Bruised by the West Indians, berated by Boycs

Robin Smith is best remembered for his strokeplay against the fearsome West Indian fast bowlers. In his new book he writes among other things about how he learnt to face short bowling

Robin Smith
Robin Smith on his way to 90 against West Indies at Lord's, 1995  •  Getty Images

Robin Smith on his way to 90 against West Indies at Lord's, 1995  •  Getty Images

Nineteen of Robin Smith's 62 Tests for England were against the formidable West Indies of the late '80s and early '90s. He scored three hundreds and averaged 44.43 against bowling attacks that included Malcolm Marshall, Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh, Ian Bishop, and sometimes the frightening Patrick Patterson. In this extract from his autobiography, Smith writes about facing these men, and about learning from Geoff Boycott.
I wasn't one of the all-time greats, but if people remember me as a good player of raw pace bowling then I'm chuffed with that because it's something I worked so hard on. I'm very happy if I'm remembered as somebody who stood up against the best and nastiest bowlers around, and who was never intimidated. I still think I got off quite lightly, because West Indies were not at their peak when I played against them, but it was still pretty hot in the kitchen.
Despite that heat, I never wore a grille on my helmet. When I started my career there were no grilles, just basic helmets, and I became used to wearing those, though I added side pieces to protect my temple and earlobe. When I tried wearing a grille I felt claustrophobic and maybe a bit complacent as well because of the extra facial protection. Having no grille meant there was an added sense of danger, which added to the appeal - but not necessarily because I was trying to be macho. I loved the challenge, the enormous adrenaline rush, the test of my technique, reflexes and courage. Seriously, the quicker the better. I genuinely believed that if you watched the ball, you wouldn't get hit, and I never wore a grille because I fancied my reflexes against any pace. I was very conscious I was playing with fire, not to mention my jaw, cheekbone and eye socket, but honestly, it was the most spectacular experience.
That tour of the Caribbean in 1989-90 gave me a reputation as somebody who relished facing the quick stuff. Dad even has a cutting from Cricnet magazine which listed me as the No. 1 player of fast bowling in England's history. Mind you, I'm aware there's probably another magazine article that has me very high on the list of England's worst players of spin!
I batted long periods on that West Indies tour and had an amazing time on and off the field. The Caribbean was always my favourite place to tour. I worked hard in the middle and took my punishment. At the close of play I'd run from the ground to the hotel, grab a rum and dry ginger and sit under a palm tree on the beach with Lamby or whoever as the alcohol gently relaxed my body and took the edge off the bruises.
Before the West Indies tour I did a bit of technical work with Geoff Boycott, who called and asked if I wanted to travel to Headingley for a few net sessions. It was a great opportunity to work with him and pick his brain, even if it meant a ten-hour round trip each time I went to see him. It wasn't practical to drive because of the rush-hour traffic, so I'd park my car at Southampton train station and head into London Waterloo. Then I took the underground to King's Cross and a train up north. Not the easiest journey with an oversized cricket coffin! He got some young Yorkshire bowlers - including Paul Jarvis, who was rapid and had already played a few Tests for England - to bowl at my head from 18 yards. Paul actually apologised at one point. He was worried about hitting me but he said Boycs had given him firm instructions to bowl everything as fast as he could at my head.
I suggested to Boycs that it wasn't an entirely fair contest, being peppered indoors under artificial light and on a shortened pitch. 'Well, you can pack your things and go home,' he said. 'Because this is the sort of treatment you'll be getting for the next three months.'
I spoke to Boycs a lot during my career. It's such a shame he wasn't asked to be an official batting consultant with England, because when he stops talking about his own achievements he's an absolute wizard at analysing the game. And he was totally honest. I didn't always agree with the things he said on air or to my face, but I always respected his opinion.
I'd tried to pick his brain a bit earlier in my career. We played Yorkshire in 1985 on a dodgy wicket at Middlesbrough, and Malcolm Marshall was charging in. Boycs, who was 44 years old, got 110 [115]. They had a great big bath tub where both teams piled in at the end of the day's play. Boycs was in there on his own at one point so I thought it was a great chance to learn from a legend. I asked if I could jump in and he grunted something, which I assumed to be yes. He sat on one side of the bath, I sat on the other and we didn't say a word to each other. Great chat, Boycs!
I'm ashamed to say he got me out once - c Illingworth b Boycott - in a match at Southampton in 1983. They had a combined age of 94, which was almost five times my own at the time. Oh, Judgie!
The Judge: More Than Just A Game, by Robin Smith, is published by Yellow Jersey