Durban (S. Africa), Dec. 26 (ANI): Cricket South Africa's decision to zero in on Graeme Smith as captain in March, 2003, when he had just turned 22, has proved to be the most inspired choice ever made.
At that time, the selection looked an odd fit. Smith was unworldly, but grew up quickly.
According to the Courier Mail, Smith developed so quickly that he was asked to lead a World XI in a Test against Australia just two years after being made South African captain.
At the age of 12 he had put a note on the family fridge predicting he would one day captain South Africa.
Smith deserves to be remembered as the player of the decade, not so much for his excellent batting but for having the poise to grow from a boy to a man under the unique pressures of leading the Rainbow Nation.
No Australian could ever hope to fully understand the complexities of captaining a South African cricket side that has featured crushing pressures of racial quotas.
Smith somehow piloted his way through it to lead his side to wins against Australia in Australia, England in England and Pakistan in Pakistan.
There were moments of humiliation along the way for Smith with Stephen Fleming taunting him and playing him off a break on one New Zealand tour.
England captain Michael Vaughan called him "the witless" Smith, Kevin Pietersen branded him a Muppet and another time after he sledged Shane Warne in Australia the move horribly rebounded on him and his side.
But he never lost faith in himself or his team and has managed to average about 50 while at one stage taking them to the top of the world rankings.
Matthew Hayden, who roared to prominence with 86 Tests in a row, is another obvious inclusion in the decade's top 10. His hot streak of 16 centuries from 31 games was one of the outstanding highlights of a decade in which he scored more centuries than any other player bar Ricky Ponting and hit more sixes than all but Adam Gilchrist.
He brought a new style of power hitting to the top of the order, which rocked rival attacks around the world.
Ponting, with 9364 runs at 58, was the most prolific batsman of the decade.
He averages just less than 1000 runs a year - extraordinary progress. He lost the Ashes twice as captain so cannot be rated top of the heap but he will always be remembered as one of the supreme batsman of this - or any - era.
Gilchrist gets a regal rating at No.2 because he changed the game with a strike rate of 82 runs per 100 balls, which made him the most powerful force the game has known.
Even a hurricane called Virender Sehwag averages slightly less than Gilchrist from 100 balls while noted strike forces Kevin Pietersen and Chris Gayle trail well behind.
No longer did Test match tails start at No.7 and when he left keepers around the world were forced to prove themselves as batsmen because of how far he had lifted the bar.
The cricket world has struggled in the wake of Gilchrist's retirement to get the balance between batting and keeping right.
South African allrounder Jacques Kallis was the only player chosen on numbers because his numbers simply smack you over the head.
At some point cricket is going to have to concede that statistically he loses nothing in comparison to the great Sir Garfield Sobers even if he has a quarter of the charisma.
Mike Atherton may be right that Kallis goes with rather than changes the flow of a game but he has been so good for so long you can only dip your lid to his achievements. To take more than 200 wickets with his seamers on top of his 10,000-plus runs makes him a non-negotiable entry.
Muttiah Muralidaran, the little Sri Lankan who took about 50 percent more wickets than any other bowler, is another essential inclusion.
Glenn McGrath gets a gong not simply because his returns were as pristine as always but because of the way he finished his career.
For a 37-year-old fast bowler to sign off from international cricket with a Man of the Tournament award in the 2007 World Cup proved him to be one of the most remarkable fast men to have played the game.
Sachin Tendulkar gets there partly because he simply survived the decade in solid shape. He may not be the batsman he was but to extend his international career into a third decade stamps him as a freakish talent.
The top 10 of the decade are:
1. Graeme Smith
2. Adam Gilchrist
3. Muttiah Muralidaran
10w match 20
5w innings 49
4. Shane Warne
10w match 6
5w innings 21
5. Ricky Ponting
6. Matthew Hayden
7. Glenn McGrath
10w match 2
5w innings 14
8. Jacques Kallis
5w innings 4
9. Andrew Flintoff
5w innings 3
10. Sachin Tendulkar
100s 21 (ANI)