IT is all too easy to wax lyrical about the players that caress your eyeballs with velvet-tipped willow bats carved from Kumar Sangakkara’s designer stubble. However, for those that had finesse and style surgically removed along with their tonsils, the mental blocks tend to become more frequent.

We are plastered in the written and spoken word with catch-all phrases such as “making the most of their talent” and “dogged fighter”. Though relevant in this case, you are only scratching the salty top layer of the biltong. 


Graeme Smith, with more protective gear than IronMan.

True, Smith’s stance and presence at the crease resembles that of the one guy we have all played against who took evening club matches a bit too seriously – a plethora of protective guards, a penchant for an affected sweep – yet the machine masked by this facade makes clear from the outset that nobody will put Biff in the corner.

An oft-heard description of Smith’s batting is that it’s boring, slow and ugly. Such comments usually emanate from the same crowd who want a Test championship and flashing bails in every match, so we can forget about them.

Consider the balancing forces within the South African team. Putting Alviro Petersen Out Caught (his full name) to one side for the moment, the majority of Smith’s time at the crease is spent standing 22 yards away from King Hashim, the only known cure for male impotence.

And next to Amla, anyone’s going to look as natural as Shane Warne’s cheekbones.

Unlike the persistent, stoic runs that flow from Smith’s bat, his captaincy form over the last 99 Tests has fluctuated somewhat. At times there has been the feeling that Plan B is Plan A with extra panic thrown in for good measure, most clearly evident at Lord’s in 2012 where an England fightback in the last innings had Smith glancing to the balcony for help.

Graeme Smith was a hit with the ladies in the early 90s with his Doogie Howser look.

Graeme Smith was a hit with the ladies in the early 90s with his Doogie Howser look.

Not returning home with your team after getting choked out of the World Cup was akin to having your pet put down then eating away your sorrows with a Chinese takeaway, but the wounds healed without an extended soap opera. Rightly or wrongly, Smith has been attributed with deposing three England captains.

Whilst incredibly galling as an England supporter, you have to begrudgingly admire Smith’s unique king-maker streak. To sustain his position at the top, you have to be able to deal swiftly with the hiccups, quashing any rumblings of dissatisfaction with honesty, integrity and weight of runs.

And now, Graeme Smith celebrates 100 Tests as captain - surely a feat that will never be beaten?

And now, Graeme Smith celebrates 100 Tests as captain – surely a feat that will never be beaten?

Perhaps the greatest mark Graeme Smith will leave on the South African side (which let’s face it, may not be for another 5-6 years) is the unity that he has created under his stewardship.

To have Dale Steyn the bowler in your side is one thing; to have Dale Steyn the person and presence in the dressing room willing to fight to the end for you is another entirely. The banishment of the supposed Smith-Boucher-Kallis-de Villiers clique that saw bowlers chopped and changed and a ‘them and us’ atmosphere fester has drawn that extra X-Factor out of the entire unit.

Graeme Smith has scored match-winning centuries, broken batting records, and faced Mitchell Johnson in a rearguard with a broken hand. He is of course still fair game for the usual jokes, but as ‘Biff 100’ comes and goes, we cannot deny that this is a man who will be talked about for a long time to come.

The video tribute posted by the South African team to mark this occasion tells us two things. Firstly, that Morne Morkel needs to take up smoking to cure his banana habit, and secondly, that after the troubles of the past, South African cricket has a genuine role model to aspire to.

written by halftracker

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