Lord's – the spiritual home of cricket – has seen many, many landmarks, and plenty of these have been etched onto the honor's board at the hallowed venue. On Thursday, when the toss between the captains of the English and South African teams gets underway, Lord's will bare witness to another landmark – that of the most-capped Test captain in the game's history.
That honor will go to Graeme Craig Smith, a 31-year old who has captained his country since the age of 22 and who has been credited with, more than the 8277 runs he has scored in Test cricket, instilling in the South African team a sense of belief, on and off the field, which has now carried them to the doorstep of the ICC's No. 1 ranking.
Smith – who played his 100th match in the victory at The Oval – will captain South Africa for the 94th time, going past Australia's Allan Border as the player to have led his country the most times. His success rate is 46.23, higher than Border's 34.40. He has led his country to Test series wins in Australia, England, Pakistan, New Zealand the West Indies (twice) and Bangladesh (twice). At home, he has presided over series wins against India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, New Zealand (twice), West Indies (twice), Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.
Smith is not just South Africa's most successful Test captain, he is a national icon. He was the reason they rose to the No. 1 spot in 2008, and he is the man looming over England as the South Africans stand poised to snatch back the title. He is a born leader, a guts-and-glory cricketer who has fashioned a formidable career through grit and determination. He is not just physically intimidating, but robust as a tactician and leader. He is uncompromising, bullish and does not shirk responsibility.
South Africa isn't an easy team to captain, but Smith has done the job for over nine years with determination and little fuss, all the while playing a big role in South African Test victories with the bat. He averages 59.15 in Test wins on South African soil, including seven centuries, but the more significant stat to note is Smith's record away from home in wins.
Of his total career runs, 2075 have come in overseas victories at an average of 74.10 and with eight centuries. These include the monumental 259 at Lord's in 2003, the unbeaten 125 to square the series in Wellington in 2004, the epic 154 not out at Edgbaston in 2008 that sealed South Africa's first series win in England since 1965, and the unforgettable 109 that kick-started a historic run-chase against Australia in Perth later that year.
As the last three centuries prove, Smith is a master of the fourth-innings chase. Where most batsmen struggle in the last innings of Tests, Smith thrives. Among batsmen to have scored at least 1000 fourth-innings runs, his average of 57.84 put him at fourth place in the all-time list, behind two renowned openers, Geoffrey Boycott and Sunil Gavaskar, and Pakistan's Younis Khan.
England know that to overcome South Africa at Lord's means overcoming Smith, Whose average in England (73) is the best for any overseas batsman since the great Don Bradman. Four years ago, Smith produced an innings that will forever hold its place in South African sporting history, one of the finest centuries in a run chase. Don't put it past him to feature heavily in another landmark South African victory. Smith just doesn't know any other way.