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A review of Paul Smith's autobiography, Wasted?
May 27, 2007
Wasted? by Paul Smith (Know the Score), 240pp, £11.20
Paul Smith had a bit of rock-n-roll about him. The long hair, the long run-up, the extravagant follow-through and the swashbuckling strokeplay, his cricket was energetic and unorthodox. But his is a sad story: one of regret, disappointment, depression and turmoil. Even homelessness. Wasted? is a rare insight into the trappings of fame, the inadequacies of the authority's handling of drugs - but moreover one man's mission to transform his life.
It was in 1997 that Smith was banned by the ECB for his use of "recreational" drugs: a fair cocktail of cannabis, cocaine and speed. But in the early chapters of his book, he goes at great length to tell of the double standards that he felt he fell victim to. He was not alone in being a user: there were, Smith says, other high-profile county and Test cricketers in England regularly taking recreational drugs. The ECB's policy was, in Smith's eyes at least, entirely inconsistent. The ban ruined him, his life turned upside down, emotionally and financially. Drugs were the treat afforded to him by his success for Warwickshire, yet they ruined him. Although acutely aware of how the effect they had, and although he now wants to prevent others falling into the same trap, the anger he feels at the authorities and some former colleagues and friends is clear and painful.
And to that end, there is a strong sense of victimisation that pervades much of the book. Other players - Shane Warne, Keith Piper, Dermot Reeve to name but three - have since suffered similar fates, but none to the extent Smith feels he had to endure. It isn't all about the drugs though: Smith's tumultuous personal life receives extensive dissection too, and it is no less chaotic. His very good friend, Piper, had a four-year long affair with Smith's partner, the mother of his five-year-old daughter. Given the messiness of the subsequent break-up, Smith was denied custody.
Even now, in 2007, he hasn't seen or heard from his daughter in two years and doesn't even know where she lives. And in fact, it is this constant reflection of the past and comparison to his present life now which makes this book so different. So often, autobiographies are gushingly sentimental, reminiscing about past glories with rose-tinted spectacles. Smith is understandably misty-eyed - a factor not helped by the drugs, of course - but there is a refreshing honesty to his words.
The prose and flow become a little disjointed though, which makes for a bumpy but stimulating ride through the 204 pages. He lurches from the 1980s to the 2000s to the 1990s and back again, citing an anecdote here and a flashback there. Much like in his playing days, there isn't much rhythm or predictability, but it's always entertaining. It is almost like reading his diary or a notebook, not an autobiography, such are the frequency of quirky anecdotes and yarns.
Besides his rocky relationships, perhaps the most interesting section of the book is the time he spent in America. Financially ruined and often homeless, he went for days without meals and in the process met a kaleidoscope of different people. And it was in here, in Los Angeles, that he forged to turn around his life and put his experiences to good use. Cricket Without Boundaries was formed, a scheme to divert wayward kids from the dangers of guns, drugs and crime into something meaningful; using the spirit and tradition of cricket to teach them a new way of thinking.
It seems to be working for the kids, but also for Smith. If anything, this venture might act as Smith's strongest (and most addictive) substance yet. Wasted? is far from a conventional read but, written by one of cricket's more avant-garde characters, nothing less should be expected.
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