Graeme Craig Smith
February 01, 1981, Johannesburg, Transvaal
Left hand Bat
Right arm Offbreak
Meaty, muscular and mighty, Graeme Smith was a colossus as South Africa's captain, and not much less so in his contribution as a batter, in the first two decades of the 21st century.
Smith's leadership and batting were all about being direct and upfront. The subtleties of captaincy grew into his game, but he was generally most comfortable surging once more unto the breach himself with a cursory backward glance to see if his men were following. His batting was similarly forthright: anything bowled near his pads was sent screaming through midwicket. Anything drivable on the off side was driven, brutally, often inelegantly, but always effectively. Square of jaw and shoulder, they didn't call him "Biff" for nothing.
Smith was handed the reins at 22 - which made him his country's youngest captain - and tasked with rebuilding South Africans' faith in the integrity of game itself, which had been shattered by Hansie Cronje's greed and was not restored completely under Shaun Pollock's sincere but undemonstrative leadership. If Pollock was too maturely minded a captain for South African sensibilities, Smith was spot-on: an overgrown schoolyard bully of the nicest possible type, who would just as soon take a (verbal) swing at an opponent as buy him a beer.
The double-centuries he scored in his 11th and 12th Tests (just his third and fourth as captain), in England in 2003 made for an ironclad argument to retain his overtly direct approach to getting the job done.
Those were his early days in charge, but arguably his greatest triumph came much later, when he led South Africa to their first Test series victory in Australia, in 2008-09, memorably batting with a broken hand in Sydney. Under his leadership, South Africa became truly dominant tourists, winning eight away series and losing none between 2007 and 2013. They also went undefeated in 11 series overall between April 2006 and December 2008. He was also the first captain to lead in more than 100 Tests.
Through all his Test triumphs, though, Smith couldn't get his hands on a chunk of ICC silverware. He quit international cricket after a lean series with the bat at home against Australia in March 2014. He went on to serve as Cricket South Africa's director of cricket after retirement, and in 2022 was appointed commissioner of the SA20, South Africa's attempt at a top-tier T20 league.
Batting & Fielding