Graeme Craig Smith
February 01, 1981, Johannesburg, Transvaal
Left hand bat
Right arm offbreak
Meaty, muscular and mighty, that's Graeme Smith, who looms even larger than all that as South Africa's colossus of a captain. His achievements as a batsman are significant, but the most important monument to his career is the fact that under Smith, the confidence of South Africans, both within and outside of the national team and its structures, has been rebuilt.
Smith's leadership and his batting are all about being direct and upfront. The subtleties of captaincy have grown into his game, but he is still at his most comfortable surging once more unto the breach himself with a cursory backward glance to see if his men are following.
His batting is similarly forthright: anything bowled near his pads will be sent screaming through midwicket. Anything drivable on the off-side will be driven, brutally, often inelegantly, but always effectively. Square of jaw and shoulder, they don't call him "Biff" for nothing. With Smith, what you see really is what you get.
Smith can hardly be blamed for doing things his own way. He was, after all, 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. That precious jewel had been shattered by Hansie Cronje's immoral greed and it 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. After the game, of course.
The double centuries Smith scored in his 11th and 12th Tests, and 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. Through all his Test triumphs, though, he still couldn't get his hands on a chunk of ICC silverware, a prize that has eluded South Africa since 1998.
After the third day's play of the third Test against Australia at Newlands in March 2014, Smith told his team-mates the ongoing match would be his last as an international cricketer. It was also his leanest series of his career. Smith scored just 45 runs in six innings and admitted having retirement at the back of his mind contributed to the lack of form. He chose to pull stumps on his home ground and said captaining South Africa was nothing less than a "privilege."
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