Graeme Smith to retire
South Africa captain Graeme Smith described it as the toughest decision of his life to bring the curtain down on his international career after almost 350 appearances for his country.
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Smith made the shock announcement on Monday night that he would be retiring from the international arena at the conclusion of the ongoing third Test against Australia.
The 33-year-old told team-mates following the third day's play in Cape Town and tributes soon started pouring in for the left-hander, who has been described as "a legend", "a warrior" and "all round good egg" by some of those in the game.
The announcement may have taken many by surprise, but Smith said he had been mulling it over for almost a year.
He also said it was far from easy opting to call time on an international career that has spanned 347 matches in the three formats since he made his debut in 2002, during which time he has scored 37 centuries - 27 in Tests and 10 in one-day-internationals.
He said: "This has been the most difficult decision I have ever had to make in my life.
"It's a decision that I have been considering since my ankle surgery in April last year.
"I have a young family to consider, and I felt that retiring at Newlands would be the best way to end it because I have called this place home since I was 18 years old."
Smith will leave South Africa with a major hole to fill having been a key fixture in their line-up for well over a decade.
This, his last Test, is his 117th, of which he has been captain for 110 - a world record.
He came into the match having scored 9,257 Test runs at an average of 48.72, while he has also played 197 ODIs, averaging almost 38, and 33 T20 Internationals.
Smith, who has also taken 26 wickets for South Africa with his off-breaks, continued: "I have always been someone who has left everything out there on the field for my team and for my country.
"I'm extremely honoured and proud to have had the privilege to lead so many wonderful players and to have been a part of building the Proteas culture to what it is today. It is a culture that every player can be, and is, immensely proud of."
Whether Smith leaves international cricket on the back of a series defeat remains to be seen.
At the close of day three in the deciding third Test against Australia, South Africa were facing an uphill battle as Australia closed with a lead of 234 and 10 second-innings wickets still intact - Smith having been dismissed for five in his side's 287 all out.
A series loss would be a rare setback for Smith's South Africa in recent years, with the team at the top of the ICC Test rankings.
However, while defeat would leave a sour taste in the mouth for the departing Smith, his standing in the game is already assured.
Former England batsman Kevin Pietersen was one of those to hail Smith, saying on Twitter: "Hearing huge news out of SA. @GraemeSmith49 is retiring! For what he has done for SA cricket - the man is a legend! Congrats my Surrey BFF!"
The two batting superstars are set to line up together for Surrey in county cricket this summer, with Smith having signed a three-year deal at the Kia Oval in November 2012 as well as being installed as captain.
Surrey, who were relegated to Division Two last season, confirmed on Monday night that Smith's international retirement will have no bearing on his contract with the county and is due to arrive in London next month.
Alec Stewart, director of cricket at Surrey and former England captain, said: "Graeme has been an outstanding leader and player for South Africa and has been instrumental in making them the number one side in the world.
"From when I first played against him in 2003 he has impressed me immensely in everything he has done on a cricket field. South Africa will obviously miss him but we look forward to welcoming him back to the Kia Oval this season."
Another former England captain, Michael Vaughan, also heaped praised on Smith, tweeting: "Huge respect to @GraemeSmith49 .Fantastic Captain,Leader,Batsmen,Bloke and all round good egg... £Legend.
"Had some great battles and many on field arguments with @GraemeSmith49 but we always ended up having a beer at the end of games."
Cricket South Africa chief executive Haroon Lorgat admitted Smith's announcement had come out of the blue, but hailed the Johannesburg-born batsman as "a mighty warrior, a leader of men and an exceptional part of our international cricket".
Graeme Smith factfile:
1981: February 1 - Born in Johannesburg.
2002: March 8 - Made his Test debut against Australia in Cape Town, batting at number three and scoring 68 in the second innings as South Africa went on to lose by four wickets.
Promoted to open the batting with Herschelle Gibbs against Bangladesh in his third Test match, scoring 200.
March 30 - Made his one-day international debut against Australia in Bloemfontein, scoring 41 in a 37-run loss.
In the following home series against Pakistan, Smith (who scored 151) and Gibbs (228) shared a first-wicket stand of 368 - a then national record and, at the time, the fourth highest opening partnership in Test history.
Was awarded the South African Cricketer of the Year award for his performances in the 2001-02 season.
2003: Became the youngest ever captain of the South Africa Test side at 22 years old, succeeding Shaun Pollock after the 2003 Cricket World Cup despite playing only eight Tests and 22 ODIs.
July-August - Scored back-to-back double centuries on the 2003 tour of England, including a national record 277.
2004: Named Wisden Cricketer of the Year.
2005: Played county cricket for Somerset. Against Leicestershire he scored his maiden first-class triple ton (311 off 255 balls) and also captained the team to victory on finals day to secure the Twenty20 trophy, making 64 not out from 47 balls in the final.
October 21 - Made his Twenty20 international debut against New Zealand in Johannesburg, top scoring with 61 runs in a five-wicket defeat.
2006: March 12 - Led South Africa to a ODI victory over Australia in Johannesburg. The tourists set South Africa a world record 434 for four from 50 overs, which was successfully chased as they reached 438 for nine with a ball to spare. Smith scored 90 runs off 55 balls in the chase, and shared in a second wicket partnership of 187 runs with Gibbs.
2007: February 4 - In the first ODI against Pakistan, Smith smashed an over bowled by Naved-ul-Hasan for 27 runs and became the first player in ODI history to hit six fours off an over.
March-April - In the 2007 World Cup he started the tournament with four successive 50s, a feat never before achieved by a captain.
2008: February 29 - During the second Test against Bangladesh at Chittagong, Smith (who scored 232) and Neil McKenzie (226) put on a world record 415 for the first wicket. The partnership was Smith's fourth opening partnership of over 300 runs and his sixth of over 200 runs, both Test records.
August - Captained South Africa to their first Test series win in England since 1965. In scoring 108 in the second innings of the first Test at Lord's, Smith participated in a seventh double-century opening partnership, again in conjunction with McKenzie. He also scored a second-innings 154 not out in the third Test at Edgbaston.
2008: December - Captained the first South Africa side to win a Test series in Australia, inflicting a first home defeat on the opponents in 16 years.
2011: March 25 - Stepped down as ODI and Twenty20 captain after the 2011 World Cup and was replaced by AB de Villiers.
2012: July 19 - Recovered from an ankle injury to face England in a three-Test series in what was his 100th Test appearance.
November 1 - Was announced as the new captain of Surrey, starting from the 2013 season.
2013: February 1 - Captained his 100th career Test match against Pakistan, on his 32nd birthday.
2014: March 3 - Announced his retirement from international cricket following the ongoing third Test against Australia. Smith holds the world record for captaining in most Test matches - 110 - and also ends his international career holding the records for the highest number of wins in Test matches as skipper, with 50 wins, and the most number of centuries (15) by a captain in Test match wins.