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Graeme Smith has handled the responsibilities of opening the batting and leading the team remarkably well over the last ten years
July 18, 2012
Only one South African batsman has scored more Test runs; only one captain, among all countries, has led the team in more Tests; only one captain has achieved more Test wins; and no batsman has scored more Test runs as captain. In the decade that Graeme Smith has been around in Test cricket, he has achieved some pretty amazing numbers, both as batsman and as captain.
There have always been questions asked about Smith's technical proficiency - he tends to fall over and play across his front pad - but he hasn't let that get in the way of run-scoring. His Test aggregate of 8030 runs for South Africa (he has also played one Test for ICC World XI, scoring 12 runs) is second to Jacques Kallis' 12,296; Gary Kirsten played four more innings, but scored 741 fewer runs for South Africa. Kallis and Smith are the only ones from the country to score 3000-plus Test runs for a country at an average of 50 or more (though AB de Villiers, with an average of 49.16, isn't far away).
Smith's penchant for big scores is also reflected in his conversion of fifties into centuries - he has turned 24 of his 56 fifty-plus scores into hundreds, a rate of 43%. Smith's also the only South African to score four Test double-centuries. His technical flaws are a bit of a liability against certain types of bowling in certain conditions, but he has more than made up for that by his single-minded focus at the crease and his sheer appetite for runs.
As a captain, he isn't known particularly for his tactical nous - in the manner of, say, a Mark Taylor - but he has carried the team along remarkably well over a long period of time. In a job which usually takes its toll on players in four-five years, Smith has continued for nine years, and is only three Tests away from going past Allan Border's captaincy record of 93 Tests. Forty-two of his 91 Tests have yielded wins, which makes him the second-most successful Test captain in terms of victories, next to Ricky Ponting's 48. A few more good series could make him the first captain to notch up 50 Test wins.
Smith's preferred leadership method is to lead by example, and nowhere is this more evident than in his fourth-innings performances. When the pressure is on, when the team is faced with a stiff target in the last innings to win, Smith has invariably been at the forefront. He is one of only 21 batsmen to score 1000-plus runs in the fourth innings, and among them his average is fourth-best, marginally behind Younis Khan - who recently entered that league, during the Test series in Sri Lanka - Geoff Boycott and Sunil Gavaskar. He is also one of four batsmen to score four fourth-innings hundreds.
|Younis Khan||25||1015||59.70||4/ 5|
|Geoff Boycott||34||1234||58.76||3/ 7|
|Sunil Gavaskar||33||1398||58.25||4/ 8|
|Graeme Smith||35||1504||57.84||4/ 9|
|Gordon Greenidge||38||1383||53.19||3/ 6|
|Ricky Ponting||42||1454||51.92||4/ 6|
The fourth-innings matchwinner
When Smith has scored his fourth-innings runs, South Africa have usually won the match - he is the only batsman to score four fourth-innings centuries in wins. Three of those four hundreds have been in away Tests - 125 not out in Wellington in 2004, 154 not out at Edgbaston in 2008, and 108 in Perth later in the same year. His only home hundred in the fourth innings was an unbeaten 101 against Australia in Cape Town in an utterly captivating - and bizarre - low-scoring match. In fact, Smith is the only batsman to score 1000-plus runs in fourth innings in victories.
|Graeme Smith||20||1085||90.41||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||18||653||72.55||1/ 4|
Overall, Smith has scored 55% of his Test runs in wins; his average in Test wins is 64.21, which drops to 27.28 in defeats. The difference of 36.94 is among the largest for batsmen who've been a part of at least 15 wins and defeats. In fact, South Africa haven't yet lost a Test when Smith has scored a hundred: of his 24 centuries, 16 have been in wins and eight in draws. (Click here for Smith's career summary in Tests.)
|Batsman||Test wins||Average||Test losses||Average||Difference|
His best year
One of the features of Smith's decade-long Test career has been his consistency. Sure, he's had his share of lean series and bugbear bowlers, but he has seldom had a prolonged lean trot: only twice has he averaged less than 35 in a calendar year - in 2006 (27.00 in eight Tests) and in 2009 (30.42 in five). Of the 12 occasions when he has averaged less than 30 in a series, ten times he has bounced back with an average of more than 55 in the series immediately after that failure. (This excludes the one-off Super Test against Australia.) However, it's also true that Smith hasn't had a sustained run of brilliance with the bat - the most successive series in which he's averaged more than 50 is three, and even that he has achieved only once.
His one long stretch of outstanding form, though, was in 2008, when he narrowly missed averaging more than 50 in six consecutive series - he averaged 49.20 in three Tests in India in March that either; in three series before that and in two after, he averaged more than 59. (Click here for Smith's series-wise averages.) That year, Smith finished with 1656 runs from 15 Tests, which is the third-highest aggregate ever in a calendar year, next only to Mohammad Yousuf and Viv Richards. He is also one of only five batsmen to score more than 1500 Test runs in a calendar year.
|Mohammad Yousuf||2006||11||19||1788||99.33||9/ 3|
|Viv Richards||1976||11||19||1710||90.00||7/ 5|
|Graeme Smith||2008||15||25||1656||72.00||6/ 6|
|Sachin Tendulkar||2010||14||23||1562||78.10||7/ 5|
|Ricky Ponting||2005||15||28||1544||67.13||6/ 6|
|Ricky Ponting||2003||11||18||1503||100.20||6/ 4|
Smith's leanest period in Test cricket came immediately before that bounty year: in the three years between January 2005 and December 2007, he averaged less than 40. In the last four-and-a-half years, his average is more than 55, thanks largely to 2008.
Smith's career average, though, is still a shade below 50. However, his average for South Africa is 50.18 in 98 Tests; in the only Test for ICC World XI, he scored 12 in two innings, which drags his overall average below 50. In this respect, his stats are uncannily similar to those of Pakistan's Inzamam-ul-Haq, who had a career average of 49.60 in 120 Tests, and 50.16 in 119 Tests for Pakistan; in the Super Test, he scored one run in two innings. Unlike Inzamam, though, Smith has a chance to lift his overall average beyond 50 - if he gets out twice at The Oval, he needs to score at least 158 runs in the Test to ensure he has an average of 50 or more after his 100th Test.
|Mar 2002-Dec 2004||30||2574||52.53||7/ 9|
|Jan 2005-Dec 2007||29||2008||39.37||5/ 9|
|Jan 2008 onwards||40||3460||55.80||12/ 14|
Not at home
Smith has played in an era which has been good for batting, but he has also played a majority of his matches in South Africa, which has been the toughest place for batting during this period: since 2000, the batting average in South Africa is 30.35, the lowest among countries which have hosted at least 20 Tests. Smith's task is even more difficult by the fact that he opens the batting: South Africa has been the best country for fast bowling during this period. Given that background, it isn't all that surprising that his home stats are much poorer than his overseas numbers. Among batsmen who've played at least 25 Tests home and away, only nine have a higher difference between their overseas and home averages (overseas average higher than home one). One of those nine is his current team-mate AB de Villiers, who averages 60.02 overseas and 40.89 at home.
|Batsman||Away Tests||Average||Home Tests||Average||Difference|
|AB de Villiers||33||60.02||41||40.89||19.13|
Problems against left-arm pace
Among the different genres of bowling he faced, the kind that have had the most success against Smith are the left-arm fast variety. Apart from Zaheer Khan and Mitchell Johnson, who've given him plenty of grief, Smith has also been bothered by James Franklin (Test figures of 3 for 60 in 83 balls against Smith), Nathan Bracken (2 for 11 in 15 balls) and Pedro Collins (2 for 37 in 68 balls). Right-arm spinners have been pretty successful against him too (though Graeme Swann has figures of 1 for 110 in 212 balls), but Smith has handled left-arm slow bowlers pretty comfortably.
|Bowling type||Balls||Runs||Dismissals||Average||Run rate|
The bowler who has dismissed him most often in Tests, though, is New Zealand's Chris Martin - eight times at an average of less than 25. Glenn McGrath was even more effective - not only did he dismiss Smith five times, he also conceded only 81 runs in 224 balls, a run-rate of 2.16 per over. Against all the other bowlers in the list below, Smith scored at a pretty healthy rate although they dismissed him fairly often. His stats against James Anderson are interesting too: though Anderson has dismissed him five times, Smith averages 71.40 against him.
The captaincy record
Smith had played only eight Tests when he took over as captain, which means he has led the team in 91 out of the 99 Tests he has played. The percentage of 91.92 is already the highest among those who've played at least 20 Tests, and will only increase further since it's highly unlikely that he'll play another Test match as just a player.
With inputs from Travis Basevi
S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on TwitterFeeds: S Rajesh
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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