Cape Town: Former South Africa skippers Kepler Wessels and Shaun Pollock Tuesday hailed incumbent Graeme Smith after he announced his shock retirement from international cricket. Both said that while the 33-year-old was not the most technically gifted batsman, his leadership and fighting qualities were unrivalled.
Smith will retire after the series-deciding third Test against Australia in Cape Town, which entered a fourth day Tuesday. His late Monday announcement caught South African cricket off guard after saying only three days before that he still had international cricket goals to achieve.
Controversial former England batting star Kevin Pietersen weighed in with praise for the man who scored 17,228 runs in 347 international matches across all formats. He tweeted: "What a magnificent career Graeme Smith has had as captain and batsman. He can retire knowing he achieved great things in his time."
Wessels said: "Retirement decisions come suddenly and there is a fine line between going too early or too late. Graeme obviously believes he has done what he can.
"He was a master at getting the best out of his team, and at batting for long periods under relentless pressure." Pollock, who is commentating on the Australia Test with Wessels and retired Proteas wicketkeeper Mark Boucher, said Smith stood out from the start.
"He was very mature for a 22 when he came into the team. His big physique created a certain presence in the changeroom and on the field. "Some criticised him for being brash, but he backed up his positive attitude with one great performance after another.
"Like all great sporting captains, Graeme led from the front. South African stars like Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel owe a lot to his team management. "His own character enveloped the team and he established a wonderful rapport with team-mates. He is not going to be easily replaced."
Pollock backed Wessels, saying the timing of retirements was always difficult. He favoured going too early rather than too late.
Boucher, forced to quit two years ago because of an eye injury, said Smith was not the most technically gifted cricketer. "But what a fighter! He possessed rare enthusiasm and a will-to-win passion second to none. "His goal was to make South Africa the No.1 Test nation and he achieved that. Then he wanted to keep South Africa at the top and he achieved that too."
Former West Indies bowling great Michael Holding is also part of the third Test commentary team and he also lauded Smith. "He reached the top through sheer hard work, and leadership qualities made him a great skipper. The cricket world appreciates what Graeme Smith achieved.
"I admire him for leaving on his own terms. You only pass this way once and Graeme is the best person to judge when to call time on his international cricket career."
It is ironic that Johannesburg-born Smith is bowing out against Australia at Newlands as he made his 2002 Test debut against the same country at the same venue.
Smith skippered South Africa in 108 Tests -- including the ongoing one -- winning 53, drawing 27 and losing 27 to make him the most successful Test captain.