George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
South Africa's Graeme Smith will miss the Champions Trophy in England next month, because of the flaring up of a long-term ankle injury that will require surgery*.
Smith had scans in London on the ankle on Wednesday and Surrey announced that he would return home to South Africa immediately to undergo an operation. South Africa are set to feature in the opening fixture of the Champions Trophy, against India on June 6, in just over four weeks' time.
Cricket South Africa confirmed in a release on Thursday morning that Smith will miss the tournament. "Graeme has been troubled by left ankle pain over the last few months and despite extensive treatment and physiotherapy, it has recently deteriorated significantly while playing for Surrey in England. Surgery will be required, and he has been advised to follow a rest and rehabilitation programme over the next four to six months," team manager Dr Mohammed Moosajee, was quoted as saying in the release. "This unfortunately rules him out of the upcoming ICC Champions Trophy in England and Wales and the Selectors will name a replacement in due course."
Smith said: "It's a big blow for me personally to be missing out on the Champions Trophy next month. Our ODI squad is creating something special and I was looking forward to being part of that family."
Titans opening batsmen Henry Davids and Lions youngster Quinton de Kock are the likeliest candidates to replace Smith in the ODI squad. It is a second setback for South Africa, as they are also without Jacques Kallis for the tournament, after the allrounder had opted to skip it due to personal reasons.
On having to cut his county stint short, Smith said: "To have to head home now, so early in my time at Surrey is very frustrating but I leave the team in a good place and hope to be back with them as soon as possible."
Smith is contracted for three years and, although Surrey are resigned to the fact that his brief tenure as captain is already at an end for this season, they are confident he will return in 2014. He will not play against Durham in the Championship match beginning at The Oval on Friday and leaves Surrey in the bottom two of the first division.
Surrey's team director, Chris Adams, said: "Graeme has made an impressive start as a leader and the squad have really responded to his leadership. It's clearly disappointing for all, especially Graeme, but we wish him a speedy recovery."
Smith missed South Africa's fifth ODI against Pakistan in Benoni at the end of March and at the time Moosajee had referred to a "chronic left ankle problem".
He added: "We have been trying to manage him but unfortunately the impingement syndrome slowed him down today and he is quite symptomatic. He has had surgery on this ankle a while ago and I think the load and the volume of cricket for the year, and particularly during this ODI series, has troubled him."
Nevertheless, Smith, who described his ankle problem as "an ongoing problem", honoured his contract with Surrey, aware that he was regarded as a prestigious signing who could bring stability to the club following a traumatic period brought about by the death on the London underground of their England Lions batsman Tom Maynard.
Ricky Ponting, the former Australia captain, has already been signed as Smith's replacement, but he was not scheduled to arrive until the start of the Champions Trophy and will see out his IPL contract with Mumbai Indians.
*05.50GMT, May 9: This article has been updated after CSA confirmed Graeme Smith will miss the Champions Trophy