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South Africa captain Graeme Smith will retire from international cricket after the third test against Australia, he said on Monday (local time), calling it the most difficult decision he's ever had to make.
Smith's surprise move to quit after the ongoing final test against the Australians at his home ground Newlands follows Jacques Kallis' sudden retirement from tests in the India series late last year.
Cricket South Africa said in a statement announcing Smith's retirement that the skipper told his teammates after the close of play on the third day in Cape Town.
The 33-year-old Smith, who has captained South Africa's test team for over a decade and is the most experienced captain in tests, said personal reasons and the fact that he has a young family were part of the reason.
"This has been the most difficult decision I have ever had to make in my life," Smith said in the statement. "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."
CSA called Smith's decision a surprise but recognised him as "one of the true legends of the game."
"We must respect him for deciding to call time," CSA chief executive Haroon 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."
Smith is playing in his 117th test, against the same opponents and on the same ground where he made his debut almost to the day, March 8, 2002.
He was famously young when handed the captaincy after the Proteas' disastrous performance at their home World Cup in 2003. He leaves with South Africa as the top-ranked test team in the world and unbeaten in test series in five years, although Australia is in a strong position in the final test in Cape Town and appears on course to end South Africa's record and win this series 2-1.
Smith's decision to quit just over two months after allrounder Kallis announced his retirement on Christmas Day signals a "new era" in South African cricket, Lorgat said.
"I have been fortunate to have had many highs," Smith said, "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."
Wicketkeeper-batsman AB de Villiers, the one-day captain, will likely be the favorite to take over as test skipper.
Factbox on Graeme Smith, who announced he will be retiring from international cricket following the conclusion of South Africa's third test against Australia
* Born February 1, 1981 in Johannesburg
* Promising schoolboy cricketer at King Edward School in Johannesburg, picked for South Africa's under-19 team.
* Left-handed opener, who played his initial first-class cricket for Gauteng but soon moved to Cape Town at the age of 18 to play for Western Province.
*Test debut against Australia in 2002 at Newlands, one month after his 21st birthday. Scored 68 in the second innings, batting No 3, but South Africa lost.
*Took over as captain in his ninth test, with many sceptical about his leadership ability at age of 22. Won his first test as captain against Bangladesh by an innings and 60 runs.
* Made double centuries in consecutive tests - 277 at Edgbaston and 259 at Lords - on tour in England in 2003.
* His games as captain are 108 for South Africa and one for the ICC World XI against Australia in October 2005.
* Set a world record 415 for the first wicket with Neil McKenzie against Bangladesh at Chittagong in early 2008. They had finished day one with 405 runs, the most ever put on by a pair in a single day of test cricket without losing a wicket.
* Led South Africa to an away test series win over Australia in 2008 - their first home loss in almost two decades. His heroics in batting despite a broken hand in an attempt to save the third test won over many fans.
* Smith has led his side to 53 test victories, with a win percentage of 49.07. It is the most victories for a captain in test history.
* Wanted to relinquish the captaincy after the 2011 World Cup in India, where he took the rap for the team's brittle middle order, but was persuaded to stay on as test skipper by coach and former team mate Gary Kirsten.
* Led South Africa to test series wins over England and Australia in 2012 to confirm the country's status as the top test-playing nation.
* With one innings remaining in his test career, has scored 9,262 runs in 117 tests at an average of 48.49. It includes 27 test centuries. Has also taken eight wickets with his right arm off breaks.
- AP, Reuters
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