| Graeme Smith and Gary Kirsten with the ICC Test mace, in August 2012. (Getty Images) |
Calcutta: Graeme Smith received a big compliment from Gary Kirsten, who called the just-retired South African the “best captain that has ever lived” in Test cricket.
Smith called time on his international career after a successful run that saw him being handed over national captaincy at 22, following the 2003 World Cup.
Kirsten, who played the last Test of his career under Smith’s captaincy, said: “Is he the greatest captain ever in Test match cricket? In my view, he must be.
“I don’t think anyone had led as long. We know that. He has taken South Africa to great heights. The kind of success he has had, the kind of success he has taken South African cricket to, I would argue that he is the best captain that has ever lived,” Kirsten was quoted as saying by ESPNCricinfo.com.
The 33-year-old Smith led South Africa in all but the first eight of his 117 Tests, the most in the history of Test cricket.
According to the 46-year-old Kirsten, under whose coaching India won the World Cup in 2011 besides attaining the No.1 position in Tests, the success Smith achieved as an opener despite the added responsibility of captaincy, was massive.
Like former England captain Michael Atherton, who wrote in his column some days ago, Kirsten too agreed that there is nothing mentally tougher than captaining in Test cricket, and at the same time, opening the innings.
“For Graeme to end up with an average above 48 and then to have the type of leadership success he had is absolutely a massive achievement,” Kirsten stressed.
“You have to look at his record in the fourth innings and his ability to make important contributions. That gave the team a lot of confidence. It gives your team a lot of comfort to know that the captain is walking the talk.”
What Kirsten always liked about Smith was that he could trust the captain to stand up for his players. “Having played under him, which I really enjoyed even though he was a young captain at the time, I felt he was believable to me,” Kirsten said. “He had credibility in my eyes.
“Because I knew he would front up to difficult situations.”
When Kirsten became South Africa coach, he noticed Smith had become a complete captain.
“By that stage he had learned a lot about leadership,” Kirsten said.
“We always had a good connection and we had an enormous amount of fun over the two-year period we were together leading the team.
“We were able to tweak a few things and take the performance to even greater levels. We both believed that South Africa could become the No. 1 team in the world.”
Former Australia captain Ian Chappell differed with Kirsten. Although he called Smith a “strong leader”, Chappell did not rate him high on the tactics ladder.
“He was obviously the sort of character who his team-mates would follow, but tactically on the field, I think he was pretty limited and really, I think South Africa should’ve been looking for another captain quite a few years back, but certainly the leadership side of his captaincy was quite a strong point,” Chappell said.Chappell said the major drawback about Smith’s captaincy was that he tended to “sit back”.