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1938

The ultimate slogger

Big Jim Smith's onslaught at Bristol

Martin Williamson

May 28, 2005

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A sight to strike terror into bowlers across the country ... Big Jim strides to the middle © Cricinfo
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Cricket history is littered with big hitters - from the master blasters such as Ian Botham and Viv Richards to the classical craftsmen like Frank Woolley and Wally Hammond. But even those legends struggled to surpass the popularity and sheer power of Jim Smith of Middlesex when it came to all-out attack.

Smith was a fast bowler who was good enough to play five Tests for England, and although he did not make his county debut until 1934, by which time he was 27, in the six English seasons which preceded the Second World War he claimed 795 wickets at 18.52. His nickname, "Big Jim", was apt as he stood over 6ft 3ins tall and weighed in at 16 stone, but he was supremely fit and as strong as an ox.

In his eight seasons with Wiltshire between 1926 and 1933, Smith had proved a capable tailender. But as soon as he moved up to first-class cricket he realised that his limitations meant that against better bowlers he was unlikely to be able to do any more than hang around. So he adopted a different style.

Smith's metamorphosis was simple in the extreme. Planting one foot on either side of the crease, he limited himself to one simple shot, a scything swish. His stroke started with bat coming down in a line with third man and ended up following through towards mid-on. He treated every ball in the same way, and never even considered a defensive alternative. "If you were fielding near in and he missed the ball," wrote Gerald Brodribb, "you could feel the blast of displaced air." His footwork was non-existent, as evidenced by the fact he was never once stumped.

Smith's no-frills batting almost immediately captured the public's imagination, and in an era when bouncing a tailender was simply not the done thing, the bowlers were left hoping that he missed before he found his range. His bludgeoning was "as sudden and as violent as the first crash of the big drum in a Wagner opera," enthused Terence Prittie. "But apart from its power, the stroke has an additional attraction. Even when it results in a clean miss, it causes immense amusement."

Such a simple technique produced a variety of outcomes. If he connected, the ball went a long way. He put one through the committee-room windows at Lord's, several into the top tier of the pavilion, and a number over the Mound Stand and into St John's Wood Road. He is also one of only four men who cleared the old lime tree at Canterbury. Edges also travelled considerable distances, but against canny spinners he more often that not swung and missed. Sometimes he connected in his follow-through and sent the ball vast distances straight up in the air. Fielders often had little chance of catching a ball coming down almost at terminal velocity. What wasn't questionable was that Big Jim was a genuine crowd-pleaser.

Within weeks of his debut, Smith's amble to the middle was greeted with hearty cheersat grounds across England. Against Gloucestershire in 1934 he scored 34 in 10 minutes and, second time round, 29 in seven, a match total of 63 runs in 17 minutes. In 1936, he smashed 69 in 26 minutes against Somerset.

In May 1938, Smith won a tight early-season encounter against Gloucestershire at Lord's with two massive sixes. The return game, at Bristol in June, was even more memorable, as he clubbed an 11-minute fifty, a record which stands to this day (at the time he shared the previous record of 14 minutes with three other men).

Four days before travelling to Bristol, Smith got his sights in when he hammered 68 in 20 minutes against Sussex. In the Gloucestershire game, he arrived in the middle with Middlesex on 499 for 8, facing an attack already wilting after quickfire hundreds from Bill Edrich and Joe Hulme. And what followed was slaughter.

Smith should have been caught off the first ball he faced, from Reg Sinfield, but Richard Haynes at long-on misjudged his steepling drive and, although he dived forward, could not hold the chance. Reprieved, Smith smacked the next two balls from Sinfield, who was good enough to be 12th man in the Lord's Test against Australia the following week, for four, and then lofted George Emmett back over the sightscreen.

Sinfield's next over produced three consecutive sixes, all fairly straight and each one bigger than the last. As was usually the case, big hits were interspersed with ballooning edges, and the Western Daily Press reported that "more than one or two dropped in between fielders". Smith brought up his fifty with a six off Emmett (his 12th scoring stroke), and finished the afternoon session with another six off Sinfield. He strode in to tea with 56 to his name, made in just 15 minutes.

Smith resumed with his eighth and final six before he finally missed a straight one from Emmett, and left the field to a "great ovation", after making 66 out of 69 in 18 minutes.

Smith continued in his own unique way for one more season, and in 1939 made his only first-class hundred in a positively pedestrian 81 minutes.

* In the same edition of the Western Daily Press that reported Smith's assault, there was a report on the second day of Hampshire's match against Worcestershire. Hampshire had had to use three substitute fielders when two of their XI were injured and Cecil Paris, their captain, suffered a puncture on his way to the ground. One of the three substitutes, the report stated, was "Harlott", a local policeman and a Hampshire member. It was actually John Arlott's only appearance on a first-class cricket field.

Is there an incident from the past you would like to know more about? E-mail us with your comments and suggestions.

Bibliography
Mainly Middlesex Terrance Prittie (Hutchinson, 1946)
Hit For Six Gerald Brodribb (Heinemann, 1960)
Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 1939 and 1980

Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo

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