SA v Australia, 3rd Test, Cape Town, 4th day March 4, 2014

Graeme Smith's last stand

Graeme Smith has played tremendous innings for South Africa, but his last one ended in 16 minutes on the ground where he learned his cricket

Kimber: Cricket stood still for Graeme Smith

Three runs, three balls and 16 minutes.

Not numbers that will remembered with the same sentiment as 277, 259 or 234 - Graeme Smith's most significant double-hundreds - but ones that could resonate as much. Those are the statistics of his final Test innings.

They are indicative of a troubled series in which Smith scored just 45 runs in six innings, and perhaps explain why he is walking away.

Smith has run out. Literally. Scores were not being stacked up through usual his usual determination but criticism was. Enough became enough. Smith wanted to be unburdened.

Following last night's announcement, he looked as though the load had already left him in the field. He was sauntering about while David Warner was mounting a challenge so steep, it would require South Africa's best mountaineering effort to climb. When restricting Warner became impossible, Smith sent all his men to the boundary. He stationed himself at long on, where he signed autographs and took photographs while he peeped over his shoulder to see when the next ball would be bowled.

Even though South Africa were being batted out of the game, Smith looked untroubled. He smiled, he waved his arms - some wondered whether he would bowl - he stretched his legs and touched his toes, he jumped about and applauded on occasion. He seemed to be having fun.

When Michael Clarke called his troops in with Australia's lead at 510, the enjoyment stopped. Smith would have known that unless he started well, it would be difficult for South Africa to get themselves up for one of their toughest asks. All the responsibility and expectation that he soon will leave behind were on his shoulders one more time.

That may have been difficult to stomach when there was a moment to savour ahead of him. Smith walked out to be honoured the same way he honoured others before him. As a man who values tradition so much, this must have been one he wanted to experience.

The Australians aborted their warm-ups when they saw Smith at the top of the dressing-room staircase. They formed two lines. The guard of honour. Smith skipped down onto the field and reached Michael Clarke. For the duration of a handshake, the two men were not on opposing sides. They were two cricketers and between them there was only respect.

Smith walked through the passage and to the pitch. His pitch. The pitch he has played on since he was 18 years old. There was no one else close to him because Australia were in a huddle and his opening partner, Alviro Petersen, was still far behind. Smith could take ownership of the strip one last time.

He hopped about, tapped the ground and practiced his forward defence. Petersen got there; they shook hands and bumped shoulders. Mark Boucher and Jacques Kallis, both recent retirees, looked on. Game time.

Petersen took strike. Smith had done so in the first innings and the pair always alternate. Petersen faced five deliveries before they ran three and it was Smith's turn. Ryan Harris bowled a shortish one, Smith moved back and across and defended. The battle had begun in subdued fashion.

In the next over Smith came face to face with the man who has caused his problems in this series. He was facing Mitchell Johnson's second delivery. It was short and aimed at the ribs. Smith kept it out and found the gap. Three runs. By the next time he faced Johnson, Petersen had been trapped lbw and Smith had rightly told him not to review, and Dean Elgar had seen off five deliveries.

As he has done all series, Johnson dug it in short, Smith inside-edged and Alex Doolan at short leg caught it. By the time Doolan's fingers were wrapped around the ball, Smith had already tucked his bat under his arm and begun the walk back.

He strode as though he was going somewhere. Quickly. Australia's celebrations had started and stopped. Johnson and Clarke had begun their appreciative applause for the South African captain and Smith just kept walking. For a second, it seemed as though he would not stop.

Then he turned around. Helmet in one hand, bat in the other. He waved to every part of the ground. He concentrated on an area in the president's pavilion where his parents and friends were. He waved goodbye. He stood still and soaked it all in.

A blink later, he disappeared. That was the last time Graeme Smith batted for South Africa. Three runs, three balls and 16 minutes.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on March 6, 2014, 19:54 GMT

    Great work Graeme Smith, the warrior. Great work Firdose Moonda, I am your fan.

  • Android on March 5, 2014, 12:46 GMT

    australia should leave them to make draw because smith should get good send off.

  • GANESSIN on March 5, 2014, 11:43 GMT

    SA cricket board had done an injustice to Jacques Kallis by making Smith as the captain that time. Kallis was a matured player at that time when Shaun Pollock was sacked from captaincy. However luckily the stupid decision taken by SA cricket board paid off. I dont buy the argument that great players dont make good captain without actually giving them the opportunity. Does Viv Richards, Ricky Ponting, Steve Waugh, Kapil Dev, Imran Khan does not become good captains? In the hindsight. In my memory always it is that SA CRICKET BOARD DONE INJUSTICE TO KALLIS by not giving him a chance to captain the team.

  • Dummy4 on March 5, 2014, 11:35 GMT

    @Ahmad Uetian: "Facts don't lie." Your words, yet you've ignored nearly all relevant facts in order to present your warped view. 1) Your opinion. No facts to back it up. 2) He and Gibbs had a very successful partnership. Whatever Gibbs claims in his book, he is an adult who had every chance to take control of his own situation. 3) I see you like reading and repeating what ever is spouted in the media. 3 (sic) & 4) What a ridiculous comment. What was the win ratio of captains who weren't West Indian through the 70s & 80s? Who else has as large a sample of matches captained to compare with Smith? How many other sides won the World Cup during Smith's career? Ridiculous. 5) Again, opinion. No facts to back it up. The first Test against India was a lost cause that South Africa had no right getting close to winning. The SA results over the last 8 years speak for themselves. He knew how to win and he knew how not to lose. One of the greats backed up by his stats as a player and captain.

  • Rodney on March 5, 2014, 11:33 GMT

    @ Ahmad Uetian: you are exactly right, facts don't lie and the FACT is that Smith was the ONLY captain to win a test series in Australia, and he did it TWICE! He was also the first captain in more than 40 years to win a test series in England - and he did it TWICE!! He also presided over SA becoming the number one test team in the world and saw us undefeated in test series for any number of years. Sure, he failed to win the World Cup, just as every other SA captain before him has, but that's a different game anyway - if you are using World Cups as your measure of success you're clearly not a genuine cricket fan, since REAL cricket takes place over five days, not fifty overs....

    ...And when it comes to mastery of the five day game, no one can hold a candle to Smith. Biff, those of us in the know salute you - enjoy your retirement!!

  • neelabh on March 5, 2014, 11:24 GMT

    he will always be remembered as the greatest captain of all times.It was he only who made 90 against aus and helped sa to win in 438 game.When he took the captaincy he was just 22 yers old and had played 8 tests and 22 odis.he is the foundation of sa cricket team. thanks biff nad good luck for your future.

  • Dummy4 on March 5, 2014, 9:55 GMT

    1). Smith was always overrated as player & as Captain & he overstayed.

    2). He destroyed the career of big match player: Gibbs.

    3). He was also one of the reasons behind South Africans being chokers as he & Amla always choked in big games with pathetic averages in WCs & tournament finals.

    3). Leadership wise he was very poor compared to Ponting, as Ponting won 2 WCs out of 3 with no losses in 2 of them Smith's team never made it to semis despite SA being always at par with AUS in terms of batting, bowling & fielding capacity & had very balanced side.

    4). Same is the case in tests as Ponting's win rate was 60% whereas of Smith, meager 45%.

    5).Contrary to Ponting Smith lacked the killer instincts & he would even squander sure win opportunities like he did in 1st test vs Ind

    LOOK PEOPLE, Facts don't lie. If your perception is that he was a great leader, correct your perspective. Unfortunately this generation of people have tendency to praise mediocrity & take greatness for grante

  • Faisal on March 5, 2014, 8:17 GMT

    A great leader he changed the face of South African cricket over the period of 12 years and now look what a team he made after many many years we will remember the team that Greame Smith made...Smith your courageous SCG innings was a pleasure to watch...Regards from Pakistan...

  • paul on March 5, 2014, 7:40 GMT

    A wonderfully written tribute to a wonderful sportsman, captain, and, above all, person. The wonderful game and its followers will miss you.

  • Anver on March 5, 2014, 7:28 GMT

    End of a great career for Smith !!!! thanks for entertaining fans all over !!!!