O'Neill Smith

There is no finer sight than that of a player thoroughly enjoying his cricket. Such a man is O'Neill Gordon Smith, whose infectious enthusiasm and huge grin make him such an outstanding personality. With players like Walcott, Worrell, Weekes and Ramadhin in the West Indies side which toured England in 1957 it might not have been easy for a newcomer to capture the lime-light, yet Smith did just that and more. Indeed, he scored more runs on the tour than any of the three W's, became the first man in the side to reach 1,000 runs, took valuable wickets when the regular bowlers had been subdued and did his utmost to raise the drooping spirits of his side by magnificent fielding. Everywhere he went Smith won hosts of admirers by his approach to the game and there was no more popular player anywhere during the season.

To the world at large, Smith is known as Collie, although few people know the origin of the nickname. It came when he was only four years of age. His parents used to call him by the pet name of Carl. As it happened his best friend in those days was another Carl and the two youngsters found that whenever Carl was called they did not know who was wanted. Smith's grandmother decided to change the Carl to Carlie. From there it was an easy step to the present Collie.

Born at Kingston, Jamaica, on May 5, 1933, Smith first became interested in cricket when about seven years old. Like the majority of youngsters in the West Indies he was keen to join in the street games played with cloth balls and he recalls plenty of spankings for staying out late with the bigger boys.

At his first elementary school at St. Albans, Jamaica, Smith made the side when nine years of age, although the majority of the team were nearer 15. Such were his talents that he became captain before he was 12. In those days Smith followed the inclinations of most youngsters--to bowl as fast as possible and to hit the ball out of sight. He eventually found that fast bowling did not suit him, but to this day he has not lost his ambition to hit sixes.

Figures meant nothing to Smith. In fact, he has little interest in them now. He had never heard of a hat-trick, averages were something beyond his comprehension and the tactics of the game were a nuisance, interfering with his desire to get on with the game. For this reason he did not like the role of captain.

Eventually he moved to Kingston College and after a year with the Under-15 team played for the Seniors. Apart from his school cricket he used to turn out regularly for a club known as Boys' Town and it was here that he first came to the notice of the Jamaican authorities.

Smith did not see his first first-class match until 1948 when M.C.C. visited West Indies. There he came under the spell of Jim Laker and was so impressed by his ability that he decided to give up fast bowling and concentrate on off-spin. He soon became known as Jim by his colleagues at Boys' Town.

In 1949 his club won the Junior Cup and Smith received a bat for the best cricketer in the team. Part of his reward was one day's coaching from Jack Mercer, the former Glamorgan bowler and present coach at Northamptonshire. Apart from that and a little guidance from Major Knibbs, a well-known umpire in West Indies, Smith received no coaching and, perhaps fortunately for his future, no one attempted to alter his style.

Always a brilliant fieldsman, Smith first received big cricket atmosphere when acting as twelfth man for Jamaica while still playing for Boys' Town. Indeed, he achieved the rare distinction of being appointed emergency Test fieldsman for West Indies, both in 1953 against India and 1954 against England before he ever appeared in a first-class match.

He eventually made the Jamaican side in 1955 and played in only two games before being chosen against the Australians. His innings of 169 in the opening match of the tour against an attack comprising Lindwall, Miller, Johnston, Davidson, Johnson and Benaud showed that West Indies had found a new star. Jamaica were 81 for five before Smith and A. P. Binns added 277. This innings earned Smith a place in the first Test and again he showed tremendous form, scoring 104 in the second innings and joining the small list of players who had hit a century on his Test debut.

Success was sweet, but like most cricketers Smith soon had cause to realise how uncertain it could be. In the second Test he failed to score in either innings and was dropped for the next game. He returned for the fourth and fifth Tests without doing anything exceptional.

Early the following year Smith toured New Zealand with the West Indies side and played in all four Tests. Although his batting did not come up to expectations he showed improved skill with his off-breaks and took 13 Test wickets for 18.53 runs each. His experience against Lindwall, Miller and the other Australian bowlers was a turning-point in Smith's career. Miller, in particular, worried him by his controlled swing and on the trip to New Zealand he had time to think. He came to the conclusion that there was more to cricket than he imagined and for the first time realised that the game had science. The result brought a slight change in his methods. He began to eliminate the more dangerous strokes and tried to stop the head-up, eye-off-the-ball swings which so often had brought his downfall.

This naturally led to Smith developing into a much more mature cricketer and although he retained his boyish enthusiasm and occasionally forgot his lessons in his exuberance, he became harder to dismiss. The England bowlers twice discovered this. At Birmingham he made 161 and became the only batsman to hit a century on his first appearance both against England and Australia. He followed with 168 in the third Test at Nottingham, an innings which went a considerable way towards saving the match. His other century during the tour, against Derbyshire at Chesterfield, was a typically aggressive innings which brought spectators to their feet. Smith's style naturally attracted interest among Lancashire League clubs and during the season he accepted an engagement to play for Burnley in 1958. -- L. S.

© John Wisden & Co