5 Reasons why Graeme Smith will be Missed By South Africa

Graeme Smith was definitively tough but unassuming, and ended his career as one of the most successful Test openers and captains.

Surrounded by legends, in an era of of record-breaking greats, his often ugly and unattractive style prevents him from being considered as a truly memorable batsman. He will, however, be both remembered and missed by the team he leaves behind.

He was able to lure unsuspecting bowlers into a trap of thinking he had vulnerabilities, but with 9,265 Test runs, 117 Tests caps (108 of which were as captain), his record is undisputedly one of resilience, determination and consistency, in spite of his many flaws.

Smith helped to redefine what is successful; because he had consistent success in a completely different way to others. He did it on his own terms, and proved that the coaching manual is not the only recipe for triumph.

To celebrate this giant of Test cricket, here are five reasons why South Africa will miss the nation’s greatest ever captain.

page separator

1. He was a tough nut

To play from such a young age of 21, is a tough challenge at any high standard of sport. To be invested with opening the batting at that age, and captaincy of a volatile and highly scrutinised team, seems unreasonably difficult.

Smith did it, and did it well. He took on the challenge and was entrusted with it for his entire career for the Proteas.

South Africa may have a captain to replace him. They may be able to fill an opener slot. But they will never replace his Steve Waugh like attitude. To get Smith out you had to work him out. Even if you hit him or exposed technical flaws, if he was still there, he would contiune. It wasn’t always pretty, but mighty effective.

Graeme Smith had to fight the media, his own team mates occasionally, his mind, his technique but most importantly other teams, and did so admirably on all fronts.

With bat in hand, his bottom handed grip often caused an unsuspecting delivery outside his off stump to be planted with a closed bat face to unintended parts of the field. In reality however, he was the ultimate example of ugly runs being fighting runs, finishing with an average of nearly 50 over 117 Tests. He was a fighter. He battled when elegence and technique was not the answer.

To celebrate his career, here is Graeme Smith refusing to give up, coming out to bat with a broken hand:

page separator

2. His consistency

Few batsman in Test history are capable of unerring consistency across innings, batting first or second, home or away, or over a long period long time.

Smith’s frail-looking technique had a major benefit, in the sense that because he battled himself, he was thinking less about the conditions or the bowler. He watched the ball and applied concentration to the game situation, with full concentration on task.

The application he offered to innings of all kinds meant that he averaged over 50 in the first and last innings of Tests, and never scored a hundred in a losing cause. Whatever the chaos and drama around him, Smith was the one batsman that would be more concerned about staying in than performing the perfect cover drive.

There is a strong correlation between Smith not performing and South Africa failing as a team, which outlines his importance, but also how his consistency contributed to South African consistency. As a losing player, he averaged 25.58, compared to 61.34 as a victorious player and 51. 34 as a player in drawn games.

One could almost say that he is a microcosm of South African success.

To showcase his consistency, here is a clip of Graeme Smith accumulating 259 against just a week after scoring 277. His sheer appetite for runs was staggering.

)

page separator

3. He was the modern leader of South African cricket

South Africa under Graham Smith not just reintegrated itself into the rhythm of international cricket, but re-established its rich legacy and quality. He took the captaincy as a young man, and nurtured his side into one of the best sides in the world.

With the exception of Shaun Pollock who played under Hansie Cronje to, the modern greats; Dale Steyn and Makhaya Ntini flourished under the fantastic man management of Smith. Truly great partnerships were concreted; with the likes of Jacques Kallis as the rock in the middle, who played 98 Tests under Smith, scoring 33 of his 45 centuries. Ab de Villiers grew into the perfect decoy to the more mature batsmen, such as himself, Hashim Amla and Kallis.

He built a well rounded and compact team, and yes; it had flaws. But so did Smith. Some of the flaws Smith had to manage is that unlike India who had Anil Kumble for so long, and Australia who of course had Shane Warne, Smith never had a genuinely world class spin bowler. He had to learn to handle a team that didn’t always have the neccesary resources. Like his own batting, he got on with it, and managed it to the best of his abiltiy.

Smith represented a generation of striving for change, but striving to achieve the maximum with the ability at hand. Encapsulating this mentality; here is a clip of South Africa dismissing Australia for just 47 after being themselves dismissed for a miserly 96. Whatever they can do, we can do better.

page separator

4. Smith determined his, and his team’s legacy

When he arrived on the scene, people thought he would never last. He was too technically flawed. He couldn’t sweep or play through the offside. He was far too young to understand the subtleties and nuances of Test captaincy.

When he, as the captain, was too young and ‘couldn’t fill the boots of Shaun Pollock’ according to so many, he took charge of his fortune.

He maintained the captaincy for over a decade, steadily growing into his role and finding his comfort zone. Even with retirement, he was not perfect, but nobody pushed him out. At 33, he could easily have continued for at least another year.

But he didn’t. In terms of modern captaincy, he has the most caps as a skipper EVER in Tests, with 109 games, and has a win percentage of 48.62, which is very respectable considering some of the key issues that had to be dealt with, such as a lack of spinner and for a long time a lack of competency against quality spin.

The fact is, that like his batting, his captaincy was a microcosm for South Africa’s attitude towards playing. They didn’t have a Shane Warne or a Sachin Tendulkar. They had their flaws, but they dealt with them, in the same way that Smith worked through a method of achieving something, even with his strange and unorthodox technique.

Here is Smith giving his final press conference as to why he retired; outlining the importance of hard work and resilience over sheer skill and ability.

page separator

5. He liked making England suffer

The only thing worse than seeing England lose for the unsuspecting neutral, is seeing England fans gloat. Graeme Smith dedicated a career to ensuring misery for England fans in Test cricket, with a quite staggering individual record.

In 2003, he scored 277 and 259 in the space of a week, subjugating English bowling to South Africa’s mighty hammer.

He scored two centuries against England in 2008, two in 2010, and incase England were not sick of him, he snuck in a century against England on his hundredth Test, which was the final Test of the series’ and crowned his side as number one in the world. Fitting.

Smith loved scoring runs against England. He put an often arrogant England side in their place, humbling them with inside edges to fine leg, and cover drives that ended up through mid wicket. He frustrated everyone because he always gave an impression of vulnerability, yet more often than not, pulled through with great success.

To enjoy Smith’s resilience against England, here is his magnificent 183 against England in 2010 at Cape Town.

Point-to-prove XI for 2014

Reflection of the previous year often aids with informing the expectations of the season to come. As we recover from a year of retirements and the changing the guard, we can look into a crystal ball, and see who will be looking to have a more productive 2014. Not all in this list have had a disappointing 2013, but, all will be looking to have a purposeful year ahead, and really prove something.

*2013 statistics are amalgamated from all formats of International cricket.

page separator

1. Jesse Ryder [New Zealand] – 2013:

Batting: 1 innings – 0 runs. Average 0 |

Jesse Ryder is a special talent, but certainly not a fulfilled one. His staggered career has developed at an uneven rate, which has given rise to the fact that at 29 years old, he has played just 18 Test matches, and only 41 ODIs. He’s better than that, but it needs consistency, and discipline on and off the field. Combining the two could allow Ryder to explode back onto the scene, which may be important with T20 contracts up for grabs. A century on the first day of 2014 is a good sign, but with Ryder, it is never far away from something unexpected.

page separator

2. Murali Vijay [India] – 2013:

Batting: 14 innings – 704 runs – Average – 48.82 | Bowling: Overs 1 – Wickets: 0 – Average: 0

After having made his debut in 2008, Vijay’s chance for Test cricket has been stifled by the likes of Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag at the top. They have since been put to one side, and Vijay’s chance has finally emerged. 647 Test runs at an average of 46.76 in 2013 was a good grounded response to continued selection. But, with the likes of Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara for company in the batting order, he must stay relevant, and not be a passenger. In order to not be buried in the drama of Indian cricket, and the high octane performances of others, he must push the boundaries, and really build a reputation.

page separator

3. Azhar Ali [Pakistan] – 2013:

Batting: 15 innings – 272 runs – Average: 31.77 | Bowling: Overs: 7 – Wickets: 0 – Average: 0

Pakistan are about to go through a turbulent period, with Misbah Ul Haq at the ripe age of 39, and Younis Khan at 36, spare parts are desperately needed. Azhar Ali was steady for a number of years for Pakistan at number three, but severely fell away in 2013, with just two fifties, and averaging under 20 in Tests. 270 runs in 14 Test innings is not good enough, when in the previous year, he scored more than double that in less matches. There is lots to work on, and lots to like about Ali, but he really must show he has a future for Pakistan, post Misbah and Younis, by seizing number three by the horns, and not letting go. Pakistan cricket is a roller coaster ride sometimes, and a solid, steady number three is what is needed. Step up Azhar.

page separator

4. Joe Root [England] – 2013:

Batting: 48 innings – 1579 runs – average: 38.51 | Bowling: Overs: 118.0 – Wickets: 8 – Average: 69. 87

The golden boy of English cricket is finding out the hard way that top level cricket is very difficult. Averaging 34.48 in Tests last year, he has been moved up and down the order perpetually, not being allowed to settle. He has been worked over by Australia’s quicks, exposed horribly, and although having played the short ball well, he has not been the defensive rock that England had hoped for at the top of the order. Whereas some will attribute this to him being unsettled due to constant change, it must also be recognised that he has not made any of the positions his own. He is only young of course, but the sooner he consolidates a position, the better, and that is the task for the year in all formats.

page separator

5. JP Duminy [South Africa] – 2013:

Batting: 32 innings – 948 runs – average 35.11 | Bowling: Overs: 177.4 – Wickets: 20 – Average: 36.90

The left hander has gained a reputation as a One Day specialist, which is something he will be keen to repute. He has only played 21 Tests in his career, and has always been placed in the lower middle order, coming in to bat after a flurry of world class batsmen such as Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis, Hashim Amla and AB De Villiers. Nobody doubts his One Day credentials, but his First Class average of nearly 50, simply does not translate in Test cricket, where he averages a meager 32.88. He will be looking to assert himself, and prove he is not just a One Day specialist.

page separator

6. Angelo Mathews [Sri Lanka] – 2013:

Batting: 34 innings – 935 runs – average: 34.62 | Bowling: Overs: 200.4- Wickets: 23- Average: 40.34

As a player, and as a captain, Angelo Mathews has struggled to form a cohesive Test side. He played in 28 limited overs games, whilst having only three full Tests in 2013, which outlines the difficulty of long term planning. A general depression in form in Tests, has been contrasted by a strong-ish year in coloured kits. In Tests, scoring under a hundred runs in the year, and taking not a single wicket showed his ineptitude, yet in ODIs, his 585 runs and 19 wickets helped build his character as a leader. 2014 needs to be the year in which the Sri Lankan captain strengthens his place as the leader, and transfers limited overs contributions to Tests, because if he doesn’t Sri Lanka will be far too heavily reliant on the old guard.

page separator

7. Quinton De Kock [South Africa] – 2013:

Batting: 23 innings – 928 runs – average: 42.18 | Wicketkeeping: Catches: 33 Stumpings: 4

With the retirement of Jacques Kallis, a position in the batting order has opened up. Quinton De Kock has had a fantastic year in limited overs cricket for South Africa, the only format he was afforded selection with 928 runs, including four centuries. He is the obvious player to come into the Test side, and as a wicketkeeper, he has an added string to his bow. Some will say at 21 he is too young to fill Kallis’s enormous hole, but  someone has to, and in spite of his inexperience, De Kock has shown considerable ticker in his performances so far.

page separator

8. Darren Sammy [The West Indies] – 2013:

Batting: 35 innings – 709 runs – average 26.25 | Bowling: Overs: 260.1 – Wickets: 21 – Average: 50.04 | Fielding: Catches: 30

The West Indies beleaguered captain is chronically unable to lead from the front, and must show some more substance. His toothless bowling produced eight Test wickets in nine innings in 2013, and his Test batting average of just 21 is not exactly electric dynamite. He is economical and steady, but he is clearly picked as a and captain in Tests. After having been relinquished of the role in 50 over cricket, it’s surely only a matter of time before a new captain of any degree of competence emerges, which could render Sammy obsolete. He continues to be a solid limited overs performers, but especially for Test cricket, he needs to start showing his worth. 2014 must be the year of Sammy, where he shows his value to the team not just as a captain.

page separator

9. Ravichandran Ashwin [India] – 2013:

Batting: 24 innings – 359 runs – average: 17.95 | Bowling: Overs: 617.1 – Wickets: 81 – Average: 28.60

Disposed of for the second Test in South Africa, India’s spinner seems to be inept outside of the sub continent. 95 of his 104 Test wickets have been in Asia, which does not take away from his achievements, but it suggest he is a one dimensional and inexperienced performer outside of India. When his side plays England in five Tests in 2014, he will be desperate to be in that side ahead of Pragyan Ojha, the genuine spinner, or Ravi Jadeja, the genuine allrounder. He must break out of his Sub-continental mould, and really secure his spot in the side by developing a stock ball, and learning to use variations more intelligently. Until he does that, he will never have success where there is less spin to be had.

page separator

10. Steven Finn [England] – 2013:

Batting: 15 innings – 142 runs – average: 10.92 | Bowling: Overs: 324.5 – Wickets: 44 – Average: 32.63

In 2011, Steven Finn became England’s youngest bowler to 50 wickets, at the age 22 years and 63 days. The tall seamer was set to be ‘the next big thing’, but failed. Struggling with control, even when he got wickets, they were expensive, and he has spluttered and coughed his way through his career since being dropped in 2011. 2014 simply must be the year for Finn to settle his action, and lead. Whatever format, ‘If’ he has a serious future, and ‘If’ he wants to carry the legacy on that was laid out in 2011, this year has got to be the turning point. He is clearly a good bowler, and has performed spectacularly well especially in limited overs cricket, but without consistency, he will always simply be remembered as the bowler that occasionally performed well. Getting a consistent reliable action is his task for the year. If he does, success will come his way.

page separator

11. Ishant Sharma [India] –

Batting: 17 innings – 34 runs – average: 3.77 | Bowling: Overs: 367.2 – Wickets: 47 – Average: 34.53

How do you solve a problem like Ishant Sharma? A tall, gangly fast bowler, that is robotic. His bowling lacks the emotion that a fast bowler should have, sometimes more stiff and unimaginative than a bowling machine. 12 Test wickets at an average of 48.16 in 2013 has reinforced his dire 2012 performance which produced just seven Test wickets at an average of 75.57. He is only 25 years old, despite having been around since 2008; but time is running out regardless of his age. Only for so long can India continuously pick this uninspiring and ineffective bag of unfulfilled potential. 2014 might be Sharma’s last chance to prove everyone wrong before he is dumped on the scrapheap once and for all.

Other contenders: Steve Smith, Mitchell Johnson and Nathan Lyon.