Graeme Smith retires

'When I told the team, it was a really tough night'

Firdose Moonda in Cape Town

March 5, 2014

Comments: 61 | Text size: A | A

After 10 years, 11 months and 16 days, 117 Tests, 60 wins, 9265 runs, 27 hundreds and more press conferences, training sessions and autographs than you can count, Graeme Smith had one word to describe his international career: privileged.

"When I look at my Test cap, it's worn down and it's been through a lot but it's been a privilege," Smith said after his last day as a Test cricketer. "Today is a day I would like to celebrate. The challenges of captaining are well documented but I only see it as a highlight. I've been extremely proud of captaining South Africa."

Smith is Test cricket's longest-serving captain and under his leadership, South Africa grew from a team that threatened to achieve into one that achieved. They won series in tough places, members of their squad became world leaders in their disciplines and they became a unified unit.

Smith began thinking about retirement in June, when Gary Kirsten's tenure as coach ended. Smith wasn't sure if it was just Kirsten going, Mark Boucher gone and Jacques Kallis about to go that sparked the idea, or whether he really wanted to call it quits. "It's been a period of time of trying to understand that because everyone kept telling me you're only 33," he said.

If any cricketer has proved that age is really nothing but a number, that person is Smith. He took over the captaincy at 22 and played at the highest level for 11 years. Smith had said he did not want to play until the same age as Jacques Kallis (38) or Sachin Tendulkar (40) and perhaps that is how old he feels already. Once he accepted that, it was just about doing what he considered the right thing.

'Even if you don't have enough talent, there's still a lot you can achieve'

  • With a heavy bottom-hand, a tendency to ignore the entire off side and a whole lot of heart, Graeme Smith muscled his way to 17,236 international runs across three formats. He said determination rather than technique had helped him get there.
  • "When I started my professional career, all I used to hear about was my grip and my stance and that I needed to change my stance," he said. "To be sitting here 17,000 runs later is hopefully an example to other people that even if you don't have enough talent, there's still a lot you can achieve, not only in sport but also in life.
  • "I have always been a determined player. I have always been able to find a way and leave it all out on the field. From a personal perspective my most meaningful knocks are probably the 154 to win the series in England and the hundred in Perth to set up the chase of 414. Those moments stand out."
  • Smith's only unfinished business is winning a World Cup for South Africa and he is willing to leave that to the next generation.
  • "To have won a World Cup would have been ticking all the boxes. I'd love to see a South African team win a World Cup and once they do, I think they will go on to win many. I will be on my couch, or somewhere, supporting them for the rest of my life."

"The hard part is to have the courage to make the decision," Smith said. "It felt like the time is right. I realised this is the place where I wanted to finish. I didn't want to hang on too long and finish it in a place where it didn't feel right. It just took courage to hang on to that last 5% and make the decision.

"I haven't had my best series. I felt really good in the two past series but knowing that the end was near made it difficult for me to find the space to keep performing."

Before the second innings against Australia at Newlands, Smith needed to call time. His first duty was to tell his charges. It was also his most difficult task. No player in that change-room knew a Test captain other than Smith. His concern was that they would feel abandoned. "When I told the team, it was a really tough night. I didn't get too many words out," he said. "The hardest part was saying goodbye to the team. For so long the Proteas have been my family. I've grown close to players and I will cherish those relationships for the rest of my life."

Knitting close bonds is what Smith's leadership was really about. As his captaincy matured, his focus shifted away from results and towards team building, which he realised would ultimately bring results. "To create the culture and to see it grow has been really special," Smith said. "And there's been so many wonderful victories around the world. Our record away from home is something I am proud of as a leader as well."

Smith also places value on things that cannot be measured. As his captaincy reached its later stages, he spent time emphasising team culture and the importance of representing the country the best way possible. He stressed that political challenges had nothing to do with his decision to step down. "I am hugely proud of the diversity and the quality of players that have come through and stand their ground against anyone in the world. The diversity of this team is our strength," he said.

He thinks it will continue to be that way but South Africa's most important challenge will be filling the gap left by the retirements of three stalwarts: Mark Boucher, Jacques Kallis and himself. "There's some important things that need to be tightened and an environment needs to be created that can create success. The leadership group and how they galvanise the players and get them in the right direction will be important," Smith said. "Yes, the team has lost a lot of experience but there are guys who have played well around the world."

He will be around to offer advice when needed. "There are certain challenges on the exterior that need to be met. I'd love to play a role in helping. I have gained a lot of experience over the years and I'd love to share that."

For now, though, he has something he needs to do: let go. While South Africa's lower-order batted out the final hours of Smith's international career and attempted to increase his unbeaten series run to 15, the former national captain found out how difficult it bowing out really was. "We've become good at never letting go," Smith said.

Smith's days as a South African cricketer are over but he left the way he arrived -fighting. "We found a way to take it as deep as possible. It would have been a wonderful fairytale if we hung in there but I saw enough qualities to know South Africa will be strong for a long period of time."

In that knowledge, Smith can walk away a satisfied and proud man. He is choosing to walk away feeling privileged instead.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Crictragic1 on (March 7, 2014, 0:23 GMT)

One of the very best men of cricket I've ever witnessed; and I am a cricket tragic and fanatic of pthe ast 50 years!

Posted by Wallaroo on (March 6, 2014, 23:34 GMT)

Well I have to admit it Smith has been a great captain for South Africa and set an example of leadership for many around the world. Humble yet unyielding. I hated him in the beginning and thought he was arrogant when he called Shane Warne a backyard captain; but over the years I have grown to admire him and appreciate his "different" sense of humour and awkward stance. While I wouldn't read a book on how to play cricket by Graeme Smith I would definitely read one on how to lead and inspire a damaged team by Graeme Smith. Take care and hope the future brings you more successes.

Posted by kitten on (March 6, 2014, 20:47 GMT)

Greetings and best wishes to you Graeme, from Toronto. I have enjoyed watching you bat, and your tough captaincy was a pleasure to see. You have made SA proud, and will always be remembered. You were uncompromising on the field, and rightly so, but you were never shy of congratulating the opposition whenever the need arose, true hallmarks of a champion. Even though you have called time on your career, inspite of being so young, you have rightly deserved all the accolades you receive, and I would just like to thank you for all the entertainment provided over the years. I wish you, and your young family, all the very best of good health, and lots of happiness, now, and in the years to come. Take a bow, Graeme!

Posted by   on (March 6, 2014, 18:47 GMT)

farewell Smith, we will truly miss you ://

Posted by Tiptop32 on (March 6, 2014, 15:04 GMT)

@Katey, you are wrong, nowhere Kallis told no to captaincy. He was sidelined by SA cricket board. pls dont mislead cricket lovers.

Posted by espncricinfomobile on (March 6, 2014, 12:24 GMT)

Congrats G Smith - a fantastic career and a great example to the kiddies following cricket. Y

Posted by android_user on (March 6, 2014, 11:25 GMT)

SA will have more top order problems than ever. Smith Gibbs and Kallis was such a formidable top order. Every1 forgets about Gibbs (who had a lot of problems and did not live up to his potential ) but who formed great opening partnerships with Kirsten at first and then Smith especially. They are still to find a stable partner for Smith in tests after Gibbs ouster and now even Smith is gone .Amla might move up the order to open now and so will the other batsman. AB at 4 Faf at 5 JP at 6 .Give De Cock another go and I've heard about Van Zyl a lot so maybe him. Massive rebuilding phase .Let's hope steyn has 3-4 years in him as even he's on the wrong side of 30 .Also I think philander at 7 is a sensible option as he can get 40-50 odd quite easily every time I have seen him. SA BADLY need a spinner. JP is an OK 2 nd spinner but SA need a guy like at least Lyon .Maybe give Simon Harmer a go?

Posted by   on (March 6, 2014, 11:13 GMT)

Smith also places value on things that cannot be measured. As his captaincy reached its later stages, he spent time emphasising team culture and the importance of representing the country the best way possible. He stressed that political challenges had nothing to do with his decision to step down. "I am hugely proud of the diversity and the quality of players that have come through and stand their ground against anyone in the world. The diversity of this team is our strength

Posted by Dirtysneakers on (March 6, 2014, 11:11 GMT)

@hello13 don't get bitter get better. No doubt smith's career has been inspirational and great, but no need to degrade Clarke and the Australians.

Posted by   on (March 6, 2014, 11:09 GMT)

With a heavy bottom-hand, a tendency to ignore the entire off side and a whole lot of heart, Graeme Smith muscled his way to 17,236 international runs across three formats. He said determination rather than technique had helped him get there.

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