The Reverend Sydney Smith – the ‘Smith of Smiths’ – said that his idea of Heaven was to be eating foie gras to the sound of trumpets. While watching a game of cricket, one might add (well, the Barmy Army does have a trumpeter…). And why not watch an eleven of Smiths? Even without Ranjitsinjhi – Smith to his Cambridge teammates – and PG Wodehoose’s Psmith – not as good as Mike but a reasonable cricketer – one can select a surprisingly strong team of Smiths.
For vice-captain and opening batsman one need look no further than Graeme of South Africa. It seems inevitable that history will regard him as one of the truly outstanding cricketers of his generation. His achievements as captain are remarkable. First appointed at the age of 22, he has led his side in over a hundred Tests and taken them to the top of the Test rankings. On three tours of England he has effectively sent three captains packing – Nasser Hussain, Michael Vaughan and Andrew Strauss. His combative and forceful but slightly cramped and off side biased batting style is often condemned as limited but a record of around 9000 Test runs at an average of close to fifty suggests the limitations work for him. Add 160 catches in 110 games, mostly at first slip and you have a very special player.
His opening partner is another South African, but one who played for England; Chris “Kippy” Smith never did himself justice at Test level – he suffered the dire experience of being dismissed by his first ball in Test cricket – but in twelve years with Hampshire he proved himself as an opening batsman of the highest quality excelling at both first class and limited overs cricket.
Robin Smith is unquestionably the most popular of the “Anglo-South Africans”. Like his older brother Chris he was a loyal servant of Hampshire – in Robin’s case for 20 years – but he also made a significant impact at international level. When he was prematurely and unceremoniously dumped by England he had a higher Test batting average than any of his contemporaries. Immensely strong in the shoulders and forearms he was at his best against fast bowling, square cutting with a delicious combination of precision and savagery. It has to be said that the arrival of Shane Warne on the Test scene revealed more than a minor chink in his armour.
MJK (Mike) Smith was one of the most prolific English batsmen of the post-war era, scoring almost 40,000 runs and 69 centuries in first class cricket. Tall and studious looking he could dominate any attack once well set, demonstrating a marked preference for the legside in his shot selection. He was a very popular captain of MCC (England) tours to India, South Africa and Australia. He was a brilliant short leg fielder and, that relative rarity, a double international at cricket and rugby.
At five is Collie (OG), a richly talented all-rounder from Barbados – lively middle-order batsman, canny off-spinner and a brilliant fielder. He made two big hundreds against England in 1957, outscoring the three Ws and his great friend Gary Sobers in the series. He had a good tour of India and Pakistan in 1958-59, scoring a century and taking series wickets in the match at Delhi. He seemed to be on the verge of something big. Tragically he was killed in a car accident in England in 1959.
The upper order being packed with experience, it is necessary to inject some youthful promise. That is what Australia are hoping for from 24 year old Steve Smith, a forceful right-handed middle-order batsman and leg-spinner. His bowling seems to be falling away slightly but he was one of the few players to emerge from Australia’s catastrophic tour of India in 2012-13 with his reputation enhanced, making a fighting 92 in the first innings at Mohali and the second highest score of 46 in the first innings at Delhi. He has made a promising start to the 2013 Ashes series.
At seven, another Barbadian Dwayne a spectacular batsman who has not quite made it at the highest level despite making a blistering hundred against South Africa in his first series but has forged a successful career for himself as a Twenty 20 mercenary, a sort of not hugely rich man’s Chris Gayle. He is always capable of making an explosive contribution but one cannot expect consistency.
A common problem in choosing an imaginary cricket team – cricketers with moustaches, – Gooch, Lillen – cricketers with the names of occupations – Contractor, Nurse, Shepherd – is to find a wicketkeeper. No such problem with the Smiths.
There is E.J. “Tiger” who kept for England is one of the greatest Ashes series in Australia in 1911-12, and who was still on Warwickshire’s coaching staff fifty years later.
There is “AC”, also of Warwickshire – he succeeded MJK as captain. He was a capable batsman who shared a then world record stand of 163 for the ninth wicket with Colin Cowdrey against New Zealand in 1962-63. At Clacton in 1965, he took off his pads and took a hat-trick.
Finally, there is Ian of New Zealand, a key member of that country’s best Test team of the 1980s, who once scored 173 off 136 balls going in at number nine against India at Auckland in 1989-90.
On balance, it should probably be Ian.
C.I.J (“Big Jim”) Smith was a very tall, strong and aggressive fast bowler who made an immediate impact on his first season with Middlesex in 1934, taking 174 wickets at 18 and earning a place in the MCC tour of West Indies where he played in four Tests. He was perhaps unlucky that his career coincided with those of, among others, Ken Farnes, Bill Voce and Gubby Allen. But it was as a tail-end batsman that he is best remembered. Like his contemporary Arthur Wellard he was a prodigious hilter, once making 50 in eleven minutes for his county.
Graeme Smith accomplished much as captain but one feat was beyond him from his third Test in charge: a 100% win record. That rare achievement was attained by our captain, player manager and impresario, Sir C Aubrey Smith. He was a very handy fast bowler for Cambridge University and Sussex. He was known as “Round the Corner” Smith – older readers may remember John Price of Middlesex and England who had a similar curved run-up (any readers old enough to remember “Round the Corner” please contact the editor). He played for England once, against South Africa in Port Elizabeth in 1889 – 90, and was captain, leading from the front in an England win taking five for 19 in the first innings. After cricket he went to California and was a Hollywood legend in the 1930s starring in The Prisoner of Zenda with Ronald Colman, Douglas Fairbanks jr, David Niven and Madeleine Carroll.
Mike (AM) Smith was another one-Test wonder though not as successful as – or perhaps more unlucky than – Sir Aubrey. He was a highly consistent performer for Gloucestershire picking up, many wickets for the county with his left-arm swing bowling. England’s selectors thought he was just the ticket for Headingley against Mark Taylor’s Australians in 1997. Australia batted first. On 29, the left-handed opener Matthew Elliott edged what was universally recognised as a straightforward chance to Graham Thorpe at first slip off Smith’s bowling. Thorpe dropped it. Elliot made 199. Smith took none for plenty. Australia won by an innings. The selectors brought back Devon Malcolm (again).
The coach would be Don Smith, a long-serving Sussex all rounder who played three Tests for England in 1957 and became Sri Lanka’s coach when they first became a Test playing nation.
Every decent team needs a scribe, a chronicler; the Smiths have a fine one in Ed of Cambridge University, Kent, Middlesex, England and The Times.
The Smith XI
G C Smith
C L Smith
R A Smith
M J K Smith
O G Smith
S P D Smith
D R Smith
I D S Smith
C I J Smith
C A Smith
A M Smith
Bill Ricquier, 12/07/2013
This article was published in The Island: http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=83419
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