Graeme Smith 'an inspirational leader who proved technique isn't everything'

Retiring skipper trusted his method and had mental strength in spades...

Last Updated: 04/03/14 3:54pm

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Graeme Smith is one of the most determined, inspirational men I have ever played against - not to mention a phenomenal captain.

As a skipper Smith has consistently ticked every single box over the years, whether it is leading by example, his batting form, his tactical nous or acting as a dignitary for his country.

He won't want to bow out of Test cricket with a loss but it will be a monumental achievement if South Africa do avoid defeat to Australia in the third Test after losing Smith for three in his final innings and collapsing to 15-3.

Yet even if they do lose, Smith can be proud, retiring with South Africa still No 1 in the Test rankings.

In charge

Nasser applauds as Smith reaches his double ton at Lord's in 2003

There was plenty of talk about Smith being a bit young for the captaincy when he took over from Shaun Pollock in 2002 but when we played South Africa the following summer it quickly became clear that he had an aura around him.

His body language on the field was that of someone who was born to lead and you knew who was in charge of South Africa, even though he was a relatively unknown Test player and there were still some great players in that side - the likes of Pollock, Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher to name but a few.

It's been pretty clear who has been in charge of South Africa ever since but if one innings stands out in my mind it was the unbeaten 154 he scored to win the third Test at Edgbaston in 2008 and with it an historic series win.

England had a lot of opportunities to win that game and everyone expected Monty Panesar to run through South Africa on a pitch that wasn't great but Smith played him brilliantly to see it through to the end.

Now he's decided that his time has come to call it a day. Away from cricket he's got a young family and on the pitch his form has been on the wane a little bit. Perhaps age has finally caught up with him a little.

Trusted

Smith is engulfed by his team-mates after steering South Africa to victory at Edgbaston in 2008

The glut of Test runs he's scored prove that technique isn't everything - despite what many coaches will tell you. Smith's mental strength and game awareness proved stronger than any technical glitch.

I recall Dominic Cork, Matthew Hoggard and Jimmy Anderson licking their lips when we saw Smith's closed bat face and at times Hoggard, in particular, was very good at getting the ball to swing in and nail him lbw.

But Smith's style also confused many bowlers because it was hard to know what line to bowl to him.

In fact it was a classic example of a batsman's weakness being his strength; everybody tried to bowl straight at him and get him out lbw and bowled, but he'd just smash you away through the leg-side.

The key thing, a bit like Jim Furyk and his golf swing, was that Smith trusted his method, he knew exactly what he was doing and never really tried to change his approach.

Example

Smith in County Championship action for Surrey against Sussex in 2013

There seems to be a ready acceptance that Smith will fill his boots playing for Surrey in division two of the County Championship - and understandably so.

But as a few players have found out when they've come to England towards the end of their careers, you still have to be switched on to succeed in County cricket.

If you ask the likes of Alastair Cook what it's like to return to the county scene after playing international cricket, some of them will say that at times they actually find it harder to score runs in that environment.

I know I did, in part because you often come up against a different type of bowler - the pitch-up, swing bowlers who can find you out when it's nibbling around in April and May.

But Smith has always led by example and as Surrey club captain I'm sure he'll be switched on from the off and throw all of his energies into getting the county to where people believe they should be playing.

Watch the end of Graeme Smith's Test career as the third Test between South Africa and Australia continues on Sky Sports 2.

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