CRICKETER OF THE YEAR - 1936

Denis Smith

Denis Smith, the Derbyshire left-hand batsman and one of seven players who last season scored over two thousand runs, was born at Somercotes on January 24, 1907. Educated at Clay Cross Secondary School, he played at the age of 16 for the Somercotes village club and afterwards for Warsop Main in the Bassetlaw League. For his steady advance towards the Test match recognition which he gained against the 1935 South African team, a great deal is due to the painstaking coaching of Sam Cadman, the former Derbyshire player who has charge of the nursery at Derby. When Smith first came under Cadman's notice, he could always hit the ball hard but he did not have many strokes. Under Cadman's tuition, the weakness was gradually eradicated and going to Derby for a trial during 1926 Smith began his career in county cricket the following year. Since then, his form has been variable and his style has changed considerably. He played at odd times between 1927 and 1929 and the perseverance of the Derbyshire authorities was rewarded in 1930 when Smith established his place as an opening batsman and, taking part in 21 county games, finished third to Storer and Townsend in the batting averages. That season, he hit his first hundred--against Nottinghamshire--and a few days later made a three-figure score at the Oval. Except in 1933, when more often than not he went in second wicket down--he has been moved about in the batting order a good deal--he has returned an aggregate of over 1200 runs in each season since being awarded his county cap in 1930.

The reason for all the experimenting in his case was that during his early days at Derby he never seemed sure of himself in facing the new ball; it remains a problem whether No. 1 or No. 4 is the more suitable place for him to go in. With 1934 came a definite change in his batting--from a decidedly cautious player he developed into a fast scorer and gave many brilliant exhibitions. Keen to do well and retain his place in the eleven, he very naturally did not abandon his steady methods until he was encouraged to hit the ball more. The experience gained during the last few seasons has taught him to use his gifts in that direction and there is no denying that he has altered his game with most satisfactory results. So marked was his progress in 1934 that he increased his aggregate from 941 to 1,599 and his average improved from 21.88 to 34.76. His innings included four of over a hundred and he came out second in Derbyshire's batting.

Smith, scoring 667 runs in his first eleven innings last summer, was at the top of his form when invited to attend Trent Bridge for the First Test Match. Unfortunately, during the game with Warwickshire, he edged a ball against his side and was found to be suffering from a cracked rib. Not only was he compelled to withdraw from the Test but he was out of the game for two weeks, and the break, and the effects of the injury, undoubtedly affected his batting. True, he played several very good innings and in the Test Match at Leeds made 36 and 57, but actually his highest score after the injury in June was that against Yorkshire for the Rest of England on the last day of the season. Scoring 78 out of a second innings total of 112, Smith batted extremely well and on that important occasion he looked the one class batsman on the side. He finished the season at the top of the Derbyshire batting figures and in the whole year obtained 2175 runs for an average of 39.54.

Over six feet tall, Smith gets his body well over the ball. Efforts were made to model him on the lines of Frank Woolley--no easy matter--and Smith himself regards Woolley as his ideal as a cricketer. Of course there is a big difference between the two men; Frank Woolley is loose and supple, Smith is a little stiff and slow. But Smith is particularly good in forcing strokes and severe on the over-pitched ball directed on the middle or leg stump and while he does not approach the Kent player either in point of style or perfection of hitting, he has become one of the best left-handers of his day. The experience he gained with the M.C.C. team in Australia and New Zealand during the winter is bound to be valuable.

© John Wisden & Co