On Friday, Graeme Smith led South Africa out in a Test match for the 99th time. Including another Test as captain of the World XI (vs Australia in 2005), that made him the first person to captain in 100 tests. Rather an impressive feat for someone that started out as a raw 22-year old taking over a rather downtrodden side. There have been 10 years of Test matches: many won, and a lot lost. But as time has gone by, the number lost has gone down, the number won has gone up, and the legacy of Smith has gained significantly in stature.
At the start of the match, the commentary on espncricinfo was interspersed with reader comments writing in about their memories:
Smith scored fabulous 90 from just 56 balls when SA was to chase [the] mammoth total by Australia. For me, thats one of the best innings ever I have witnessed.
I remember Smith’s back to back double tons (277 and 259) in England 2003. The way he muscled English bowlers in both the tests is as fresh as yesterday in my mind.
His 26 centuries have all been a delight. But my choice of his top performance would be the way he came out to bat with a broken hand. Facing the Australian quicks with a broken hand would be anybody’s nightmare. Not Smith’s 🙂
Smith’s best performances have to be each of his 4 forth innings hundreds – all won his team the game. 150 against England and the unbelievable century against the Aussies in chasing over 400 to win the test was amazing.
Each of these resonated with me as well. I loved the two double hundreds in England – particularly as they led to the resignation of the England captain at the time. Nasser Hussain had referred to Smith as ‘whatshisname’ in the pre-match press conference. Two matches and 600+ runs later, he certainly knew his name, and knew that he’d made a fatal mistake.
I also clearly remember the Edgbaston test referred to in the final comment above. I was following the progress on my cellphone’s internet browser, logging in every 20 minutes or so to check on progress. As the wickets tumbled, and we fell to 93/4, chasing 281, I started giving up hope. Each check in was performed with my heart in my mouth, expecting to see 5 down, and each time, it was still Smith and de Villiers holding fort, and the scoreline ticking up. Then de Villiers fell with more than a hundred to go, but Smith and Boucher managed to hold on for the win. Which also won them the series, for the first time in 40 years. And yet another England captain resignation – Andrew Vaughan gave up and handed over to Pietersen after that.
There are loads of other memories – the broken hand incident, the cramp in the world cup game against Australia, the century in the chase in Perth in 2008. Bad memories too – mostly involving losses against Australia. I can’t say that I’ve always liked him, or thought that he always deserved to keep his place in the side. There have been times where he’s underperformed for far too long. He’s not the best captain from a tactical point of view, but he certainly puts his all into the fight, and never gives up, dragging the rest of the team along with him as long as he can.
Over the past two years, he’s been back with a vengeance. Winning series in England and Australia, getting a third England captain to resign, and now starting to put an ominous string of series victories together. He’s still young enough to keep this up for another few years. So here’s to the next 50 Tests – and long may SA’s standing at the top of the Test rankings, that Smith has fought so hard for, and has finally achieved, continue.