South Africa captain Graeme Smith, the most capped Test skipper of all time, has announced he will retire from international cricket following the ongoing third Test with Australia.
The 33-year-old, who made his international debut in 2002, has played 347 matches for his country, leading the Proteas for a remarkable 109 of his 117 Tests. He was one-day international captain until the 2011 World Cup, having stepped down as Twenty20 international skipper the year before.
The powerful left-handed opening batsman has scored 27 centuries among his 9,000-plus Test runs, which have come at an average of nearly 49, and has made 10 hundreds across almost 7,000 runs in ODIs.
Smith 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 told his team-mates of his decision following the close of yesterday’s play in the third and final Test against Australia at Cape Town, where South Africa - who have been top of the Test rankings since 2012 - are facing an uphill battle to avoid a first Test series loss in five years.
Smith, who has struggled for runs in the series versus Australia, added: “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.''
Cricket South Africa chief executive Haroon Lorgat admitted Smith's announcement had come out of the blue, but hailed the left-hander as “a mighty warrior, a leader of men and an exceptional part of our international cricket''.
Lorgat said: “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.”
Smith's decision will have no bearing on his contract with Surrey, whom he can now represent as a non-overseas player having been granted Irish citizenship in January.
Smith, who is married the Irish singer Morgan Deane, signed a three-year deal with Surrey in November 2012 and was installed as captain at the Kia Oval.
Surrey said in a statement: “Smith is due to arrive in London in early April, where he will lead Surrey into their 2014 campaign. The decision has no bearing on Smith's Surrey contract and he remains fully committed to the club.''
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.”