Smith continues to reap the rewards

Graeme Smith collected his second successive award as one of the five Mutual & Federal Cricketers of the Year. Smith was honoured together with Herschelle Gibbs, Makhaya Ntini, Shaun Pollock and Jacques Rudolph at the launch of the 50th edition of the Mutual & Federal South African Cricket Annual.

Rudolph is the only first-time winner of the award. Pollock was recognised for the fourth time, while Gibbs and Ntini joined Smith in being honoured for the second time.

Smith became South Africa's youngest Test captain when he was appointed at the age of 22. He led the country to a Test series win in Bangladesh but it was his deeds on a tour of England that attracted international attention. He made a South African Test record score of 277 in the first Test at Birmingham and followed up with 259 in the second Test at Lord's, becoming only the fourth batsman in history to make double centuries in two successive Tests. Smith also won acclaim for his dynamic captaincy.

Gibbs, Smith's opening partner, moved into the top echelon of world batsmen with a succession of exciting innings during the year. He was also among a handful of South Africans to enhance his reputation during a disappointing World Cup campaign by the national team.

Gibbs equalled the world record when he made three successive limited-overs international centuries at the beginning of last season. In the World Cup he hammered 384 runs at an average of 96, scoring at better than a run a ball, including a spectacular innings of 143 against New Zealand at the Wanderers.

In Test matches, he made hundreds against Bangladesh, Pakistan and England, making a career-best 228 against Pakistan at Newlands. He and Smith shared a South African record opening stand of 368 in the same match.

Ntini was South Africa's outstanding fast bowler and was the country 's leading wicket-taker in four successive Test series, against Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and England. He also took most wickets for South Africa in the World Cup. Among the highlights of Ntini's year was his performance in the Test against England at Lord's when he became the first South African to take ten wickets in a match there, marking the feat by kissing the turf.

Pollock bowled superbly throughout a difficult year during which he lost the captaincy after South Africa's failure in the World Cup. He displayed tremendous dignity and his personal performances and his loyalty to the team were never in doubt despite his change in status.

During the year, Pollock broke Allan Donald's record for most wickets for South Africa in one-day internationals and he became the second South African after Donald to take 300 wickets in Test cricket. He had the lowest average of runs per wicket of all players in the world to achieve the feat. Pollock was also in excellent batting form during the year, making 405 runs at an average of 81 in Test matches.

Rudolph made a sensational entrance into Test cricket when he scored 222 not out against Bangladesh at Chittagong, the second-highest score in Test history on debut. It was a triumph of determination and perseverance for a player whose career had been dogged by bad luck. Twice he had been set to make his Test debut, only for the honour to be snatched away from him by circumstances beyond his control. When he did get his chance, he took full advantage, showing outstanding concentration. Rudolph and Boeta Dippenaar shared an unbeaten third-wicket partnership of 429, the highest for any wicket by South Africa and the fifth highest of all time in Test cricket.

Colin Bryden, editor of the Mutual & Federal Annual, said it had been difficult to settle on five players after an exceptionally busy year for the national team. Among other players who had made strong claims were Jacques Kallis, Gary Kirsten, Boeta Dippenaar, Andrew Hall and Alan Dawson.