Graeme Smith was described as "a legend", "a warrior" and an "all round good egg" by members of the cricketing fraternity following the South Africa captain's surprise announcement he is to retire from international cricket.

Smith is calling time on his 347-match, 12-year career with the Proteas at the conclusion of the current Test against Australia in Cape Town.

The 33-year-old said: "This has been the most difficult decision I have ever had to make in my life. 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."

South Africa go into the final two days of the deciding third Test against Australia facing an uphill battle to avoid a series defeat, with the tourists 234 runs ahead with 10 second-innings wickets remaining.

However, while a loss in the last of his 117 Test matches - including a world-record 110 as captain - would be a huge disappointment for Smith, his standing in the game is already assured.

Former England batsman Kevin Pietersen was among those to heap praise, saying on Twitter: "Hearing huge news out of SA. @GraemeSmith49 is retiring! For what he has done for SA cricket - the man is a legend! Congrats my Surrey BFF!"

The two batting superstars are set to line up together for Surrey in county cricket this summer, with Smith having signed a three-year deal at the Kia Oval in November 2012 as well as being installed as captain.

Surrey, who were relegated to Division Two last season, confirmed on Monday night that Smith's international retirement will have no bearing on his contract with the county.

Alec Stewart, director of cricket at Surrey and former England captain, said: "Graeme has been an outstanding leader and player for South Africa and has been instrumental in making them the number one side in the world.

"From when I first played against him in 2003 he has impressed me immensely in everything he has done on a cricket field. South Africa will obviously miss him but we look forward to welcoming him back to the Kia Oval this season."

Another former England captain, Michael Vaughan, also lauded Smith, who has scored 37 international centuries - 27 in Tests and 10 in one-day-internationals - and over 9,250 Test runs.

Vaughan tweeted: "Huge respect to @GraemeSmith49 .Fantastic Captain,Leader,Batsmen,Bloke and all round good egg... #Legend.

"Had some great battles and many on field arguments with @GraemeSmith49 but we always ended up having a beer at the end of games."

Cricket South Africa chief executive Haroon Lorgat admitted Smith's announcement had come out of the blue, but hailed the Johannesburg-born batsman as "a mighty warrior, a leader of men and an exceptional part of our international cricket.''

Lorgat added: "He can leave the game with pride and he thoroughly deserves the gratitude of our nation for leading the Proteas with much distinction.

Former Pakistan and Surrey all-rounder Azhar Mahmood was another to hail Smith, tweeting: "Another great leaves the international circuit @GraemeSmith49 what a legend. Huge loss for SA."