Surrey have pulled off one of the most eye-catching deals in recent county cricket history by clinching the signing of South Africa captain Graeme Smith on a three-year contract.
Smith, who has spent the last nine years as his country’s Test skipper, will move to The Kia Oval at the start of next summer and joins Surrey as club captain, replacing Rory Hamilton-Brown, who has rejoined Sussex.
Smith is well-known to English cricket fans for bringing an end to the eras of three Test captains on his last three tours. Both Nasser Hussain and Michael Vaughan relinquished the captaincy during the 2003 and 2008 series’ respectively, while Andrew Strauss resigned from all cricket in August shortly after Smith’s side took the three-match contest and replaced England at the top of the ICC Test standings.
Kevin Pietersen, a verbal and sporting sparring partner for Smith for many years, is also a Surrey player. Pietersen's England duties mean he is unlikely to play county cricket regularly but it will be fascinating to see how Smith approaches the challenge of captaining a man who once described him publicly as "a muppet".
Smith will not play in the Indian Premier League during the first year of his contract, and at this stage, it is thought he is unlikely to do so in either of the next two years. He is scheduled to start life at Surrey in March and as he is likely to be selected for the Champions Trophy, he would play in county matches in April and May before linking up with the South Africa squad for the tournament in England in June.
If the Proteas reach the final, Smith would be away from Surrey until June 23. He then intends to return to county action until the end of the summer. The postponement of South Africa’s three-Test series against Sri Lanka, originally scheduled for next July, until June 2015 means Smith will have more time to devote to his new job. Surrey sources insist that there is no sponsorship tie-in to enhance Smith’s financial package and that the opening batsman’s salary will fit into the current wage structure.
Smith was quick to emphasise that his decision to join Surrey would not affect his international commitments. He said: “Although I am excited about what we can achieve at Surrey, I would like to state very clearly that my new role will not affect my commitments to the Proteas in any way. I look forward to continuing to represent my country for many years to come.
“I am excited to be joining such a professional and talented team, during what will hopefully prove to be a rewarding and successful period for Surrey. When you consider the ambition shown, it was an easy decision for my family and me.
“I would like to thank Surrey and Cricket South Africa for giving me the opportunity to lead the side and for making it possible.”
Both Surrey and Smith hope that the presence of such a successful international skipper will inspire immediate respect within a young, talented but sometimes erratic squad. Although there is plenty of ability within the Surrey ranks, the application of some players has been questioned, and the idea is that Smith should be able to improve any bad habits.
The location is also handy for Smith. The 31-year-old’s wife, Morgan, is Irish, and the move to London allows the couple and their three-month-old daughter to be closer to Morgan’s family.
Smith will chose his vice-captain after assessing his new team-mates. His record should certainly inspire immediate respect: in
104 Tests he has scored 8,314 runs at an average of 49.78 including 25 centuries, placing him 14th on the all-time list of Test century makers.Surrey’s team director Chris Adams added: “ Signing Graeme Smith on a three year deal is a massive coup for Surrey. As well as being one of the best captains in the modern game, he is a phenomenal opening batsman and will lead by example from the top of the innings.
“By signing a three year deal, Graeme has demonstrated his commitment to Surrey on a long term basis and I look forward to working alongside him and the rest of our hugely talented squad to bring more silverware to this club in the near future."