DateLine: 20th December 2005
Mike Smith’s medium fast bowling may not have threatened fingers or throats in the way a quicker bowler might, but for several seasons in the late 1990’s he brought terror to batting averages across the counties of England. His bowling was built on the simple principle of accuracy being better than speed or a brutish physique (he stood just 5 9” and had an unremarkable build). With a probing line on or outside off-stump his ability to get controlled movement tested and defeated the technique of many good batsmen. An England A Tour to Pakistan in 1995-6 was ruined by injury, although of more harm to his international chances was the feeling that, like Martin Bicknell, his lack of express pace would hamper his chances of taking Test match wickets. When his chance finally came in July 1997, it was right in the middle of his best county season. It was also the Fourth Test of the Ashes series at Headingley, traditionally a ground where unheralded county workhorses had a day in the Test match sun. However, despite all the omens being correct, Smith returned figures of 0-89 as England crashed to an innings defeat. However, he had tempted Matthew Elliott into edging a sitter to Graham Thorpe in the slips when he had made 29. Thorpe somehow palmed the chance away, Elliott scored another 170 runs and Smith was robbed of a deserved Test wicket. The fact that Leeds enjoyed an unlikely sunny spell during that match, while also enduring a gusty wind, were two metrological facts which conspired against the ball swinging, and Smith himself freely conceded that when he didn’t swing the ball his bowling was greatly emasculated. He never got close to selection again, with his average fielding and batting compromising his chances of being the sort of ‘total cricketer’ so in vogue (and so in vainly searched for) at the time. However, there was to be a happy ending to his career, as he became an essential part of the Gloucestershire limited-overs team which hogged domestic silverware around the turn of the Millennium. In the five Lords finals in which Smith played, Gloucestershire won every single one. Although hardly the sort of all-rounder thought to prosper in one-day cricket, his accurate bowling smothered his opponents’ attempts to score quickly, and picked off any batsman looking to bat too expansively. Since retiring Smith has gone from poacher to gamekeeper by giving an ECB master class to umpires on what signs and signals to look out for in ball-tampering cases.
(Article: Copyright © 2005 Matthew Reed)