South Africa’s youngest cricket captain has ended his international career with a whimper. Graeme Smith was out for three to an Australian side now cruising to victory in their final Test.
The sad demise of his team in this three-match Test series shouldn’t take away from the memorable 11 years he’s had as skipper of the Proteas—a team which is still ranked No. 1 in the ICC’s rankings.
That may be of little consolation to Smith and his men. With the series poised at 1-1, losing to the tourists, which now looks extremely likely, is the first series defeat Smith’s men have faced since losing to Australia at home in 2008-09.
As he walked out to bat for the last time in Cape Town, the Australian team formed a guard of honour in the centre of the pitch, with a handshake from captain Michael Clarke. The scene was reminiscent of a similar honour bestowed on Australia’s Ricky Ponting as he retired in a 2012 match against South Africa in Perth. It must have felt like a New York City ticker parade.
This display of sportsmanship was quickly brushed aside as Australia’s Mitchell Johnson, who has been terrorizing South Africa’s top order throughout the series, forced an error from the captain as he whisked the ball to Alex Doolan for three.
It was a tame way for Smith to end his 205th Test innings but reflected his below average form in a series in which he has scored just 45 runs in six innings.
Smith was just 21 when his country called on him for international duties. His debut was also against Australia when Glenn McGrath became the first man to dismiss the young Smith. But a year and a double century later, in 2003, he was called on as captain in the aftermath of South Africa's failure at the World Cup.
"Graeme had a mature cricket brain and a real presence," said Shaun Pollock, his predecessor, per ESPN Cricinfo. "He was a youngster but he was a big man."
That youngster quickly matured and went on to become the most-capped skipper in Test cricket history.
The Cricket South Africa chief executive, Haroon Lorgat, explained Smith’s achievements to the Telegraph.
"I would like us to remember Graeme for his nerves of steel and his match-winning performances,” said Lorgat. “These included setting up the 414 runs chase against Australia at Perth and his series-clinching innings at Edgbaston in 2008, not to mention the unbeaten century the last time he faced Australia at Sahara Park Newlands in 2011. His role in setting up the famous 438 win over Australia in 2006 was also a performance never to be forgotten."
Smith bows out having made 9,265 runs with an average of 48.25 in 117 Tests, 109 of those as captain.