England was once the making of Graeme Smith. Two test double hundreds in his first extended international tour helped propel him to the summit of the South African batting order. Having captained The Proteas to a record 50 victories and guided his country to the top of the world test rankings, Smith returns a decade on as Surrey captain on a three-year deal, hoping he can be the making of the new England, a production line out of The Oval which has slowed in recent years.

"I would like to think I can perform well and hopefully I can lead Surrey, and the current crop of players, to success," said Smith, who will make his debut in the Division One opener against Somerset on Wednesday. "It's a club of huge stature and tradition and English cricket needs Surrey to be strong.

"The club have certainly outlined that they want to be successful, that they want to be a club who can produce players for England, and if I can play a role in that then good.

"I think it's a part of the game to develop high standard cricketersespecially from the youngsters point of view you want to be pushing that."

Graeme Smith
Smith brings with him 50 wins as South Africa's test match captain.

Smith, with his 26 test centuries, represents the highest profile signing in country cricket's recent history. Thirteen years after Shane Warne's move to Hampshire, which came at the height of his international dominance, Smith's commitment suggests a similarly influential spell is on the cards.

The move is a shot in the arm for the much maligned first-class game and a blow to the Indian Premier League, to which Smith has yet to commit his return.

The signing of Smith, which accompanies the addition of Vikram Solanki from Worcestershire and Gary Keedy from Lancashire, both of whom would have been greeted with greater fanfare in any normal off-season, has worked to add over 700-matches worth of first-class experience to a squad which began the last campaign with an average age of 26. Ricky Ponting will follow in June and July.

But it's the leadership off the field which will prove most pivotal. Less than a year on from the death of Tom Maynard, Surrey have sought to make sweeping changes following revelations during the February inquest into the 23-year-old's death.

Aside from a more rigorous drug testing procedure, the inquest called for a greater scrutiny on leadership positions. Smith is naturally seen as the solution.

"I can't hide from the fact that it was a factor and everywhere I go it seems to be discussed; that was one reason [for joining]," Smith added.

"From a neutral perspective if you can create an environment among the patrons and the members and build something to be proud of and represent the people, well then that's certainly something the club wants.

"Over 10 years I've been through a lot. I took over [with South Africa] at 22 and it hasn't always been rosy.

"There's been a lot of low points, maturing and lots of times you've had to look yourself in the mirror and a lot of success, so I'm a pretty well-rounded leader in terms of being able to handle and hopefully grow the team.

"Early doors it's about building relationships and over time imparting my style into the squad."

The county scene is respected for its prestige and tradition overseas, rather than viewed with genuine affection, but despite a brief cameo for Somerset in 2005, success in the county game is absent from Smith's glittering CV, something he is desperate to put right.

"This is a unique challenge for me," he admitted. "I've been South African captain for ten years and I felt that everything worked out perfectly and it was a chance to come in here.

"From a personal perspective if we can do something good to say 'that was another good feather in the cap' that would be something that I would want to do.

"The amount of cricket is going to be a new challenge for me so it's all new and I'm adapting as I go along at the moment."

Smith's arrival on English shores normally coincides with the resignation of an England captain, but with Surrey having claimed just one major success since those double centuries in 2003, they'll be hoping his arrival on this occasion can be a winning omen for county rather than country.