Graeme Smith receives a guard of honour from the Australians after his last international Test innings at Newlands on Tuesday. Photo: Luigi Bennett

Just before 3pm on Tuesday and well before the hour seemed decent, Graeme Smith left world cricket with a sigh of a shot off his hip and an emotional farewell from Newlands. His teammates rushed to shake his hand as the Australians stood at the end he’d been dismissed and gave him an ovation.

There were tears. At the bar, a man spoke a truth: “We have no idea how much we are going to miss him.”

Many do. Few do not.

Those who have played with him, against him, and who have watched a career that has scaled heights, found lows and ridden a rollercoaster that settled when he became at peace with himself and his place in the world.

The young man who took the reins of a team who had challenges no other Test captain could comprehend, had retired as a young man, barely into his thirties, an 11-year career ended with years to run. Yesterday was almost 11 years to the day Haroon Lorgat, now chief executive of Cricket SA, then a selector, said the decision to give the job to Smith was “somewhat of a gamble”. As gambles go, it wasn’t a bad one. Yesterday, he spoke of how they had been impressed with him when they met him at Newlands in 2003.

“We knew Graeme had the attitude leaders are made of. He didn’t have the benefit of age or experience. When you looked him in the eye, when you spoke with him, it was apparent that here was a chap who could make it.”

In 11 years, he won, lost, fought, erred, argued, muscled, finessed, sighed and, most importantly, loved in different ways and at different times. He leaves the sport with honour, respect and an incredible record. He’s a captain for the ages, a player to be respected and a proud South African who should be honoured and celebrated.