BY S.J. ALEXANDER
In a shocking turn of events, South African cricket captain Graeme Smith has announced his immediate retirement from all forms of international cricket. With his side struggling, Smith made what he described as “the most difficult decision I have ever had to make in my life.” His announcement came at the end of a dismal day’s play, when South Africa was bowled out for 287 and trailing Australia by 234 runs.
Smith has been struggling for form after major ankle surgery. When asked whether he was considering retirement pre-series he replied: “There are still things I want to achieve in the game.” But Smith’s recent horror performances against Australia (where he averaged just 8.4) reflect how uncomfortable he has been at the crease and have led journalists and cricket fans to question whether the Aussies have taken another prized international scalp. With high-profile English cricketers Graham Swann, Kevin Pietersen, Jonathon Trott and England coach Andy Flower all bowing out of international cricket after the brutal Ashes series, could the Aussies intimidating style of cricket be the reason for the end of another spectacular cricketing career?
The ever-dependable Proteas Captain has brushed away such suggestions. “I have a young family to consider, and I felt that retiring at Newlands would be the best way to end it because I have called this place home since I was 18 years old,” Smith said. Although his poor recent form has raised speculation that he was forced out after being troubled by Mitchell Johnson, Smith maintains that he had been considering retirement since ankle surgery in April last year.
Regardless of how his career has ended, Smith has been one of South Africa’s finest players. His international test record of 9,262 runs in 117 Tests, averaging 48.49, and scoring 17,228 runs in all international formats, reflects this. But it was his captaincy that most will remember him for. Captain of the international team at the tender age of 22 and acting with a maturity beyond his years Smith lead the team through barriers of diversity, racial vilification by spectators and disagreements about team selection to take them to number 1 in the world, creating one of the most formidable forces in the international arena. He captained South Africa to 53 test wins, beating Ricky Ponting’s record of 48, making him the most successful captain of all time. South Africa Cricket Chief Executive Haroon Lorgat admitted Smith’s decision came as a shock but praised his “nerves of steel”. Lorgat also described Smith as “a mighty warrior, a leader of men and an exceptional part of our international cricket”.
It is probable that Smith’s retirement will now lead him back to Surrey Cricket Club – his wife is Irish, and he is an Irish citizen. When he signed with Surrey in 2012 it was suggested that he might be forced to end his South African career there and then.