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Graeme Smith aims to leave a lasting legacy at Surrey by establishing a winning culture akin to the one which has led his South Africa team to the top of the Test rankings.
The 32-year-old’s arrival at the Kia Oval on a three-year deal was undoubtedly the biggest coup of the domestic off-season as the LV= County Championship Division One team brought in a captain who has led the Rainbow Nation on over 100 occasions in the longest form of the game.
After becoming the most prolific skipper in international history, Smith knows he now faces a ‘unique challenge’ to turn his new team into a force that regularly challenges for honours, while also continuing Surrey’s rich tradition of developing future England players.
“I’d love to think that I’m able to perform well and if I can take Surrey and the current crop of players to a successful thing then it’s good for the English game,” Smith said.
“It’s a club of huge stature and English cricket needs Surrey to be strong. I think the club has certainly outlined the fact they want to be successful, want to win trophies; but also they want to produce players for England so if I can play a part in that, great.
“If I can bring more exposure to first-class cricket then good. It’s a crucial part of developing high-class cricketers, especially from a youngster’s point of view.”
In signing Smith, Surrey have not just brought in an opening batsman of world-class ability – he currently averages 48.62 in the five-day arena – they have added an excellent leader of men.
He was thrust into the role of South Africa captain as a mere 22-year-old and far from overawed by the challenge, as English cricket fans all too well. He was at the reins both last year and in 2008 when the Proteas left these shores with series victories. Clearly Smith knows a thing or two about the art of captaincy.
“You need to build that trust and the relationships with your players and have the ability to get the best out of them, that’s the key,” added Smith.
“In South Africa I’ve had that chance. I’ve had the chance to grow and develop people and that’s going to be the important part (at Surrey). The key thing is also walking the walk, you need to be able to perform. I think that’s something I’ve done well.
“The proudest thing in my career is captaining for 10 years, opening the batting and still being able to maintain that performance. That’s something I would love to carry on.”
His acquisition is not the only splash the Kia Oval tenants have made. Australian legend Ricky Ponting, one of the few men who could rival Smith’s experience at the highest level, will arrive during the Champions Trophy period, when Surrey’s captain is set to be on international duty. And veterans Vikram Solanki and Gary Keedy, who at the combined age of 75 are well versed in the nuances of county cricket, will no doubt serve as Smith’s able deputies.
But to hear Smith talk of his new project, he could easily be mistaken for the fledgling who first appeared on the county circuit at his new home against Surrey for Somerset in 1999.
“This is a unique challenge for me,” he added. “I’ve been South Africa captain for 10 years but I felt it worked out perfectly – the chance for me to come in here.
“Also from a personal perspective if after three years we can do something good, we can say ‘right, that’s another feather in the cap’.
“That’s something that I’d want to do. It’s a unique challenge to take on a three-year deal, not a short-term space. The amount of cricket is going to be a unique challenge so it’s all new and I’m adapting as I go.”
Smith has spent his entire career rising to meet challenges and there is perhaps nobody better for Surrey to turn towards in their bid to dominate the domestic scene.
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