Graeme Smith announced his sudden retirement from international cricket on Monday, ending the career of the most experienced test captain and South African cricket's savior.
Smith resurrected the team from the match-fixing scandal involving former skipper Hansie Cronje and a disastrous World Cup on home soil in 2003.
Smith, given control of the underperforming and fiercely criticized national team at 22, went on to play over 100 tests, was captain for more than a decade and established South Africa as the No. 1 test team in the world, although he couldn't end the country's long wait for a World Cup title.
''This has been the most difficult decision I have ever had to make in my life,'' Smith said in a statement through Cricket South Africa.
He told teammates after the third day of the ongoing third test against Australia at his home ground Newlands in Cape Town that he was retiring after the match.
''It's a decision that I have been considering since my ankle surgery in April last year,'' he said. ''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 said it was surprised by Smith's announcement but recognized him as ''one of the true legends of the game.'' It follows the sudden announcement by allrounder Jacques Kallis to quit tests late last year.
''We must respect him for deciding to call time,'' CSA chief executive Haroon Lorgat said of Smith. ''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.''
The 33-year-old Smith appears to be heading for a defeat against the Australians in his final test, a result that would end the Proteas' five-year unbeaten run in test series.
He will give up all internationals after his 117th test, against the same opponents and on the same ground where he made his debut almost to the day, on March 8, 2002. He also played 197 one-day internationals, and scored over 9,000 test runs and 6,989 ODI runs.
Wicketkeeper-batsman AB de Villiers, the one-day captain, will likely be the favorite to take over as test skipper.
Smith's decision to quit just over two months after the long-serving