Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Greatest South African cricketers: Graeme Smith

Cricinfo once described Graeme Smith as "Meaty, Mighty and Muscular", quite fitting given the fact that he is 6'4. His nickname, "Biff" is born from the way he muscles a cricket ball. Basically, Graeme Smith is if "Power and Aggression" was a person. But there's a little more to Smith than just sheer force. There's also an almost reckless sense of bravery. Much like the good Lord, this bravery giveth (after all, you need to be quite brave to accept the job of national team captain at the humble age of 22). It has also most definitely taketh (South Africa found themselves 27/5 in a World Cup Semi-Final while playing "Brave cricket"). There was obviously a high level of Cricket and general intelligence, and there was definitely a sense of ambition.

Born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa to Graham (yep) and Jane Smith, Smith showed early leadership qualities from a young age while attending King Edward VII. Having moved down to Western Province after high school, Smith scored 1365 runs at an average of 46.55 for Western Province in the domestic First Class set-up. This early start led to a 2002 call-up in what was a disastrous home Test series vs Australia. Smith made an immediate impact, scoring 68 runs in the second innings of his debut. Two Tests later, Smith scored an unbeaten double hundred as the opening batsman against Bangladesh. Smith would follow this up with a 151 at his home ground (Newlands) as he and Herschelle Gibbs would set the national record for an opening partnership with a 368-run stand vs Pakistan. Despite averaging 41 in ODIs in 2002, Smith was left out of the original squad for the 2003 World Cup. AN unfortunate hand injury to Jonty Rhodes would allow him to make his tournament bow in what would be a disastrous home tournament for South Africa. So disastrous, in fact, that it was decided that South Africa would need a scorched earth policy moving forward, and with that Smith was elected as captain of the national team because he was the "least damaged" player in the squad.

His first assignment as captain of the national team was a Test series against England in England. The youth and relative anonymity of the skipper was highlighted in the first Test when Nasser Hussain, the English captain referred to him as "Greg Smith", and "Whotsisname". This attempt at gamesmanship would backfire horrifically as Smith would score back-to-back double hundreds in the first two Tests, helping South Africa jump to a 2-0 lead, and a retirement from Hussain. This would not be the only English captain Smith would cause to lose his job, with Michael Vaughan and Andrew Strauss all falling from his sword in the future. England would go on to tie the series 2-2, with new captain Michael Vaughan.

Smith would go on to have much success at Test level. He may well be the only captain in Test history to have back to back series wins in England and Australia. South Africa, under his tutelage, went 9 years without a foreign series defeat. Smith himself would score over 9000 Test runs in his career and his 2008 haul of 1656 is the third most runs in Test cricket history.

In ODIs, though, the numbers were not quite as gaudy. Somewhat stuck between eras, Smith found himself playing when everyone was a big hitter, and even opening batsmen were expected to be able to explode later on. As captain, he he became the first man to win 50 Test matches. But he would not go on to be the man to lead the Proteas to their first ICC trophy. The 2007 World Cup was the nadir, as South Africa lost to Bangladesh for the first time, and found themselves 27/5 in the Semi-finals against the Australians. Having found himself unable to elevate the team to the required level as a captain, he now will try lift the side as the Director of Cricket for Cricket South Africa

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