In 1993 she was awarded the OBE for doing what Mike Brearley, Mike Gatting and Graham Gooch had been unable to achieve - leading an England cricket team to victory in a World Cup Final. But late last night, in Newcastle, New South Wales, the illustrious career of Karen Smithies as captain of the England Women's team came to end as she announced her resignation, half-way through the tour of Australia and New Zealand.
Smithies, whose World Cup success came in her first year as captain at the age of 24, resigned at the end of an Australian leg of the tour which saw her team demolished 4-0 by the home side. The final degradation came at Newcastle's No.1 Sportsground yesterday when England, chasing 300 for victory, were bundled out for 79, their lowest score in one-day international history.
While the general performance of the England team on tour has been substandard, Smithies herself has come under fire for her captaincy and her strategy as opening batsman. On Saturday, with England needing 4.84 runs per over to win, she took 40 deliveries to score two runs, and finished the series with a strike-rate of 29.55 runs per 100 balls - easily the slowest scoring of any recognised batsman on either side. She explained that she was playing the "sheet anchor" role in the England team. Yesterday, in England's 220-run loss, she was out for a duck.
Smithies' field placings and bowling changes during the four-match Australian series also came under criticism, frequently taking whatever pressure existed away from the Australian batsmen.
The decision to step down from the captaincy came on Thursday night after the 220-run drubbing at Newcastle, the decision apparently being conveyed to the England Cricket Board after midnight local time.
Smithies will play on the New Zealand leg of the tour under her erstwhilevice captain, Clare Connor. The 23 year-old Sussex captain will take over the top job after being first appointed deputy to Smithies at the start of the 1999 home season. As well as being Smithies' opening batting partner for England, she is an able left-arm spinner and took a hat-trick against India in a one-dayer last July.
With the Women's World Cup in New Zealand less than ten months away, England only have this month's five-match series against New Zealand and a home series against South Africa in June as preparation at full international level. While Smithies could be justifiably considered a captain past her use-by date, her resignation will by no means resolve the problems besetting women's cricket at national level in England.
Team manager, former England and Kent wicketkeeper Paul Farbrace, has called his team's performance "inept", but blaming the players, flown around the world in the middle of winter with little off-season practice, is not the answer to a deep-seated problem which will now see England as probable alsorans when the World Cup comes around.
It should not be forgotten that they were beaten by a team in red-hot form, the Australian Southern Stars displaying as much ruthlessness and competitiveness as their male counterparts. However, 79 all out in 40 overs in reply to 299 for 2 from fifty is a little more than simply being outclassed.
The England squad leave for New Zealand on Sunday. They play a practice match on Wednesday before the first of five one-day internationals at Palmerston North on February 12. New Zealand, meanwhile, will face the rampant Australians in the annual three-match Rose Bowl series beginning at the Albert Ground, Melbourne, on Sunday. New Zealand are the defending Bowl holders.