South Africa skipper Graeme Smith holds the world record for most Test matches as captain. Reuters

When Mark Boucher retired in 2012, it felt like the end of an era for South Africa, and much more so when arguably the greatest South African cricketer of all-time Jacques Kallis called it a day after the Boxing Day Test match against India in 2013.

The retirements just keep coming, as South Africa witnessed another legend, an ever-present in the Proteas side, announce his retirement from the game, with Graeme Smith, rather abruptly, but perhaps not too surprisingly, revealing the ongoing third Test in Cape Town against Australia would be his final match in international cricket.

"This has been the most difficult decision I have ever had to make in my life," Smith said in a statement. "It's a decision that I have been considering since my ankle surgery in April last year. I have a young family to consider, and I felt that retiring at Newlands would be the best way to end it because I have called this place home since I was 18 years-old.

"I have always been someone who has left everything out there on the field for my team and for my country. I'm extremely honoured and proud to have had the privilege to lead so many wonderful players and to have been a part of building the Proteas culture to what it is today. It is a culture that every player can be, and is, immensely proud of.

"I would like to express my deepest gratitude to the support from my parents and brother, my wife and children, my friends, my sponsors, my fans and to Cricket South Africa. I thank and honour the players who I have played with and those who have supported me and helped me to be the person and captain I am today.

"I have been fortunate to have had many highs, amongst them leading and being part of the best Test team in the world. I will cherish these memories for the rest of my life. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I bid my career a fond yet sad farewell."

Smith has dropped hints of quitting the game for some time now, with the captain admitting he was missing his family while on South Africa duty. Regardless of his recent form, which has not been as bad as has been portrayed, Smith, 33, will be remembered as one of the great captains of the Proteas, having been at the helm since 2003.

The left-handed opener represented South Africa in 116 Tests, 197 ODIs and 33 T20Is, with the bulk of those matches coming as captain.

Smith led South Africa in a massive 109 Tests, a world record, and guided them to the world's No.1 ranking, a position they haven't relinquished for nearly two years.

"Although Graeme's decision to retire from all forms of international cricket comes as a surprise to all of us, we must respect him for deciding to call time," CSA chief executive Haroon Lorgat said. "Knowing him as well as I do, having been instrumental as a selector in appointing him as a young captain, he would not have taken this decision lightly or without a great deal of thought.

"He has captained the Proteas for more than a decade and he will draw a lot more satisfaction from the fact that he leaves our Test team at the top of the world and in such good health rather than from all the personal records he has achieved as the longest-serving captain the game has ever seen in the demanding Test format. He also led South Africa to the World Cup semifinal in 2007.

"I would like us to remember Graeme for his nerves of steel and his match-winning performances that were synonymous with some of the most remarkable fourth innings victory chases of all time. These included setting up the 414 runs chase against Australia at Perth and his series-clinching innings at Edgbaston in 2008, not to mention the unbeaten century the last time he faced Australia at Sahara Park Newlands in 2011.

"His role in setting up the famous 438 win over Australia in 2006 was also a performance never to be forgotten.

"He can leave the game with pride and he thoroughly deserves the gratitude of our nation for leading the Proteas with much distinction. From a personal point of view I am thrilled that I was part of the panel that appointed him captain in 2003 when his first major assignment was a tough tour to England and I feel privileged to see him now move on to the next stage of his career. He has been a mighty warrior, a leader of men and an exceptional part of our international cricket.

"Following the recent retirement of Jacques Kallis from Test cricket, there is no doubt that we are now ready to move into a new era and it is our job to build on the solid foundations that these great players leave behind."

"Smith made his first-class debut for South Africa at the age of 21, and ends his illustrious career with 17,228 international runs and as the most capped Test captain in the history of the game."

South Africa face an uphill battle to just save the Test and end the series level with Australia; but with a little more motivation following the massive announcement, the Proteas will push that extra mile, like they did in Kallis' final Test, to ensure Smith ends his illustrious career on a high.