January 21, 2013

The Smiths

Common by name, special by feats

Graeme Smith
Not much doubt about one of our openers: "Biff" has bullied attacks from Durban to Dunedin, and now has well over 8000 Test runs at an average a touch below 50. He's skippered in nearly 100 Tests too, a record, and so will fight out the captaincy of this side with the man at No. 5.

Dave Smith
A personal favourite, possibly because I played against him at school, the uncompromising left-hander Dave Smith - who went into battle (sometimes literally) for Surrey, Sussex and Worcestershire - could well have won more than two Test caps. He was called up for the toughest of tours, against West Indies at the height of their powers in 1985-86, and typically didn't take a step back.

A surprise name at No. 3, perhaps - but Kumar Shri Ranjitsinhji, all willowy grace as he wafted the ball away to the boundary, the impression burnished by the silk shirts he habitually wore buttoned to those flexible wrists, was known as "Smith" to his university friends at Cambridge in the early 1890s.

Robin Smith
It wasn't much fun fielding in the gully down at Southampton if Robin Smith was in form: few have leathered the ball square at such a ferocious speed. "The Judge" (so called because of his crinkly legal-wig-type hair) had pretty good Test figures of 4236 runs at 43 - but the suspicion remains they should have been even better.

MJK Smith
Fair-haired and bespectacled, Mike Smith was a popular captain of Warwickshire and - often - England during the 1960s. He played exactly 50 Tests, and scored three centuries (plus two 99s and a 98), and achieved the unusual distinction of appearing in the 1972 Ashes series four years after announcing a (short-lived) retirement.

Collie Smith
One of Test cricket's mournful might-have-beens, the Jamaican O'Neil Gordon "Collie" Smith scored a century on his Test debut against Australia in 1954-55, and 161 and 168 for an otherwise outclassed West Indies in England in 1957. He could bowl, too - handy offbreaks that brought him eight wickets in the match in Delhi early in 1959, to go with a century. But later that year Smith was killed in a car accident. He was only 26, and would surely have helped make the West Indian side that ruled the mid-'60s even more formidable.

Dwayne Smith
A later West Indian free spirit, this time from Barbados, Dwayne Smith clobbered probably the fastest Test-debut hundred of all - in 93 balls in Cape Town in January 2004 - before being pigeonholed as a one-day specialist. T20 suits him down to the ground: in IPL5, with Mumbai Indians needing 15 from four balls from Ben Hilfenhaus, non-striker Smith mooched down to RP Singh and said: "Take a single, I'll do the rest." And he did - a six and two fours sealed the deal.

Ian Smith
Quite a bit of competition for the wicketkeeper's spot, especially from Warwickshire, who produced the combative "Tiger" Smith in the early part of the 20th century, and Alan - later the ECB chief executive - around 50 years later. "AC" once took his pads off and took a hat-trick, which would be an added bonus in this team, but in the end New Zealand's Ian Stockley Smith got the nod, for slick glovework and the ability to smash 173 from No. 9 in a Test, as he did against India in Auckland in 1989-90. Nowadays, more stocky than Stockley, he's also an ebullient TV commentator.

Big Jim Smith
A fast bowler good enough to win five England caps in the 1930s, Middlesex's Jim Smith was also, according to this Rewind column, probably "the ultimate slogger". Big Jim - he was 6ft 3ins tall and 16 stone - regularly endangered the windows at Lord's, and once hit the ball over the lime tree at Canterbury. There wasn't much science about his batting - a scything slog was more or less his only shot - but he once reached 50 in 11 minutes, the fastest authentic half-century on record.

Mike Smith
A low-slung left-armer, Mike Smith took the new ball for Gloucestershire for around a decade, swinging the ball about waspishly in Bristol and beyond. But on his one appearance for England, in the Ashes Test at Headingley in 1997, that swing deserted him - and so did luck, as he had Matthew Elliott dropped in the slips, a relatively easy chance to Graham Thorpe, when he had 29. Elliott went on to make 199, and Australia won by an innings (a young shaver called Ricky Ponting came in later and scored a sublime 127). Smith didn't take a wicket, and never played again.

Peter Smith
Rounding off our XI is, fittingly, the man who made the highest-ever score from No. 11: Peter Smith biffed 163 for Essex against Derbyshire in Chesterfield in 1947, putting on 214 for the last wicket with Frank Vigar (a proper batsman, who finished with 114 not out). In his day job Smith was a fine legspinner, who also took 172 wickets in that 1947 season, and won four England caps. All told, our team would certainly be worth watching when they batted.

Steven Lynch is the editor of the Wisden Guide to International Cricket 2013. Ask Steven is now on Facebook