January 24, 1907, Somercotes, Derbyshire
September 12, 1979, Derby, (aged 72y 231d)
Left hand Bat
Right arm Medium
Denis Smith died suddenly at Derby on September 12, aged 72. Born at Somercotes on January 24, 1907, he played for Derbyshire from 1927 until 1951. He was then appointed county coach in succession to Harry Elliott, making a solitary appearance in 1952 in an emergency and finally ending his 44-year connection with the club in 1971, though he was quietly scouting until last year. By 1930 he had developed into a reliable left-handed batsman, scoring 83 and 105 in Payton's benefit match at Trent Bridge. In the next match, his 107 at The Oval was largely responsible for Derbyshire's first victory against Surrey for 26 years. At this time he was opening the innings, and although he dropped down the order at times over the years, he is best remembered as an opener. His ability in this direction was to bring something rare to Derbyshire- success. In four consecutive seasons, Derbyshire were twice third, runners-up in 1935 (which from a playing point of view was a better year than 1936) and champions in 1936.
Tall and elegant in style, he approached the artistry of Frank Woolley, though not possessing the fluency of the Kent player. Usually attractive to watch, Smith's forcing shots were well executed, being severe on anything over-pitched, especially on middle or leg stump, and his runs came at a good rate. Throughout most of the 1930s his usual opening partners were Storer or Alderman - the latter an almost perfect foil to Smith's aggression - and they could be relied on to give the side a sound start. Consistent batting in the early weeks of 1935 gained him Test recognition in two matches against South Africa, when he shared in stands of 52 and 128 at Headingley with scores of 36 and 57, followed by 35 and a failure at Old Trafford. He scored over 2,000 runs that year, becoming one of Wisden's Five, and exceeded 1,000 runs on twelve occasions - a county record, as was his aggregate of 20,516 runs and his 30 centuries. He played for the Players at Lord's in 1935 and in the second innings scored 78 out of 112 for The Rest against the Champion County when no other player reached double figures. This was the last such match to be played, so he was denied the honour of appearing for both sides in successive years when Derbyshire won the championship in 1936. He toured Australia and New Zealand in the winter of 1935-36 with the MCC under the captaincy of Errol Holmes. No Tests were played but in the representative matches against New Zealand his average was over 43, and he shared in stands of 239 with J. H. Parks against Otago and 204 with W. Barber against Queensland.
Following his 189 against Yorkshire at Chesterfield in the opening match of 1935, an innings he considered marked the turning point of his career, came his highest score of 225 versus Hampshire on the same ground, when he sustained a broken rib which caused his absence from the first Test that Year. In 1937 he made 202 not out at Trent Bridge. During the war, he played in the Bradford League and took up wicketkeeping, acting in this capacity for Derbyshire for part of 1946 and 1947 until the arrival of George Dawkes. His usual place in the field was first slip, and it was not unknown for him to bowl an over or two of right-arm medium pace. As county coach he was hard to please, and no doubt he chastened some with his blunt approach. But when words of praise did fall from his lips, the pupil knew they were truly earned.
Wisden Cricketers' Almanack
Batting & Fielding