Graeme Smith has matured over 10 tough years.
As far as captains go, Graeme Smith is neither the most tactically sound nor technically ravishing. He’s never been a crowd puller and he will never be.
His style of batting is uglier than Allan Border’s and does not have the riches of a Clive Lloyd, who, when he felt like it, played hell’s tormentor with merry bands of fast bowlers.
But there is one thing Smith has over all of them, a landmark Border came close to reaching but in the end did not achieve: captaining a test team 100 times.
Because of his gruff persona and, at times, rather sarcastic attitude towards opposition captains, he was once aptly called “Captain Grumpy”.
But that was a phase Smith has left behind, having taken on the captaincy mantle aged just 22 in 2003 rather than Border’s more mature 28 in 1984.
“We took over teams in which our roles were sort of developmental on many levels, but South African cricket has changed during my tenure,” Smith said in an interview with City Press this week.
“In terms of being grumpy, I think I was probably like that as a youngster. I’m the opposite of Border in that respect. I still play tough on the field but I’m much more relaxed than I was when I took over.
When you do well it’s easy to be happy.
“I’ve seen so many different structural changes behind the scenes through my 10 years and Border went through the same. I never really understood what was needed to lead the best team in the world but you would like to leave it in a better place than when you got it.”
Test captaincy has worn out even the best of batsmen and reduced some to tears when they had to resign.
Some, like former West Indian captain Shivnarine Chanderpaul mispronounced words and mumbled through press conferences.
England’s Nasser Hussain admitted to having sleepless nights.
At 22, youths are often at the tail end of exciting university lives and are stretching their wings in preparation for an assault on the big bad world.
Smith hinted that if he had his time over again, he may not have walked down the same thorny but ultimately fulfilling route.
“I don’t know if I would have taken the job at 22. I’m happy to be where I am today but it took a lot of time, effort and strength of character, plus sad and tough moments,” he said.
“I would have given myself a few more years to grow as a cricketer and help me set the platform to develop as a person – but I don’t have real regrets.
I did what I did to get here today and I’m a better person for it.
One of my big goals is to help develop leaders in South Africa.
“Having had to take leadership at a young age will help me understand how to interact with young people.”
Smith has recently taken on another prized role – that of being Irish singer Morgan Deane’s husband and the father of their daughter Cadence, who is just over a year old.
His wife is now three months pregnant with their second child.
“It’s been great – I don’t have to lie in bed all the time now and struggle to sleep and worry about cricket. I can feed the baby,” he joked.
“It’s been awesome to have Morgan and Cadence in my life. They have grown me as a person – it’s not just cricket any more. There’s family and so many other exciting things out there that I look forward to being a part of every day.”
Smith has been part of 11 ICC campaigns – for only two of them he wasn’t captain: the 2002 Champions Trophy and the 2003 World Cup.
With all the tears and heartache behind him now, he seems resigned to the fact that he
might not be around for another World Cup even though hope still flickers that an ICC trophy will fill a massive void for him.
“I would have loved to have won a World Cup. There have been a few semifinals that ended in disappointment,” said Smith, who turned 32 on Friday.
“But I can be proud of the memories I’ve created and the performances I put in at those World Cups,” he said.
“I also played in an era where the Australian team was very dominant and they pretty much won every World Cup that came their way. But I sit here like every South African fan and I’m disappointed I didn’t hold that trophy.”