CRICKETER OF THE YEAR 1960

MJK Smith

In considering the splendid batting performances of M.J.K. Smith in a season of brilliant sunshine and fast wickets, there is a danger that their colour and adventure may be submerged by sheer weight of statistics. Anyone with the mind of an accountant may perhaps find more merit in the fact that he became the first player for ten years to score 3,000 runs than that on several occasions -- but notably with a tremendous 182 not out against Gloucestershire at Stroud -- he turned defeat for Warwickshire into victory by the excellence of his technique.

It is fair to say that no other county captain gave quite the same personal inspiration to his side. It was his batting, as much as his leadership, that raised Warwickshire from sixteenth to fourth in the table and so nearly landed the Championship itself.

This, so to say, was Smith's annus mirabilis. With all the old doubts and uncertainties about his rightful place in the batting order swept away, he established himself in the England side, and his selection for the tour of the West Indies crowned a memorable season.

While his critics were busy dubbing him an exclusive onside player -- as though there were something faintly immoral in hitting the ball on that side of the wicket -- Smith himself was cutting the ground from under their feet with big scores made with inexorable regularity.

In scoring 2,417 for Warwickshire, he broke the county record standing in the name of N. Kilner, and when he scored 142 not out in a remarkable match against Northamptonshire at the beginning of August, he beat R.E.S. Wyatt's 30-year-old record for the most runs scored in a season, for all matches, by a Warwickshire player.

At 26, he was the youngest batsman ever to reach 3,000, a distinction belonging previously to the great Ranjitsinghi. By way of contrast, he broke Alan Townsend's Warwickshire record of 42 catches in a season.

Michael John Knight Smith was born at Astley Broughton, Leicestershire, on June 30, 1933, but has lived from boyhood in Hinckley. He was educated at Stamford, where he won his place in the first eleven at the age of 13. He was coached in cricket and Rugby by Mr. H.E. Packer, an Oxford man to whose college, St. Edmund Hall, Smith himself was later to go.

Packer's own promising future in sport was cut short by a serious injury while playing rugby for the University, but he discovered a compensatory aptitude for guiding and encouraging the boys at Stamford and Smith acknowledges his as being the first influence brought to bear on his cricket.

From the beginning, it was to batting that he turned, and although, as he says, he got on to bowl now and again, he has bowled progressively less ever since. For a season, he kept wicket, but gave it up when he began to wear glasses at the age of 17.

This is, perhaps, the appropriate place to record Smith's firm conviction that he is under no disadvantage in wearing them still. By having his eyes tested once a year, he considers that his eyesight is better than many others'.

From school, he appeared in three County matches for Leicestershire in August 1951, and then joined the Army for National Service, serving in the R.A.S.C. He played for the Corps, but in no other kind of representative cricket, for two years.

He went up to Oxford in October 1953 and in the 1954 season began with a century in the Trial. In his first match for the University, against Gloucestershire at The Parks, he scored another century. In the University match the pattern was not so much repeated as enhanced. He opened with J.M. Allan, and, to use his own phrase, they were "dropped three times between us in the first two overs". Thus encouraged, they were associated in a century partnership for the first wicket, and Smith himself went on to score 201 not out.

This notable baptism in University cricket did probably more than anything to dispose the selectors, four years later, to look to Smith to open for England, with almost disastrous consequences to himself and to Warwickshire.

For the rest of the 1954 season he played for his native Leicestershire without making any particular impact. In the 1955 season at Oxford he got away to a bad start, but made runs later and strengthened his reputation as a batsman of considerable application by scoring another century in the University match. He again assisted Leicestershire at the end of the University term.

In 1956 he captained Oxford and conformed to what had become habit by scoring another century. No other player has performed this remarkable feat of three separate hundreds in the University match, 201 not out in 1954, 104 in 1955 and 117 in 1956. Moreover, Smith's aggregate, 477, for the three matches surpassed the previous best, 457, by the Nawab of Pataudi in 1929-31. All three of his University matches were drawn.

He played no more cricket that season, having been included in a combined Universities Rugby side to tour South Africa. In this season, however, he was the centre of a minor controversy in the Midlands by reason of his decision to take up an administrative position with Warwickshire. That county applied for a special registration which would enable Smith to play Championship cricket for them on coming down from the University, but the application was refused and he had to qualify by a year's residence in Warwickshire.

C.H. Palmer, the captain of Leicestershire, expressed local feelings when he said: "We are naturally very sorry to lose him. He is a fine cricketer and character and will, I am sure, do a good job for Warwickshire. He will go from Leicestershire with our most sincere good wishes for his future success with Warwickshire."

The spotlight, then, was very much on Smith when, in 1957, he took up the captaincy of Warwickshire in succession to one of the county's best-known personalities, W.E. Hollies, and, before him, to that inspired captain, H.E. Dollery, who had led Warwickshire to the Championship in 1951.

He began badly as an individual performer by failing to score in his first three innings, but finished with more than 2,000 runs. Warwickshire finished fourteenth in the table. In the next season they languished still further and only the superior qualifications of Nottinghamshire denied them the dubious distinction of finishing at the bottom. Smith, however, again contributed his 2,000 runs and since the county won two out of its last three matches the tide could be said to have turned.

Last season Smith reached fulfilment as a batsman and moved farther along the road to complete experience as a captain. As we have seen, his habitual 2,000 runs became 3,000. In the month of July he challenged Hutton's record 1,294 of June 1949, with 1,207 runs; his well-known initials gave place to the familiar "Mike" in Warwickshire and outside the county; and his admirers began to look towards further horizons.

He emphasises how much he owes to the example of M.C. Cowdrey, who was captain of Oxford in Smith's first year. In style, however, Smith is an individualist. To those who criticise him as an on-side player, he replies that in his formative years an intensive leg-side attack was the fashion, and that it was no use developing off-side strokes if there was no opportunity to play them.

The demands of cricket have prevented Smith from developing his considerable bent as a rugby player, but, in this field, too, he burst upon public attention in a way that must assure him a place in the history of the game. In his third year at Oxford he was a member of the noted Allaway side which introduced a technique of sound rugby, the influence of which extended beyond the bounds of the University.

At outside half-back he partnered O.S. Brace and between them they introduced something revolutionary to play behind the scrum. When it came to the England-Wales match at Twickenham, however, the two were on opposite sides, to the detriment of both. Smith had a particularly bad afternoon from which -- for that reason and reasons of cricket -- he has never recovered. He continued to play for Hinckley and made an occasional incursion into higher Rugby as captain of Leicestershire.

© John Wisden & Co