Biff will be missed

Graeme Smith (AFP)
Graeme Smith (AFP)

If there was any doubt lingering about Graeme Smith’s sudden decision to retire it would’ve surely been extinguished had you been at Newlands after Australia’s series-clinching victory over the Proteas.

Prior to the obligatory post-match interviews, Smith cut a lone figure amongst his team-mates as he kept an eagle eye on his daughter who was running on the famous Newlands turf in the opposite direction away from the players and herds of cameras.

Normally ‘Biff’ would’ve been in the thick of things and leading his band of brothers from the front.

But a somewhat different persona was intent on running after his child with a paternal instinct normally reserved for a team who have been his family for nearly eleven years. His priorities have changed.

Smith has sacrificed a sizable amount of his life to give his all to the Protea badge and the forthcoming Test series against Sri Lanka in July will reveal a massive void in the South African team – one which will take a generation to materialise.

While guys his age were out partying and having carefree fun with the ladies - as students normally do - Smith was out there leading from the front with the weight of a nation on his shoulders.

When Smith took over from Shaun Pollock, SA cricket was in dire need of a shake-up and someone to absorb the hurt felt by cricket fans after the Hansie Cronje saga.

Many had lost faith in a sport which had given so much joy to SA fans, and once it had been tainted; it was hard to rekindle that collective passion fostered during the Cronje era.

The 2003 World Cup disaster precipitated in a change of direction for the Proteas which included installing 22 year-old Smith as the new captain.

It was a bold decision which heralded criticism from all corners of South Africa but Smith countered it by scoring two massive double centuries (including highest Test score by a South African) in consecutive Tests against England.

Nasser Hussain, who was the England captain at the time, didn’t even know his name and called him ‘Greg’ at the coin toss before the first Test.

Smith made sure Hussain would never forget his name again, and he became the first of three English captains to stand down after succumbing to ruthless displays by Biff and his visiting Proteas outfit.

There were many ups and downs as Smith came to grips with his new job as leader of the pack and his often brash, straight-talking manner rubbed many up the wrong way.

But it was his determination to prove those critics wrong which elevated the Proteas to the top of the Test rankings.

It wasn’t easy and the tour to Sri Lanka in 2006 was a watershed moment. The South Africans were badly beaten in the Test series with Kumar Sangakkara with Mahela Jayawardene scoring a world record 624 for the third wicket.

It could’ve been end of the road for Smith as captain but his steely resilience to stand his ground paid dividends later on as the Proteas began to dominate Test cricket.

Smith was the heartbeat of the team as they toured England during the summer of 2008 and it was his unbeaten 154 not out – in challenging conditions – at Edgbaston which secured a Test series victory in England for the first time since 1965.

It paved the way for the historic first-ever series triumph over the Aussies in their own outback – one which will always be fondly remembered for Smith, with a broken hand, coming out to bat to save the Test.

Beating the English and Aussies again in 2012 secured the top ICC ranking and for the first time, the South Africans held the top spot in all three disciplines of international cricket.

Smith will go down as one of the greatest Test captains of all time, a feat which was achieved through gritty detremination, hard work and a desire to win.

So while the sun began to sink behind the back of our majestic Table Mountain, casting its giant shadow over Smith as he made his final post-match speech, a metaphorical curtain had come down on a colossal career of South Africa’s greatest-ever captains.

Only now, will we know just how valuable Captain Courageous really was.
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