William Smith

WILLIAM CHARLES SMITH, whose bowling was beyond everything else the feature of last season's cricket, has had to wait some time for full recognition. A few discerning people, when they saw him bowl so splendidly for Surrey against the Australians at the Oval in July, 1905, felt convinced that he ought to take a big position, but even so recently as the season of 1909 he only appeared in sixteen of Surrey's thirty county matches. As the match with the Australians five years ago first revealed his full possibilities as a bowler some details of the game may be recalled. In those days there was a strong opinion at the Oval that Smith, though always, by reason of his fine off-break, difficult after rain, was not much good on hard wickets. His form against the Australians ought once for all to have destroyed that superstition. There was little or nothing the matter with the pitch-1,002 runs were scored during the three days-and yet Smith took six wickets for 27 runs and six for 90. In the second innings he hit the stumps five times, bowling out Armstrong, Noble, Duff, Gehrs, and Kelly. His bowling put Surrey in a winning position, but bad judgment in running and poor batting threw away the game, the Australians winning in the end by 22 runs. In county cricket that season Smith did not have many opportunities. He only took part in ten county matches, the leading bowlers in the eleven being Lees and N. A. Knox. Still he took forty wickets and in the extra matches he got on so well that his full record for the county came out at fifty-nine wickets, and in the averages he just beat Lees whose wickets numbered 184. A very discouraging season followed. From some cause Smith was quite off his bowling in 1906, the twenty wickets he took for Surrey in twelve matches costing him over 36 runs apiece. In 1907 he was more like himself, but the idea that he could not bowl to much purpose on dry wickets kept him back. He had a fairly good record, but that was all - fifty-two wickets for Surrey in eighteen matches for just 17 runs each. Even in 1908 his position in the Surrey eleven was insecure. He only played in fourteen out of twenty-nine county matches, but with fifty-six wickets he headed the averages, and in all fixtures for the county he was only second to E. C. Kirk. Then in 1909 he asserted himself to a far greater extent than ever before. A bad arm hampered him a little, but he was again at the top of the averages in county matches, taking eighty-three wickets in twenty-seven innings with an average of 12.73. One sensational performance did much for his reputation, he and Rushby, as everyone will remember, getting Yorkshire out at the Oval for 26. A month earlier in a drawn match between Surrey and the Australians he had taken twelve wickets for 124 runs, getting Bardsley, Ransford, and Armstrong out in both innings. In the first-class averages for 1909 Smith stood first among the bowlers who did any real work, ninety-five wickets falling to him. Despite this fine record, however, it is safe to say that no one was quite prepared for his extraordinary success last season. Given at last a full chance, he jumped to the top of the tree as incontestably the best right-handed slow blower in England. The details of what he did will be found in other pages of Wisden. Sufficient to say that in first-class matches he took 247 wickets, only J. T. Hearne having a better average. It is a curious fact that Smith is the only great slow bowler Surrey have had since the days of James Southerton. A rare combination of qualities brought about his triumph last season. On his own admission he got most of his wickets not with the right-handed bowler's ordinary off break, but with a quicker ball that went away with his arm. This ball was the means of getting many batsman out leg before wicket. It did not as a rule break much, but, pitching on the leg stump, did just enough to beat the bat. Moreover it was so accurate in pitch as to be very difficult to hit. Smith, of course, always has a good off break at his command, but he depends less upon it than other right-handed bowlers of his pace. No doubt his flight was deceptive last season, and many batsmen said that the ball that came from leg generally got up awkwardly. Smith was born at Oxford on October 4th, 1877, and first came to London to play with the old Crystal Palace Club. When that body was turned into the London County Club, Smith came under the notice of W. G. Grace, who played him against Surrey and spoke about him to the Surrey Committee. Indeed Smith says frankly that he owes nearly everything to W. G.

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