Rumour had it some while ago that Surrey were on the verge of signing Graeme Smith. I must admit to a certain amount of scepticism then and in the subsequent weeks but lo and behold this morning the club announced the capture of the South African captain on a three year deal.
Make no mistake, this is a massive coup. The Guardian have called it "arguably the most eye catching and significant piece of recruitment in a decade". We all know the turmoil that engulfed the club last year. We lost a captain, we lost a legend, we lost several other very talented players and to be perfectly frank we lost our way. Smith can be the factor that turns the club around, provided he is allowed sufficient control over matters.
For a player of his stature and experience to commit to a three year deal is hugely significant. He will be able to build on the existing squad under his captaincy and although he'll only be available for 10 Championship games next year (he remains a key player in South Africa's Test and ODI sides) in the years after that he will hopefully be available even more. Next June he has the Champions Trophy (6th June - 23rd June if South Africa make the final) and then a limited overs tour to Sri Lanka which involves five ODIs and three Twenty20s, which Smith hasn't partaken in at international level since October 2011.
From the outside Surrey looked to be floundering a little. The Hamilton-Brown affair reared its ugly head again with some comments from Chris Adams in the Sunday Times and all told there was a bit of a bitter taste in the mouth. The signing of Smith signals that we do mean business.
There remains a couple of issues with the playing staff. We have a whole heap of players in the latter stages of their careers (Keedy, Batty, Lewis, de Bruyn, Solanki) and a good chunk still starting out (Burns, Roy, Harinath, Ansari) with very little in between. There's also not a huge amount of competition in the batting, but without question Smith's arrival allays a fair few concerns. He will lead the side, he will open the batting and he brings a huge amount of experience.
There's also the not insignificant issue of who will captain the side in his absence. The Independent reports that he will select his vice captain once he has assessed the squad. Presumably Gareth Batty will be at the head of the queue, followed closely by de Bruyn, Solanki and previous VC Steven Davies.
I will be interested to see how Smith's appointment changes the balance of power at Surrey. It is well known that Adams and Hamilton-Brown had a very close relationship, the latter being recruited as skipper at the former's request. Whether that relationship got too comfortable is a matter for debate but Smith, as the most experienced captain in the history of test cricket, will be his own man. To my mind this can only be a good thing.
Smith's record barely needs any comment from me, suffice it to say it is outstanding. In ten years as captain of South Africa (remaining captain for ten years is no mean feat in itself) he's won 44 of 94 tests, losing just 26, he averages very nearly 50 as skipper and has scored 23 test hundreds.
It is fairly well known now that there was something of an outbreak of ill-discipline at Surrey in 2012. What the club need is a man who's going to come in and cut the crap, of all the players in world cricket Graeme Smith seems the ideal candidate to do just that.
Last but not least credit is due here to the senior management at the club, particularly Richards Gould and Thompson, the Chief Executive and Chairman respectively. Credit too to Alec Stewart, who apparently played a key role in making first contact with Smith to get the ball rolling.
All in all Surrey fans across the board will be delighted with this signing. Apart from anything else a player like Smith is as close to a guarantee of runs as is possible in county cricket. I can't wait to see him lead the side out in April next year.