Brian Bearshaw meets a hero of his youth

Jim Smith hammers another six for Middlesex against Somerset in 1936 © The Cricketer
As a boy at Blackburn Grammar School, I was educated in the wondrous ways of cricket at the ground next door, Alexandra Meadows, home of East Lancashire in the Lancashire League. And every second Saturday afternoon l would sit with my back to the school playground, enjoy five hours of cricket, but see only one man, the giant that East Lancs employed as professional.

Along with scores of other boys I really went along only to see this man. They said he had played for England before the war. Opened the bowling, they said. I knew little about that. In any case we didn't go to watch him bowl. We lived just for the moment when he strode from the pavilion, a match-stick of a bat in his hand, pads seeming to cover little more than his shins, ready to eat the other team alive.

His enormous feet dominated the crease, like warships in the village pond. There was no refinement to his batting. He would slog. For variety he would slash or heave and if he could stay the pace for only 20 minutes, he made my weekend. I knew little of Lancashire or Test cricket in those days and 'Big Jim' Smith, late of Middlesex and England, was my Brad-man and Lindwall rolled into one. He played cricket the way every little boy likes to see cricket played. When Big Jim retired from EastLancs in 1948 to make way for the gentler, more subtle arts of Bruce Dooland, something went out of my life.

The next time I saw him was just a few weeks ago when I returned home and cal-led to see him and his wife at their cottage in the village of Mellor three miles north-west of Blackburn. The pleasure at seeing the man was immeasurable and I delighted in the hour we spent discussing cricket. from Wiltshire to Lord's, West Indies to Blackburn.

Cedric Ivan James Smith - "All that and they called me Jim," he laughed - was born at Corsham in the corner of Wiltshire where it meets up with Somerset and Gloucestershire. He was heralded as a new Jessop when he was taken on to the groundstaff at Lord's, where an administrative slip-up forced him to qualify for five years, playing for MCC, before he could first play for Middlesex in 1934.

Fast scoring
He opened the bowling in five Tests for England, but was usually committed to a less noticeable part of the batting order. Yet Big Jim has made his name in Wisden just where one or two people forecast--in the Fast Scoring section. And right after Gilbert Jessop.

"C. I. J. Smith, in June 1938," we are told, "made 69 in 20 minutes for Middlesex against Sussex at Lord's, and ten days later against Gloucestershire at Bristol he scored 66 in 18 minutes--the first 50 corning in eleven minutes."

"I used to slash at virtually every ball." Jim told me. "I can't do to see 9, 10 and jack playing about now. Why not have a go, entertain the people? I never had any pretensions about my batting, but sometimes I came off. The catering manager at Lord's used to tell me that the only rest his girls got in the bar was when I batted!"

Who would want to drink with the sort of performance Smith turned on in Barbados in 1935 when he shared with Wally Hammond in a last-wicket stand of 122 in 45 minutes for MCC? Smith hit 83 runs in that time with five sixes and nine fours: Hammond went on to 281 not out.

That tour provided Jim with a store of memories, especially his first Test match. also in Barbados, when wickets fell rapidly on a rain-affected wicket. West Indies were bowled out for 102, England declared at 81 for 7, West Indies followed with a declaration at 51 for6, and England needed 73 to win.

"All eleven of us were padded up in the dressing-room ready for the start of our second innings," he recalled. "In the end I opened the innings, and I went out and slashed at every ball. The first over from Martindale was a maiden, and I was out in his second for a duck. That gave me a pair in my first Test match, and I see the next England player to do that after me was this lad Gooch last summer."

Smith also hit Constantine back over his head for six during that tour. "I can see it now," he said. "All these black men sitting in the trees watching us play, and as the ball headed for one tree they fell out like a lot of monkeys."

Big Jim recorded several enormous hits at Lord's, remembering particularly a rather special blow over Father Time, another on to the pavilion roof, one through a committee-room window, and one over the Tavern, across St John's Wood Road . . . "and into the synagogue!"

He also hit a ball out of the Worcester ground and into the park across the main road, but recalled with some pleasure a six at Lord's that screamed towards the members on the pavilion steps. `Oscar Asche, a well-known actor who was playing the lead in Chu Chin Chow, was there,' Jim said. 'He weighed about 22st, and the cab used to have to drop him right at the pavilion, not the gate. He moved to get out of the way when he saw this ball approaching, fell off his seat, and it took four men to lift him back on.'

Big Jim in retirement © The Cricketer
Grand Test debut
If I have dwelled too long on Big Jim's batting, blame it on a boy's fondness for an entertainer. Of course the man could bowl. He took 139 wickets in his first season for Middlesex, 5 for 15 in his first Test, and has four cricket balls in a nook on the stairs at home, one of them the ball with which he took seven Lancashire wickets for 55 runs at Old Trafford, including the hat-trick.

He got out his book of Middlesex scores, found the game in July 1939, Bill Farrimond's benefit match, and said: "Albert Nutter, Eddie Phillipson and Lionel Lister were in the hat-trick. When I got back into the dressing-room, Lister came in, threw the ball at me and said: `Here you are you big bugger, you might as well keep this!'"

Jim, now 69, still is a `big bugger'. Age seems to have brought little droop or shrinkage. "I was 6ft 4½ins and weighed 17' stone," he said. "I was 19st when I came back from West Indies. I couldn't bend down to fasten my boots." Now he weighs 16½ stone, but whatever he might lose in height or weight, nothing will shorten those enormous feet I remember so well plodding out to the East Lancs wicket.

"I take a size 14," he said. "I had my boots specially made, a pair a year, and these slippers I've got on were made for me. When Lancashire came down to Lord's, Eddie Paynter would get my boots when they had been cleaned. He would put his own boots on, then mine on top of them, and would clop about the dressing-room."

Big Jim has lived in Lancashire since soon after East Lancs first signed him in 1945. "Middlesex wanted me to go back after the war, but I knew I couldn't do the job they wanted. We were in Northamptonshire at the time, near my wife's parents, and we had been there ten years when we moved to Blackburn. It was a wrench, but I had to think ahead."

He played from 1945 to 1948 for East Lancs, and after a few games with Blackburn Northern, the town's Ribblesdale League team, he retired and took a pub, the Millstone, in Mellor. He ran that until four years ago when he and his wife took a nearby cottage and settled into retirement.

"People asked if we would be going back south," said Mrs Smith. "But our roots are here now. This is our home."

Big Jim Smith puffed his pipe as he talked. He recalled that Joe Hardstaff used to call at the pub. "And Joe Hulme used to come too," he said. "'Where's Cedric,' he'd shout."

Jim spent much of 1974 in hospital and has been having cataract trouble. "I can't see well enough to drive, so I haven't been to much cricket recently," he said. "I was a member at Lancashire for 20 years, but it is difficult to get to Old Trafford these days."

As I left that cottage in Mellor, 1 shook Jim's huge hand. I was sorry to go. It's nice to recapture your youth, particularly with somebody who helped to make it.

  • Jim Smith died in February 1979