CAPE TOWN - Jacques Kallis called for the South African public to give Graeme Smith the credit he deserves as former players paid tribute to the retiring Proteas captain. Smith called time on a 12-year international career late on Monday, and had his last bat on Tuesday when he was dismissed for 3 on Day four of the third Test against Australia at Newlands.
While he led South Africa's revival in the wake of World Cup disappointment in 2003 and guided the team to the top of the world Test rankings, the 33-year-old has not always enjoyed universal approval in his own country. "A lot of our sportsmen are like that," Kallis, who retired from Test cricket in December, said on Tuesday. "Maybe it's a South African thing that we like to keep our guys down on the ground. Hopefully we'll celebrate his retirement and give him the due respect and recognition that he deserves."
Smith's predecessor, Shaun Pollock, agreed with Kallis, but also spent time recalling how Smith had "a very good cricket brain" from an early age. Pollock said he felt from the start that Smith would go on to great things as a captain. "The last five or six years is where he's really come to the fore," Pollock said. "He's had a good team that's been very settled and he's known how to get the best out of them. "He's been very clear about the tactics he wants to employ and that's why he's had a lot of success." Smith retires as the most capped Test captain in history, and with over 9,000 runs at an average of 48. He also scored 6,989 runs in 197 one-day internationals.
However he will also be remembered for the bravery he showed on the field, most notably when he walked out to bat with a broken hand in a Test against Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground in 2009.
"A lot of guys in the dressing room actually got emotional because they realised what had happened on that tour - the Australian crowd had come to fall in love with a captain who they probably hated so much," former wicketkeeper-batsman Mark Boucher recalled. "I've never seen the SCG crowd, having played there for quite a few years and gone through some abuse, actually stand up for an opposition captain. That was big."
A bulky left-hander who scored his runs through grit as opposed to sound technique, Smith generally flouted the batting textbook. Boucher suggested this may have contributed to his decision to retire at a relatively early age for a batsman. "When Jacques wasn't quite up to it his technique took over and he could still score runs, but Graeme has been the type of player who has really needed a bit of heart and passion and enthusiasm to get out there and dominate," Boucher said. "I think he woke up a couple of mornings ago and realised he couldn't get himself up for the challenge, and then he probably gets more exposed than a guy who has a good technique."
Herschelle Gibbs, who shared in three triple-century partnerships whilst opening the batting with Smith, gave Smith credit for the burden he was willing to carry as captain from a young age. "He's always led the team from the front, right from when he took over the team at the tender age of 22," he said. "He always wanted the job and he was very comfortable with having that responsibility."