When Graeme Smith walks out at Lord’s on Thursday he will become the most capped captain in the history of the game. It is a magnificent achievement and there is no better stage for it. By ANT SIMS.
Lord’s is an auspicious cricketing venue. Walking onto its hallowed outfield, your body is quoted in goose bumps and shivers slide down your spine. There’s no better place, then, for Graeme Smith to be on Thursday, when he becomes the most capped captain in the game’s history surpassing Australia’s Allan Border.
It’s almost as though Smith’s career has now come full-circle. He may have started his career as captain on tour Bangladesh but it was not until the England tour of 2003 that Smith asserted himself on the game as skipper. He scored a double ton in Birmingham and another 259 in the second Test at Lord’s. Smith had made a statement and South Africa won the Test by a mammoth innings and 92 runs. It was a special occasion for Biff – his score of 259 remains the highest score by a visitor at the ground.
For Smith though, the enormity of his achievement is yet to sink in. When he was asked about whether he sees himself in the same light as some of the greats who have graced the game, the South African skipper remained modest and insisted his focus is on the team and what they want to achieve.
“I am extremely proud to be where I am, for me to have lasted as long in the job as I have and have had the support of my teammates through all these years is a very special thing,” Smith said.
“I definitely don’t see myself as an Allan Border or Clive Lloyd, or Steve Waugh or whoever. I’ve always just tried to be the best I can be and I feel blessed to have captained South Africa 94 times.”
When he was flung into the wilderness of the national team captaincy, Smith was barely out of his teens and his appointment was a universally popular one. On this score at least, not much has changed. He still has many detractors and he continues to come under intense scrutiny each time he does as much as put a foot slightly wrong. He’s not the most aesthetically pleasing player to watch and he does at times come across as brash and arrogant, but Smith has grown into a Goliath of world cricket.
“I feel blessed to have been given the opportunity as a 22 year old and to have grown into the player and man I am today and hopefully we can achieve some special things. To be talked about in the same breath as such greats of the game is really special, but I feel like I am still in the mix of things and it’s difficult to understand just how big of an achievement it is,” Smith said.
“Maybe after five days, if we can be successful as a team and play well, I’ll be able to reflect on it a bit more on what exactly it means.”
Smith’s win ratio is at an impressive 46.23% – higher than Border’s, which was 34.4%. Under Smith’s guidance, South Africa has beaten Australia, England, New Zealand, Pakistan, West Indies and Bangladesh. They’ve soared to great heights on the Test stage, heights many thought they’d never reach. It might somewhat cliché to stress that Lord’s bearing witness to his milestone lending the occasion an extra special quality, but the South African skipper himself admits stepping onto the hallowed turf on Thursday will be emotional.
“Lord’s is a place that has been very special for me over the years. England tours have sort of been launching pads for me through different and important stages in my career and this will be no different,” said Smith.
“To come to Lord’s again and have the opportunity to reach a landmark like that with a special Test match around the corner will be a very proud moment for me. As much as I’ll try to hide it, it will be a very special moment when I walk out onto the field on Thursday.”
His opposite number, Andrew Strauss, will also reach a landmark when he steps out at Lord’s on Thursday – he will be playing his 100th Test match. While acknowledging the enormity of the Test to himself, Strauss was however keen to praise Smith.
“Just like my 100th Test match is something to be proud of in terms of the longevity, I think Smith is probably quite proud of that too. You have to have huge respect for the fact that he’s been able to captain a Test team for that long. It’s a huge onus on anyone. The fact that he’s scored so many runs on top of that deserves great credit,” said Strauss.
“He is one of the keenest competitors you’ll ever face and he’s proud of representing his country.”
Smith’s genius lies in his ability to perform away from home, in matches where it matters. He averages 74.10 in the 20 away Tests, which have resulted in a win for South Africa. He currently averages 102.33 in England and he has mastered the art of performing in the fourth innings. His average in the fourth innings away from home is 126.60 in 12 Tests. Those are staggering numbers, the mark of a fierce competitor who is consumed by the hunger to win. While Smith will insist that he doesn’t focus too much on the past or the numbers and the averages, if history is anything to go by, another Smith special is almost certainly set to play out at Lord’s.
Smith’s career, his decisions, his character and his captaincy style might not have been flawless, but greatness rarely is untainted, because without burdens or sorrows, half of his greatness would have gone unnoticed. DM
Photo: South Africa’s captain Graeme Smith smiles during a television interview before their third cricket test match against England at Lord’s in London August 15, 2012. REUTERS/Philip Brown
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