Friday at The Wanderers, South Africa's biggest and grandest cricket stadium, will not be an ordinary day. It will be a special day because South African captain Graeme Smith will turn 32 and lead for the 100th time in Tests. No wonder then that Cricket South Africa has gone to town celebrating the achievement, even terming the first day's play against Pakistan in Johannesburg as 'Biff Day', after Smith's nickname.
100 Test matches as captain. It is an amazing achievement. In those 100 Tests in charge - 98 for South Africa, two for the ICC World XI - Smith has shaped himself into a leader of men, a gritty, bare-knuckled batsman and proven match-winner. Smith has captained his country since the age of 22 and who has been credited with, more than the 8624 runs he has scored in Test cricket, instilling in the South African team a sense of belief, on and off the field, which has carried them to the ICC's No. 1 ranking - twice.
He has led his country to Test series wins in Australia (twice), England (twice), 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 (thrice), West Indies (twice), Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.
Here's a look at some of Smith's most memorable Test victories in charge of South Africa:
2nd Test, Lord's, 2003 - South Africa won by an innings and 92 runs
With a marathon innings at Lord's, Smith proved that he belonged at the top. He batted nine hours and 34 minutes, 370 balls and hit 34 fours in scoring 259, five more than Don Bradman's 73-year-old record for an overseas player at Lord's. South Africa piled up a record 682 for 6 and then, having inflicted on England their largest first-innings deficit (509), hammered the hosts into the ground.
3rd Test, Cape Town, 2007 - South Africa won by five wickets
Smith termed this win as one of the highlights of his career. After losing the first Test to India by 123 runs, South Africa had been shocked. They leveled the series in Durban, and with Smith leading the way on the final day at Newlands with an attacking 55, the hosts became just the second South African side, and eighth in Test history, to win a three-Test series after going 1-0 down.
1st Test, Karachi, 2007 - South African won by 160 runs
As acknowledged by Smith after this landmark win, South Africa worked "really hard" to beat Pakistan. Victory gave the visitors their first Test win in the subcontinent against major opposition for over seven years, and that it came in searing conditions and on a spin-friendly track made it all the more special for Smith. It proved a series-winning win too, as the second Test in Lahore was drawn.
1st Test, Ahmedabad, 2008 - South Africa won by an innings and 90 runs
South Africa dominated this Test from the first session on a green-tinged Motera surface, when they bowled India out for 77. Led by de Villiers' sparkling 217, South Africa batted India out of the contest and swept to an innings-and-90-run victory inside three days.
2nd Test, Lord's, 2008 - South Africa won by eight wickets
South Africa, true to their word, bounced back from a draw in the first Test with an emphatic win at Lord's that put them 1-0 up in the four-match series. The win came inside four days and made Smith
South Africa's most successful Test captain, overtaking Hansie Cronje, with 28 victories.
3rd Test, Birmingham, 2008 - South Africa won by five wickets
"Ever since readmission, we have really strived for victory in England and have always been disappointed. It's bigger than just us, this victory, and so I have to say it's my best," said Smith after steering South Africa to a series win at Edgbaston on the fifth day. His epic 154 not out sealed a chase of 281 from 93 for 4 and delivered South Africa's first series win in England for 43 years.
1st Test, Perth, 2008 - South Africa won by six wickets
Another awesome win for South Africa under Smith, and what an unforgettable one. Spurred by Smith's 108 from the depths of 15 for 3, and then driven by excellent innings from AB de Villiers and JP Duminy, South Africa sealed a record-breaking chase of 414 on the final day to stun Australia, the No. 1 side. It gave the visitors an invaluable 1-0 lead in the three-match series. "I think the emotions that we felt through this game, where we were and the way we came back, everyone has contributed so from that perspective it's got to be a great Test win for South Africa. It's got to go up there with my best wins ever," beamed Smith.
2nd Test, Adelaide, 2008 - South Africa won by nine wickets
South African cricket's "greatest year", as Smith termed it, was capped with an epic win at the Adelaide Oval which gave them their first series win in Australia. Not surprisingly, Smith was at the forefront of a nine-wicket with a steely 75 - he made 62 in the first innings - and he finished 2012 as the leading run-getter. Sitting next to the Man of the Match for ten wickets, Dale Steyn, Smith noted that the balance of power in cricket was evening out. A slice of the credit for that shift was due to him.
4th Test, Johannesburg, 2010 - South Africa won by an innings and 74 runs
Smith's team needed a win at The Wanderers to level the series and duly achieved that to deny England what would have been a famous overseas victory. Yet again the captain played a role in setting up victory with 105, the only century of the match. Steyn and Morne Morkel combined for 14 wickets and shared the Man-of-the-Match prize to help South Africa retain the Basil D'Olivera Trophy. After a rocky 12 months, this win reminded critics what South Africa were capable of. Justice, as Smith noted, had been served.
1st Test, Nagpur, 2010 - South Africa won by an innings and six runs
Going into the two-match series, long-time coach Mickey Arthur had stepped down and Cricket South Africa sacked the entire selection panel. Against this troublesome backdrop, South Africa took an unassailable series lead in Nagpur with a win that gave Smith much confidence. Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis played huge innings and Steyn snuffed India out with 7 for 51 in their first innings.
1st Test, Cape Town, 2011 - South Africa won by eight wickets
"Today, hopefully, I've won a few people over," said Smith after steering South Africa to a famous victory with another century, during which he claimed the record for most runs in successful fourth-innings chases. Victory over Australia came near the end of a difficult year for South Africa, but it helped endear the fans to the team and their captain. This was the unforgettable match in which South Africa, having been bowled out for 96 in their first innings, blew Australia away for 47 and chased a target of 236 with eight wickets remaining for a 1-0 series lead.
1st Test, The Oval, 2012 - South Africa won by an innings and 12 runs
Smith marked his 100th Test with a big win which put South Africa up 1-0 and one step closer to the No. 1 ranking, while leaving his touch with a fine 131. Amla's record triple-century shoved England out of the match, and for only the fifth time in Test history a team won a match losing just two wickets. "It's an extremely proud moment for all of us," said Smith. "To achieve a victory in what is the first Test of what is a big series, and play as well as we have ... in the context of the first innings to come back and win the game is an incredible achievement."
3rd Test, Lord's, 2012 - South Africa won by 51 runs
South Africa snatched the No. 1 title from England with another dominating performance, a "wonderful" triumph that put Smith and his team on top of the world. It was a tough win shaped by Amla's batting and solid work from the three fast bowlers. "Hopefully we can push forward and take control," said a relieved Smith after the series.
3rd Test, Perth, 2012 - South Africa won by 309 runs
Before the year was up, Smith captained South Africa to a Test series win in Australia. No other South African captain had managed even one series win Down Under. Victory at the WACA confirmed South Africa as the No. 1 team, and an "extremely humbled" Smith admitted that this success meant the world for the team.
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