Graeme Smith has announced that he will retire from international cricket at the end of the ongoing third and final Test match against Australia in Cape Town.
The announcement, which has come as a surprise to many in the game, will bring to an end a career in which he has played 345 matches for his country.
The left-handed opener was made captain of South Africa at the age of 22 in 2003, twice leading them to the summit of the ICC Test rankings.
His retirement comes just months after Jacques Kallis also decided to end his involvement in the game.
Graeme Smith - Leading From The Front
Graeme Smith was made captain of his country in 2003, at the age of just 22, following a disastrous World Cup on home soil.
Although he was never able to take South Africa even so far as a final of a global limited overs tournament, he led his side to an era of sustained success, particularly in Test cricket.
In just his second series as captain, he struck innings of 277 and 259 against England in 2003.
He captained South Africa as they chased down 435 to beat Australia in a famous ODI in 2006.
In 2008, a brilliant unbeaten 154 not out guided his team to a series-clinching win over England at Edgbaston.
Later that year, he led South Africa to Australia, where they would win the Test series 2-1 as they asserted themselves as the world's leading side in five-day cricket.
After India and then England overtook them, Smith's South Africa regained number one status in 2012.
In all, Smith has played 115 Tests for South Africa, scoring 9,245 runs with 27 centuries, 196 One-Day Internationals, in which he has scored 6,989 runs as well as 33 Twenty20 Internationals.
He also played in the one-off ICC Super Series Test for the World XI against Australia in 2005 and one ODI for the African XI in the same year.
Having told his team-mates of his decision shortly after the close of day three of the decisive third Test at Newlands, Smith issued the following statement:
"This has been the most difficult decision I have ever had to make in my life.
"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.
"I have always been someone who has left everything out there on the field for my team and for my country.
"I'm extremely honoured and proud to have had the privilege to lead so many wonderful players and to have been a part of building the Proteas culture to what it is today.
"It is a culture that every player can be, and is, immensely proud of.
"I would like to express my deepest gratitude to the support from my parents and brother, my wife and children, my friends, my fans and to Cricket South Africa.
"I thank and honour the players who I have played with and those who have supported me and helped me to be the person and captain I am today.
"I have been fortunate to have had many highs, 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," the 33-year-old added.
No player has ever led their country in more Test matches - 108 - than Smith has.
Paying tribute, Cricket South Africa (CSA) Chief Executive Haroon Lorgat fondly remembered some of Smith's finest achievements.
"Although Graeme's decision to retire from all forms of international cricket comes as a surprise to all of us, we must respect him for deciding to call time," he 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.
"He has captained the Proteas for more than a decade and he will draw a lot more satisfaction from the fact that he leaves our Test team at the top of the world and in such good health rather than from all the personal records he has achieved as the longest-serving captain the game has ever seen in the demanding Test format. He also led South Africa to the World Cup semi-final in 2007.
Graeme Smith's appearances, team-by-team
Tests: 117 (116 for South Africa, 1 for ICC World XI)*
ODIs: 197 (196 for South Africa, 1 for African XI)
T20Is: 33 (all for South Africa)
TOTAL: 347 internationals (345 for South Africa)
First-class matches: 160 (116 for South Africa, 17 for Western Province, 8 for South Africans, 6 for South Africa 'A', 4 for Somerset, 3 for Surrey & Western Province Board, 1 each for Cape Cobras, ICC World XI, & United Cricket Board of Africa Invitation XI)*
One-day games: 259 (196 for South Africa, 31 for Western Province, 9 for Cape Cobras, 6 for South Africans, 5 for Somerset, 4 for South Africa 'A', 3 for Gauteng, 2 for Board President's XI, 1 each for African XI, Hampshire Cricket Board & Surrey)
Twenty20 games: 84 (33 for South Africa, 25 for Rajasthan Royals, 11 for Somerset, 8 for Cape Cobras, 4 for Pune Warriors & 3 for Western Province Boland)
TOTAL: 503 matches
* includes ongoing third Test v Australia
"I would like us to remember Graeme for his nerves of steel and his match-winning performances that were synonymous with some of the most remarkable fourth innings victory chases of all time.
"These included setting up the 414 runs chase against Australia at Perth and his series-clinching innings at Edgbaston in 2008, not to mention the unbeaten century the last time he faced Australia at Sahara Park Newlands in 2011.
"His role in setting up the famous 438 win over Australia in 2006 was also a performance never to be forgotten.
"He can leave the game with pride and he thoroughly deserves the gratitude of our nation for leading the Proteas with much distinction.
"From a personal point of view I am thrilled that I was part of the panel that appointed him captain in 2003 when his first major assignment was a tough tour to England and I feel privileged to see him now move on to the next stage of his career.
"He has been a mighty warrior, a leader of men and an exceptional part of our international cricket."
"Following the recent retirement of Jacques Kallis from Test cricket, there is no doubt that we are now ready to move into a new era and it is our job to build on the solid foundations that these great players leave behind."
"Smith made his first-class debut for South Africa at the age of 21, and ends his illustrious career with 17 228 International runs and as the most capped Test captain in the history of the game."
Clockwise, from left: Smith hits out during the 2007 World Cup, celebrating reaching number one in the world again in 2012, beating England in 2012, during his innings of 259 at Lord's in 2003, beating Australia in 'that' ODI in 2006, dismissed while leading the ICC World XI, celebrating his century at Edgbaston in 2003, and with Morne Morkel.
Centre: waiting to bat against Australia.
Images © REUTERS / Action Images
Another great leaves the international circuit @GraemeSmith49 what a legend. Huge loss for SA .— Azhar Mahmood (@AzharMahmood11) March 3, 2014
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