Graeme Smith retires

Fourth-innings hero, and captain extraordinaire

Stats highlights from an incredible career, both as batsman and as leader

S Rajesh

March 5, 2014

Comments: 5 | Text size: A | A

Graeme Smith plays down the leg side, South Africa v India, 1st Test, Johannesburg, 4th day, December 21, 2013
Graeme Smith scored four centuries, and more than 1000 runs, in successful fourth-innings chases. No other Test cricketer has achieved either © Getty Images

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.


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).

Graeme Smith's Test career
Period Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
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
Career 117 9265 48.25 27/ 38

Fourth-innings superstar

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.

Most runs in fourth-innings wins
Batsman Innings Runs Average 100s/ 50s
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
Most runs scored in 4th innings of Tests
Batsman Innings Runs Average 100s/ 50s
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.

Highest Test averages for overseas batsmen in England (Qual: 1000 runs)
Batsman Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
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).

Highest Test averages since Jan 2008 (Qual: 3000 runs)
Batsman Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
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'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.

Most Tests won by a captain
  Overall Away
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.

Most Test runs as captain
Player Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
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


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.

Best win-loss ratios for ODI captains (Qual: 100 matches)
Captain Matches Won/lost Ratio
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

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Posted by   on (March 7, 2014, 11:08 GMT)

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

2). He was one of the reasons behind SA 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 even semis of any ICC event, despite SA always being at par with AUS in terms of batting, bowling & fielding capacity. Even Dhoni won 3 ICC titles despite weak bowling

4). Similarly in tests his win rate was meager 50% @ 1.8 W/L compared to Ponting's 62% @ 3 W/L

5). He wasn't even SA's best Captain as Cronje had equivalent win rate in test of 50% & far better 2.8 in Odi's vs 1.8 of Smith

6). He destroyed career of big match player: Gibbs

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

Posted by Nuxxy on (March 6, 2014, 12:48 GMT)

There was an article on CricInfo commenting on how 'ugly' batsmen get less leeway when it comes to outs. I think that applied to Smith. When he was ugly but effective, you could at least ignore the ugly. When he didn't score, ugly was all you had.

This also highlights why South African's point to Hansie as their best on-field captain - look at that ODI win/loss record, and that was during Steve Waugh's time.

Posted by 10dulkaRulezz on (March 5, 2014, 21:01 GMT)

What is Smith's average in different countries? And his average against different nations? Where does he stand among the greats?

Posted by kepler22b on (March 5, 2014, 20:42 GMT)

Thanks for this. I have saved this page just to remind how good Smith was. It also highlights Ponting's record too.

Posted by   on (March 5, 2014, 17:38 GMT)

Really a tough guy to watch in the field as a batsman as well as Captain. Marvellous career..... A very high job done for his country

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S Rajesh Stats editor Every week the Numbers Game takes a look at the story behind the stats, with an original slant on facts and figures. The column is edited by S Rajesh, ESPNcricinfo's stats editor in Bangalore. He did an MBA in marketing, and then worked for a year in advertising, before deciding to chuck it in favour of a job which would combine the pleasures of watching cricket and writing about it. The intense office cricket matches were an added bonus.
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