By Nick Said
CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - Graeme Smith, one of the most dogged batsmen of his generation, stunned South Africa on Monday by announcing he will retire from international cricket at the end of the ongoing third test against Australia at Newlands.
The 33-year-old captain told team mates after the third day's play, catching all unaware, including Cricket South Africa (CSA) chiefs.
His departure comes after arguably the world's greatest all-rounder Jacques Kallis quit the South Africa test team in December.
"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," Smith said in a statement released by CSA.
"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."
The opener is a veteran of 117 tests, 109 of those as captain, and is the world record holder for the most test wins as skipper of a five-day team with 53.
In the lead-up to the series-deciding third test against Australia, Smith had spoken of still wanting to achieve milestones in the game but having managed just 42 runs in five innings in the series, his form has been wretched.
"I have been fortunate to have had many highs, amongst them leading and being part of the best test team in the world. I will cherish these memories for the rest of my life. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I bid my career a fond yet sad farewell," he continued.
Stunned CSA chief executive Haroon Lorgat praised Smith for his service to the game.
"Although Graeme's decision to retire from all forms of international cricket comes as a surprise to all of us, we must respect him for deciding to call time," Lorgat said.
"Knowing him as well as I do, having been instrumental as a selector in appointing him as a young captain, he would not have taken this decision lightly or without a great deal of thought.
"Following the recent retirement of Jacques Kallis from test cricket, there is no doubt that we are now ready to move into a new era and it is our job to build on the solid foundations that these great players leave behind."
Smith made his test debut against Australia in Cape Town in March 2002 and was surprisingly handed the captaincy aged 22 a year later.
The most capped test captain in the history of the game has amassed 9,262 test runs at an average of 48.49 with 27 hundreds and 38 half-centuries.
His highest test score of 277 at Edgbaston in 2003 was followed a week later by 259 at Lord's as the English bowlers scratched their heads over how to dismiss a limpet-like left hander whose determination made up for any lack of flair.
He also played 197 one-day internationals and 33 Twenty20 internationals but failed to rid the Proteas of their choker tag when it came to major international limited overs tournaments.
South Africa are on the verge of losing the current series to Australia with the tourists well on top in the final test and the series level at 1-1.
Despite possibly bowing out in a losing home series against their most bitter opponents, Lorgat said Smith had helped write a glorious chapter in South Africa's cricketing history.
"I would like us to remember Graeme for his nerves of steel and his match-winning performances that were synonymous with some of the most remarkable fourth innings victory chases of all time." he said.
"These included setting up the 414 runs chase against Australia at Perth and his series-clinching innings at Edgbaston in 2008, not to mention the unbeaten century the last time he faced Australia at Newlands in 2011.
"His role in setting up the famous 438 win over Australia in 2006 was also a performance never to be forgotten."
(Editing by Mark Meadows)