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  • South Africa v Australia, 3rd Test

Smith falls for three in final innings

Firdose Moonda in Cape Town
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Graeme Smith walks back after falling for 3 in his final innings © Getty Images
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Three runs, three balls and 16 minutes.

Not numbers that will remembered with the same sentiment as 277, 259 or 234 - Graeme Smith's most significant double-hundreds - but ones that could resonate as much. Those are the statistics of his final Test innings.

They are indicative of a troubled series in which Smith scored just 45 runs in six innings, and perhaps explain why he is walking away.

Smith has run out. Literally. Scores were not being stacked up through usual his usual determination but criticism was. Enough became enough. Smith wanted to be unburdened.

Following last night's announcement, he looked as though the load had already left him in the field. He was sauntering about while David Warner was mounting a challenge so steep, it would require South Africa's best mountaineering effort to climb. When restricting Warner became impossible, Smith sent all his men to the boundary. He stationed himself at long on, where he signed autographs and took photographs while he peeped over his shoulder to see when the next ball would be bowled.

Even though South Africa were being batted out of the game, Smith looked untroubled. He smiled, he waved his arms - some wondered whether he would bowl - he stretched his legs and touched his toes, he jumped about and applauded on occasion. He seemed to be having fun.

When Michael Clarke called his troops in with Australia's lead at 510, the enjoyment stopped. Smith would have known that unless he started well, it would be difficult for South Africa to get themselves up for one of their toughest asks. All the responsibility and expectation that he soon will leave behind were on his shoulders one more time.

That may have been difficult to stomach when there was a moment to savour ahead of him. Smith walked out to be honoured the same way he honoured others before him. As a man who values tradition so much, this must have been one he wanted to experience.

The Australians aborted their warm-ups when they saw Smith at the top of the dressing-room staircase. They formed two lines. The guard of honour. Smith skipped down onto the field and reached Michael Clarke. For the duration of a handshake, the two men were not on opposing sides. They were two cricketers and between them there was only respect.

Smith walked through the passage and to the pitch. His pitch. The pitch he has played on since he was 18 years old. There was no one else close to him because Australia were in a huddle and his opening partner, Alviro Petersen, was still far behind. Smith could take ownership of the strip one last time.

He hopped about, tapped the ground and practiced his forward defence. Petersen got there; they shook hands and bumped shoulders. Mark Boucher and Jacques Kallis, both recent retirees, looked on. Game time.

Petersen took strike. Smith had done so in the first innings and the pair always alternate. Petersen faced five deliveries before they ran three and it was Smith's turn. Ryan Harris bowled a shortish one, Smith moved back and across and defended. The battle had begun in subdued fashion.

In the next over Smith came face to face with the man who has caused his problems in this series. He was facing Mitchell Johnson's second delivery. It was short and aimed at the ribs. Smith kept it out and found the gap. Three runs. By the next time he faced Johnson, Petersen had been trapped lbw and Smith had rightly told him not to review, and Dean Elgar had seen off five deliveries.

As he has done all series, Johnson dug it in short, Smith inside-edged and Alex Doolan at short leg caught it. By the time Doolan's fingers were wrapped around the ball, Smith had already tucked his bat under his arm and begun the walk back.

He strode as though he was going somewhere. Quickly. Australia's celebrations had started and stopped. Johnson and Clarke had begun their appreciative applause for the South African captain and Smith just kept walking. For a second, it seemed as though he would not stop.

Then he turned around. Helmet in one hand, bat in the other. He waved to every part of the ground. He concentrated on an area in the president's pavilion where his parents and friends were. He waved goodbye. He stood still and soaked it all in.

A blink later, he disappeared. That was the last time Graeme Smith batted for South Africa. Three runs, three balls and 16 minutes.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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