The 2011 World Cup will provide a last tilt at one-day glory for Graeme Smith in his role as South African captain.
Smith announced last year that he would give up his country’s one-day captaincy after the World Cup although he will continue as Test skipper.
Since being appointed captain when Shaun Pollock was fired after South Africa’s disastrous 2003 World Cup campaign on home soil, Smith has been at the helm of some notable triumphs, including Test series wins in England and Australia.
He has led South Africa in more Tests (82) and one-day internationals (142) than anyone else.
But victory in an International Cricket Council event has eluded South Africa despite the country reaching the number one spot in the ODI rankings and some impressive performances in bilateral series.
Only four of the squad that reached the semifinals in 2007 have survived for this campaign and Smith will lead a side which does not have obvious championship credentials.
But in a tournament which boils down to a frenetic climax of knock-out matches over the last 11 days, following a month of group games, any team led by Smith should not be underestimated.
His career is studded with match-winning personal performances that sometimes seem to owe as much to willpower as his undoubted talent as a hard-hitting, left-handed opening batsman.
Smith hammered 151 in a Test against Pakistan just three days after the disappointment of being left out of his country’s squad for the 2003 World Cup.
He eventually did play in the tournament when Jonty Rhodes was forced out by injury.
There were some who felt he might be too young when he was appointed captain at the age of 22, but he immediately showed he had the character to rise to the challenge, hitting a South African Test record 277 and 259 in successive matches in the first two matches of a series in England just months later.
Other notable Test performances include centuries in the run chase that sealed a series win in England and another when South Africa successfully hunted down a victory target of 414 against Australia in Perth on the way to another series win.
One-day achievements include a dazzling innings of 90 off 55 balls as he and Herschelle Gibbs gave South Africa the start they needed in an amazing chase to a world record total of 438 in Johannesburg in 2006.
Smith’s style is to lead from the front with his own wholehearted effort, whether with the bat or in the field.
Tactically he tends to be conservative, but even when he was the youngest man in the team he earned the respect and support of his players.
He is typically upbeat about South Africa’s prospects for the World Cup, turning uncertainty about the composition of the ideal starting line-up into a positive.
“It’s the first time that I can recall us going to a World Cup with a lot of different options,” he said.
“We don’t go there with a set eleven in mind, we will pick the best combination for each game.”
Smith said South Africa’s performance in coming from behind to beat India 3-2 recently would give the side confidence going into the World Cup, although he admitted that conditions in the sub-continent would be different to those at home.
He also acknowledged that there had been some poor decision making, particularly by the batsmen, against India, leading to embarrassing collapses in three of the matches.
The most obvious way for South Africa to avoid such wobbles at the World Cup will be for Smith himself to be the dominant batsman.
Follow Emirates 24|7 on Google News.