Big shoes to fill as maverick Biff departs from cricket

2014-03-09 14:00

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It’ll take some doing to equal Graeme Smith’s record, writes Khanyiso Tshwaku.

The statistics and figures tell the story of Graeme Smith’s dominance as a test captain of the ages.

He won a test series in every country except India and Sri Lanka.

The former was a case of an emerging team whose star batsmen were about to peak, while the latter was due to a lack of tours to the cinnamon islands.

But even the best captains in test history will lay claim to having frontiers they were unable to cross.

Steve Waugh and Mark Taylor, as good captains as they were, were never able to beat India in India.

Waugh came to terms with the Indian challenge being the “final frontier”.

For Smith, Australia at home was Smith’s frontier and it will forever define his legacy.

Like the West Indies in the 1980s, Australia, because of their success through the 1990s and 2000s, is the benchmark teams measure their greatness against.

While Smith was successful on two consecutive occasions down under in three series, there was an inability to do the same at home.

The recently concluded series was the best opportunity to break that bogey but an ascendant team under Michael Clarke proved a tough nut to crack.

The Australian teams that Smith played against were of varying quality.

He was on a hiding to nothing against the 2005/06 Australian tourists, which contained the likes of Matthew Hayden, Shane Warne and Damien Martyn.

The visitors of 2008/09, 2011/12 and now were eminently beatable. It shouldn’t take the gloss off a mighty fine career, but all great test captains before him thrived on creating fortresses at home before steeling themselves for away conquests.

Taylor and Waugh were impregnable at home. For Smith, being away from home was more comforting than anything else.

History will judge the 33-year-old as one of the steeliest and gutsiest test batsmen and captains ever.

As a player, the Marylebone Cricket Club manual was put through the shredder and reinvented with a strong bottom hand.

In terms of leadership, he defied age-old traditions of captains being grizzled veterans by owning the job and being their own persons.

It is difficult to see cricket boards in future entrusting 22-year-olds with a job that has made grown men cry.

As for test captains breaking his record in terms of matches in charge, that will take another adolescent to be thrust into the limelight.

The path Smith has beaten will be covered up again – that is how huge his impact has been on the game.

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