LONDON: South Africa cricket captain Graeme Smith has joined Surrey as their new skipper, the English county announced on Thursday, in a move that will prompt fresh speculation about his international future.
Smith, currently leading the Proteas on their tour of Australia, will join Oval-based Surrey after the conclusion of South Africa's home series against Pakistan in March, in time for the start of the 2013 English domestic season.
The 31-year-old opener stood down as South Africa's one-day captain after last year's World Cup and no longer plays Twenty20 internationals.
But he insisted that he still wanted to continue representing his country, despite signing a three-year deal with Surrey.
“I am excited about what we can achieve at Surrey going forward and would like to state very clearly that I will balance my new role alongside my continuing commitments to the Proteas and I look forward to continuing to represent my country for many years to come,” he said in a statement issued by the First Division county.
Smith has been South Africa captain since 2003, having first led his country aged just 22, and this year guided the Proteas to the top of the world Test rankings after a series win in England.
It was at The Oval in June where Smith, who has been captain in an extraordinary 94 of his 102 Tests, became only the seventh player in history to score a hundred in his 100th Test, when he made 131.
He replaces Rory Hamilton-Brown who stood down as Surrey captain, and who has since joined Sussex, following the death of his friend and team-mate Tom Maynard in June.
Smith, who had initially played down reports of a move to the county, said: “I am excited to be joining such a professional and talented team, during what will hopefully prove to be a rewarding and successful period for Surrey CCC.
“When you consider the ambition shown it was an easy decision for myself and my family and I would like to thank Surrey County Cricket Club and Cricket South Africa for giving me the opportunity to lead the side and make it possible.”
The timing of the announcement could prove a distraction to the Proteas ahead of the start of a three-Test series against Australia in Brisbane a week on Friday.
In addition to his leadership qualities, left-hander Smith is widely regarded as one of the world's leading batsmen with a Test record of 8,314 runs at an average of just under 50, including 25 hundreds.
“Signing Graeme Smith on a three-year deal is a massive coup for Surrey CCC,” said team director and former England batsman Chris Adams.
“As well as being one of the best captains in the modern game, he is a phenomenal opening batsman and will lead by example from the top of the innings.
“By signing a three-year deal, Graeme has demonstrated his commitment to Surrey on a long-term basis and I look forward to working alongside him and the rest of our hugely talented squad to bring more silverware to this club in the near future.”