Fourth-innings hero, and captain extraordinaire
Nine thousand six hundred and twenty five runs from 117 Tests at an average of 48.25 are impressive stats, but with Graeme Smith the runs tell only half the story. Over a 11-year period, Smith also led South Africa to spectacular success in international cricket, while continuing to score valuable runs. His ungainly batting technique cost him points in the aesthetics department, but in terms of scoring tough runs he was among the best South Africa ever had.
SMITH THE BATSMAN
The fact that Smith led South Africa for ten years - when many experts reckon the shelf life of a captain is usually around half that time - is remarkable, but it sometimes tends to draw attention away from his batting stats, which were top-class. Throughout his 12-year Test career, there were few prolonged periods when he was out of form and struggling for runs.
On his Test debut, which incidentally was also against Australia in Cape Town, Smith batted at No. 3 and scored 68 in the second innings against an attack that included Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie, Brett Lee and Shane Warne. In his fifth Test innings he scored 200, even if it was against Bangladesh, which established his hunger for runs and his ability to bat long. Two double-centuries in his first five innings as captain - both 250-plus scores in England - further established him as a special talent, and while he never touched those heights again in terms of sheer runs scored, he made plenty of vital contributions that led to victories for South Africa. (The 714 runs he scored in England in 2003 is the seventh-best by any captain in a series, and the best for a South African captain.)
The only period Smith struggled with the bat over a long time span was in 2006 and 2007, when he averaged 31.81 during a two-year period. Thereafter, though, he was back among the runs in 2008, and was largely impressive in his last six years, averaging more than 50 during this period. Unfortunately, he finished on a low, averaging 7.50 in his last series, the second-lowest by a South African top-order batsman in a series since their readmission (cut-off: five innings).
|Till Dec 2005||42||3564||52.41||11/ 12|
|2006 and 2007||17||1018||31.81||1/ 6|
|Jan 2008 onwards||58||4683||50.90||15/ 20|
Perhaps the stats that stand out more than any other are Smith's fourth-innings numbers. Overall, he scored 1611 runs in fourth innings, at an average of almost 52. Only Sachin Tendulkar scored more, but a comparison of their averages indicates how far ahead Smith was, in this respect at least - his fourth-innings average is 15 more than Tendulkar's. Smith is one of only five batsmen - Sunil Gavaskar, Ricky Ponting, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Younis Khan being the others - to score four fourth-innings hundreds.
In successful chases, though, Smith is even better. He's the only batsman to score 1000-plus runs and four centuries in these situations, three of which were overseas - in Wellington, Edgbaston and Perth. That no other batsman has scored 1000 in successful chases shows Smith's mental toughness, and his ability to rise to a challenge.
|Graeme Smith||22||1141||87.76||4/ 6|
|Matthew Hayden||27||913||57.06||1/ 6|
|Ricky Ponting||24||911||82.81||3/ 4|
|Gordon Greenidge||23||850||65.38||1/ 4|
|Justin Langer||23||849||49.94||2/ 5|
|Desmond Haynes||30||809||67.41||1/ 4|
|Sachin Tendulkar||60||1625||36.93||3/ 7|
|Graeme Smith||41||1611||51.96||4/ 9|
|Rahul Dravid||57||1575||40.38||1/ 9|
|Shivnarine Chanderpaul||45||1518||44.64||2/ 11|
|Ricky Ponting||43||1462||50.41||4/ 6|
|Brian Lara||46||1440||35.12||2/ 7|
|Sunil Gavaskar||33||1398||58.25||4/ 8|
|Gordon Greenidge||38||1383||53.19||3/ 6|
At home in England
More than in South Africa, it was in England that Smith most prolific. In 12 Tests there, he scored 1355 runs at an average of 67.75, with five hundreds. He played three series and averaged more than 54 each time. In nine Tests against them in South Africa, his average dropped to 43.50.
Among overseas batsmen with at least 1000 runs in England - there are 32 of them - only three have a higher average than Smith: Don Bradman, Steve Waugh and Rahul Dravid. Smith's average is higher than those of Allan Border and Viv Richards, both of whom were prolific in England.
Smith's stats in England are also a contrast with those of Jacques Kallis, clearly South Africa's best batsman since their readmission to international cricket. Kallis scored runs all over the world, but could never conquer England: in England he averaged only 35.33 from 25 innings; in four series in England, only once - in 2012 - did he average more than 45.
|Don Bradman||19||2674||102.84||11/ 3|
|Steve Waugh||22||1633||74.22||7/ 4|
|Rahul Dravid||13||1376||68.80||6/ 4|
|Graeme Smith||12||1355||67.75||5/ 3|
|Shivnarine Chanderpaul||15||1399||66.61||3/ 9|
|Allan Border||25||2082||65.06||5/ 12|
|Viv Richards||24||2057||64.28||5/ 12|
|Arthur Morris||10||1033||57.38||3/ 6|
The team that Smith had the most problems against was Australia. His last series turned out to be a disaster against them, and of the eight series he played against them over his entire career (excluding the one-off Super Test), only three times did he average more than 40. His overall average against them: 32.57, his lowest against any opposition.
Fifty-plus since 2008
Smith's last series was a disaster from a batting point of view, but in the six years before that he was pretty effective. Since 2008, Smith's Test average was 50.90, which is a touch higher than Kallis' average during the same period. The average wasn't as high as those of Chanderpaul, de Villiers and Sangakkara, who breached the 60-mark, but it was still good enough to be No. 8 in the list (with a 3000-run cut-off).
|Shivnarine Chanderpaul||48||3925||65.41||12/ 19|
|AB de Villiers||59||5066||63.32||16/ 22|
|Kumar Sangakkara||51||5119||60.22||19/ 21|
|Hashim Amla||58||5164||58.68||18/ 22|
|Thilan Samaraweera||41||3340||55.66||9/ 17|
|Michael Clarke||75||6419||53.04||22/ 20|
|Sachin Tendulkar||57||4555||51.17||14/ 20|
|Graeme Smith||58||4683||50.90||15/ 20|
|Jacques Kallis||54||4007||50.08||16/ 12|
|VVS Laxman||47||3421||49.57||6/ 26|
SMITH THE CAPTAIN
Smith's batting numbers tell only part of the story, for he was also South Africa's captain for over a decade, a period during which he led the team in 109 Tests, winning 53 of those. No other player has captained in 100 Tests - Border is second with 93 - or 50-plus victories - Ponting's second on 48.
One of the most impressive aspects of his captaincy was the number of Tests South Africa won away from home. They won 23 out of 56 Tests, which equals the record for most Test wins overseas under a captain - Clive Lloyd's West Indies won 23 out of 50. Of the 20 overseas series in which Smith led South Africa, they lost only four - to Pakistan in 2003, Sri Lanka and India in 2004, and Australia in 2005-06 - drew six, and won ten. Since the defeat to Australia in 2005-06, Smith captained South Africa to 12 overseas series (including series at neutral venues), winning eight and drawing four.
At home, Smith's South Africa won 30 out of 53 Tests, which is again a record. Next best is Ponting's Australia, which won 29 out of 39. However, the one puzzle Smith couldn't crack was beating Australia in a Test series at home: he led South Africa four times against them, and lost thrice - in 2006, 2009, and most heartbreakingly in 2014.
|Captain||Tests||W/ L||Ratio||Tests||W/ L||Ratio|
|Graeme Smith||109||53/ 29||1.82||56||23/ 14||1.64|
|Ricky Ponting||77||48/ 16||3.00||38||19/ 11||1.72|
|Steve Waugh||57||41/ 9||4.55||28||19/ 7||2.71|
|Clive Lloyd||74||36/ 12||3.00||50||23/ 10||2.30|
|Allan Border||93||32/ 22||1.45||42||13/ 11||1.18|
|Stephen Fleming||80||28/ 27||1.03||42||10/ 16||0.62|
|Hansie Cronje||53||27/ 11||2.45||23||9/ 6||1.50|
|Viv Richards||50||27/ 8||3.37||26||12/ 6||2.00|
Over an extended period of captaincy, Smith also ensured that his batting did not suffer, scoring 8659 runs at an average of almost 48; he scored more than 2000 runs more than the next highest as captain. His centuries as captain are the most as well - no other batsman managed even 20.
He also opened the batting throughout, which meant he had to often switch from captaincy mode in the field to batting mode with only a ten-minute interval in between. He did that superbly - no other opening batsman managed even 4000 runs as captain, while Smith scored 8538. In fact, only seven opening batsmen have touched 2000 Test runs as captain.
|Graeme Smith||109||8659||47.83||25/ 36|
|Allan Border||93||6623||50.94||15/ 36|
|Ricky Ponting||77||6542||51.51||19/ 35|
|Clive Lloyd||74||5233||51.30||14/ 27|
|Stephen Fleming||80||5156||40.59||8/ 31|
|Brian Lara||47||4685||57.83||14/ 19|
|Greg Chappell||48||4209||55.38||13/ 19|
SMITH IN ODIS
And there was Smith the ODI player and captain. He finished three matches short of 200, but is still South Africa's third highest run-getter in the format - after Kallis and Herschelle Gibbs - with 6989 runs at an average of 38.19, and a strike rate of 80.86. (He also played one game for Africa XI, in which he got a duck, bringing down his overall ODI average to 37.98, at a strike rate of 80.81.) Like in Tests, where he enjoyed batting in the fourth innings with a target to achieve, in ODIs too his effectiveness went up in a chase: he averaged 44.14 when batting second, compared to 32.45 when setting up a target. In successful run-chases, it went up further to 55.20, with six hundreds in 58 innings.
And as captain, Smith did a fine job with South Africa's ODI team too, achieving a win-loss ratio of 1.80. Among captains who led in at least 100 matches, only four have a better win-loss ratio.
South Africa will have a tough finding a replacement for not only Smith the opening batsman, but also Smith the captain.
|Ricky Ponting||230||165/ 51||3.23|
|Hansie Cronje||138||99/ 35||2.82|
|Steve Waugh||106||67/ 35||1.91|
|Viv Richards||105||67/ 36||1.86|
|Graeme Smith||150||92/ 51||1.80|
|Wasim Akram||109||66/ 41||1.60|
|Allan Border||178||107/ 67||1.59|
|MS Dhoni||159||88/ 57||1.54|
S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on Twitter