series, and from a South African point of view a bit of a low blow. I was hoping against hope that Smith would have emulate the Australian captain and score big or at least just tough it out in the 1st innings the way we know he can, but it was not to be. Thank you Graeme Smith for your huge contribution to making us a proud nation of Protea followers. I enjoyed your gutsy performances and will be holding thumbs that your last innings will be a memorable one. I wish you well for the future and of course WILL MISS your stuff..

  • Awesomedude1111111 on March 4, 2014, 7:57 GMT

    farewell graeme smith i hope you have a great retirement

  • notimeforcricket on March 4, 2014, 7:44 GMT

    we will see more and more of these early retirements. being away from wife and children for so long is torture. these guys are basically missing the best years of parenthood. also, once you hit 33 or 34, you can spend thenext 3 or 4 years cashing in with IPL, BBL English country cricket etc. those who do not play for Australia or India cannot pass up the financial opportunity. Understandable. For KP (albeit he was chased out but doubtless would have walked soon anyway) and GS, there is a short window of opportunity to set up the family for life. who among us would not take this chance? I know I would

  • mamboman on March 4, 2014, 7:12 GMT

    Back in the day, they used to say if you wanted a batsman to bat fro your life, you's choose Javed Miandad. These last few years, it would be Graham Smith. A true titan of the game, unshakable, invincible, filled with courage and dignity. At a time when so much is wrong with cricket, he embodies what was constantly right.

  • on March 4, 2014, 7:12 GMT

    @venkatesh018 My choice would be Faf du Plessis... he has shown promise in the T20 format, it would be interesting to see him lead this side in the Test and ODIs as well!!

    @TommytuckerSaffa IMO, AB de Villiers doesn't seems the Ri8 guy either to lead RSA.. Faf du Plessis for all formats, What say??

  • on March 4, 2014, 6:59 GMT

    I'm SHOCKED!! I still think he could have played for the next 2-3 years BUT it's his personal decision and we should appreciate it. Being an Indian, I have been his fan and 'll always be. U 'll be missed badly, BIFF!! Have a Gr8 life after cricket :)

  • safavaz on March 4, 2014, 6:24 GMT

    all the best on your new life captain a true Saffer at heart but never leave RSA forever........it would be saddening

  • TommytuckerSaffa on March 4, 2014, 6:18 GMT

    @venkatesh018 Hashim made his intentions clear a few years ago when offered the captaincy in ODIs that he was not interested.

  • AltafPatel on March 4, 2014, 6:03 GMT

    Wish management and team mates try to convince him to change the decision. He has lots of cricket remaining as is only 33 and scored double hundred not more than few matches ago. Form comes and goes but class remains and sure he could have retained his form as did in the past.

  • on March 4, 2014, 5:35 GMT

    shocking news.. but a great career comes to an end... salute.. have immense respect for this man!!

  • TommytuckerSaffa on March 4, 2014, 5:12 GMT

    "Always miss these guys when away!..... last one I promise." Wow, that is a dead giveaway. I am surprised there wasn't a story about that as its pretty clear from that message he was going to retire this series.

    It still is a shock though and we wish him well with his family and his move to the UK. Thanks for taking us to No.1 Graeme, all the best.

  • muzika_tchaikovskogo on March 4, 2014, 5:08 GMT

    Having followed his entire career as a neutral fan, I realise what a colossal figure Graeme Smith has been for South African cricket. The man is a living legend who's taken South Africa to heights never seen or even dreamt of before. I fear he'll leave a void that might never again be filled.

  • RDBX on March 4, 2014, 4:55 GMT

    Yeah! The era belongs to G Smith and its over.

    A brilliant cricketer, batsman, captain and much more better human being. Hats off to one of true legend of the game.

    Thank you Smith for showing us the brilliance of a crafty, grinding top order left handed batsman. thank you for all the memories.

    You will be missed for sure.

    Love from India!

  • venkatesh018 on March 4, 2014, 4:32 GMT

    My choice for next skip is Hashim Amla for all formats.

  • on March 4, 2014, 3:02 GMT

    I think Smith will be missed. He is such a great Captain, Cricketer and all rounder. He has done so much for South African Cricket and then some. Even though I am an Aussie I am happy I got to see him the last time he traveled down under. You gave so much of your talent and time to your country I take my hat of to you for doing it for so long. Cheers on your retirement from cricket and enjoy your family. Well done mate you deserve it.

  • on March 4, 2014, 2:39 GMT

    Shockingggg.. But it was there to come. Adieu! Captain Smith!!!

    May be his retirement announcement should make his team fight as hard as they best do to save this test and the series. Should that happen that will be the perfect farewell but Smith has to play his known fourth innings gem to script one more in his magnificent egend. Godspeed....

  • heathrf1974 on March 4, 2014, 2:33 GMT

    He has served South African cricket well and is a gentleman of the game.

  • legfinedeep on March 4, 2014, 2:03 GMT

    Boucher, Smith, Kallis - the great stalwarts of the Proteas - yes, it's surely the end of an era for SA cricket. These guys were all fighters to the bitter end, gritty and never-say-die guys. I wish him well in this new chapter of his life with his young family.

  • on March 4, 2014, 1:56 GMT

    Graeme Smith, you would be missed! But make a ton (xxx) as you depart like Steve or Pointing but don't be Inzamam and OUT for (0) which leads you to frustration and regrets...

  • on March 4, 2014, 1:45 GMT

    lovely lovely article.....well said.....and Smith will go down into the history books as a great fighter....i still remember him touring Australia in 2010-11 and trying to save a test match with a broken finger.....great man!

  • ShutTheGate on March 4, 2014, 1:37 GMT

    The changing of the guard. I think that Australia will take the number one ranking in the next 12 months and that we have the depth to be there for at least a few years.

    Congratulations to Graeme Smith for an amazing career.

  • dunger.bob on March 4, 2014, 1:26 GMT

    Very sad. At 33 he still has a lot of cricket in him but if the desires not there it's pointless to continue. Family comes first, simple as that.

    I'm not a Saffa but I've always regarded Smith highly. A real fighter and a tough character. .. Good luck Smithy and I hope the 2nd phase of your life is just as rewarding as the first.

  • on March 4, 2014, 1:03 GMT

    yeah chow mate. is this the beginning of a new age in world cricket? The Australian era?

  • on March 4, 2014, 0:15 GMT

    Is any long-established Test cricketer only a dozen poor innings from retirement nowadays, especially if they have another lucrative job lined up?

  • on March 4, 2014, 0:11 GMT

    Well done Graeme Smith, a rock for many years for a side to be built about.Provided steady leadership from a young age. Sad it looks like another SA cricketer will trudge off into the sunset without defeating Australia at home. All CV`s are tainted with this glaring fact. But 2 days to go ?

  • on March 4, 2014, 0:01 GMT

    Thank you Smith for such a wonderful Career. Will be missed and enjoy your cricket retirement!!!

  • on March 3, 2014, 23:50 GMT

    As an Aussie I want to wish him well and all the best for the future.

    Hope our boys give him a guard of honour just like Graeme arranged for Punter.

  • mmoosa on March 3, 2014, 23:34 GMT

    With hindsight,the Proteas began running out of puff in 2013...in some senses they look like a weary champion boxer battling to keep hungry challengers at bay...2 glorious victories (India and Oz) set up the seasons finale at beloved Newlands,S.A's fortress...yet,the players didnt arrive...Steyn and Vern started the ball rolling in such a manner as to suggest that The Proteas were playing "not to lose"...the ship was rudderless and the energy flat.

    Graeme Smith has nothing to prove,either as a batsman or captain..he is his countries greatest ever captain and his batting feats are the most under rated in cricket history....his timing is correct and his void will be immensely onerous to fulfil.The team needs new energy and a fresh perspective...whether they lose or draw the final test,The Proteas are now in a rebuilding phase and a new era sans Kallis,Boucher and Smith.

  • jerryman on March 3, 2014, 23:02 GMT

    Sad to see the greats of yesteryear retiring . We saw Kallis, Tendulkar and soon will possibly see Sanga , mahela also retire . I think the latter 2 will definitely be after the world cup next year. I remember with nostalgia the famous chase of over 400 runs to win a test .What a cracker of an innings . These cricketers give a lot of their time away from their families to bring joys to fans worldwide . We salute you and enjoy your retirement . I think we will see him still turn up for Surrey or it could be a matter of time when we may see him as a coach ,if that's what he wishes to pursue. Thanks again for the wonderful memories .

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  • jerryman on March 3, 2014, 23:02 GMT

    Sad to see the greats of yesteryear retiring . We saw Kallis, Tendulkar and soon will possibly see Sanga , mahela also retire . I think the latter 2 will definitely be after the world cup next year. I remember with nostalgia the famous chase of over 400 runs to win a test .What a cracker of an innings . These cricketers give a lot of their time away from their families to bring joys to fans worldwide . We salute you and enjoy your retirement . I think we will see him still turn up for Surrey or it could be a matter of time when we may see him as a coach ,if that's what he wishes to pursue. Thanks again for the wonderful memories .

  • mmoosa on March 3, 2014, 23:34 GMT

    With hindsight,the Proteas began running out of puff in 2013...in some senses they look like a weary champion boxer battling to keep hungry challengers at bay...2 glorious victories (India and Oz) set up the seasons finale at beloved Newlands,S.A's fortress...yet,the players didnt arrive...Steyn and Vern started the ball rolling in such a manner as to suggest that The Proteas were playing "not to lose"...the ship was rudderless and the energy flat.

    Graeme Smith has nothing to prove,either as a batsman or captain..he is his countries greatest ever captain and his batting feats are the most under rated in cricket history....his timing is correct and his void will be immensely onerous to fulfil.The team needs new energy and a fresh perspective...whether they lose or draw the final test,The Proteas are now in a rebuilding phase and a new era sans Kallis,Boucher and Smith.

  • on March 3, 2014, 23:50 GMT

    As an Aussie I want to wish him well and all the best for the future.

    Hope our boys give him a guard of honour just like Graeme arranged for Punter.

  • on March 4, 2014, 0:01 GMT

    Thank you Smith for such a wonderful Career. Will be missed and enjoy your cricket retirement!!!

  • on March 4, 2014, 0:11 GMT

    Well done Graeme Smith, a rock for many years for a side to be built about.Provided steady leadership from a young age. Sad it looks like another SA cricketer will trudge off into the sunset without defeating Australia at home. All CV`s are tainted with this glaring fact. But 2 days to go ?

  • on March 4, 2014, 0:15 GMT

    Is any long-established Test cricketer only a dozen poor innings from retirement nowadays, especially if they have another lucrative job lined up?

  • on March 4, 2014, 1:03 GMT

    yeah chow mate. is this the beginning of a new age in world cricket? The Australian era?

  • dunger.bob on March 4, 2014, 1:26 GMT

    Very sad. At 33 he still has a lot of cricket in him but if the desires not there it's pointless to continue. Family comes first, simple as that.

    I'm not a Saffa but I've always regarded Smith highly. A real fighter and a tough character. .. Good luck Smithy and I hope the 2nd phase of your life is just as rewarding as the first.

  • ShutTheGate on March 4, 2014, 1:37 GMT

    The changing of the guard. I think that Australia will take the number one ranking in the next 12 months and that we have the depth to be there for at least a few years.

    Congratulations to Graeme Smith for an amazing career.

  • on March 4, 2014, 1:45 GMT

    lovely lovely article.....well said.....and Smith will go down into the history books as a great fighter....i still remember him touring Australia in 2010-11 and trying to save a test match with a broken finger.....great man!