SHELDON MORAIS: Why can't we love Graeme Smith?
This is a love story, a tale of a conflicted, yet dutiful, supremely talented and tenacious young man who tried to win the heart of a nation. While he continues to court the fickle damsel during endless summers across the world, I fear this is one tale which may end with the words "begrudging respect", as opposed to "happily ever after". This is the tale of Graeme Craig Smith.
Graeme Smith was always destined to achieve the highest national honours and flirt with glory on an international stage. At the age of 22, he met a jaded woman (call her Susan Africa) - one still reeling from the deception of her blue-eyed boy Wessel Johannes Cronje, and the listless, somewhat dull, rebound relationship with all-round good guy Shaun Pollock.
He soon had her eating out of his hand - scoring two manly double centuries against England. He had broad shoulders on which he could carry her hopes for glory. He had the fighting spirit which she long admired in the men who dated her prettier, more glamorous contemporary Australia. But their relationship, while seemingly solid and set in stone, soon soured.
No matter how many test hundreds he scored in her name (25 to date), no matter how many foreign suitors he vanquished on cricket pitches across the world (including winning a series in Australia), no matter how many trinkets he won in the test arena fair (11 man-of-the-match prizes - only the colossal Jacques Kallis has more, 23), she just wouldn't love him.
Was it his sullen moodiness? Was it his ordinary smile? Was it his intimidating frame? Was it his lack of flair? She could never quite put her finger on it. Maybe Susan Africa secretly eyed AB, his boyish friend with a twinkle in his eye, or his devilish opening partner Herschelle or the clean-cut Hashim.
Graeme, too, had his flaws. He seemed somewhat sensitive for a man blessed with the tenacity and will to bludgeon opponents into submission and to bat with a broken hand (eliciting a standing ovation at the Sydney Cricket Ground). He feared his whimsical lover, famously fleeing to Ireland after another World Cup failure, rather than face her wrath at home.
But he remained loyal to Susan Africa, even in the face of derision and calls for him to be thrown to the scrap heap in early 2012. Recently he celebrated his 100th test with a characteristic century, but his achievement was overshadowed by the charms of the incredible Hashim, who shattered a record Graeme once held. Susan gave him no more than a notary nod and a smile, before pulling Hashim to her bosom.
Despite Graeme's virtues and his unquestionable record, Susan has shown little sign that she will give her heart to him in the way that he undoubtedly craves. He will continue to strive and will reach the pantheon of cricket's greats, but the most he is ever likely to receive from Susan is her begrudging respect, never her undying love.
Sheldon Morais is the Online Editor for Eyewitness News. Follow him on Twitter @SheldonMorais