Friday, 10 November 2017
Time for Edwin Smith to be recognised by club
They are names that roll off the tongue when discussing Derbyshire cricket greats (and are incidentally missed from the otherwise excellent statistics on the club site). Unless Harold Rhodes, who ended his career with the club far too early on 993 wickets, makes a belated comeback at the age of 81, that short list will never be added to.
And the one surviving man on it is Edwin Smith.
Edwin was one of the great unsung county legends, going about his business for season after season throughout the 1950s and 1960s. With Derbyshire's attack built squarely around outstanding seam bowlers, there were times when he didn't get to bowl, yet he still managed to take 1217 wickets for the club. He also took more wickets at Chesterfield than any other bowler and declined the opportunity to leave and play for Northamptonshire, when the spin-friendly conditions might have seen his career haul higher still. A loyal man, he opted to stay with the county of his birth and served them well for almost a quarter of a century.
Better, it must be said, than the county served him over the years. Despite making his debut in 1951 and being capped in 1954, he had to wait until 1966 for a testimonial year. The rationale was that he was still young enough to get another one, but he was offered the role of county coach to prematurely end his playing career. Then he was sacked, after building a young side that went to the semi-final of the under-25 competition and provided county stalwarts for the next few years, at the end of 1974.They gave him £100 for his trouble, much cheaper than a second benefit.
Money was tight, the rationale for the sacking, but that state of penury also saw him replacing the glass in the old indoor school himself to save a few bob, as well as cleaning it out with the help of his wife, Jean. He bought towels and incidentals for the players to use too, things for which he was never reimbursed.
It was a sad end to a long association. He had been overlooked for the club captaincy, some said because his mining background wouldn't sit well with the 'suits' at Lord's. He was also largely ignored for one-day cricket, this at a time when the most economical bowlers were the purveyors of spin around the country like Norman Gifford, Ray East, Brian Langford, Peter Sainsbury and many more. Derbyshire usually went with an all-seam attack, with mixed results, most often poor.
He went on to be a scourge of league batsmen for many seasons, during which he took thousands more wickets. One Sunday afternoon in the mid-1970s, he quickly took the wickets of Eddie Barlow, Peter Kirsten and Allan Lamb in a benefit match, before being equally quickly removed from the attack, so as not to ruin the entertainment.
When I went to interview him with a view to a blog piece a few winters ago, I quickly realised that here was a man with a story, a career worth retelling and a life worthy of public record. My first book followed and the print runs quickly sold out, testimony to the esteem in which he is still held.
Outside of the game, he has been one of the most respected snooker players in Derbyshire and still plays in the top tier of the game in the county as he approaches his 84th birthday in January. 2018 marks his 70th year as a member of Grassmoor Snooker Club, an astonishing feat by any standards.
At a time when Derbyshire County Cricket Club is, with due respect to many others before them, more professionally run than at any time in its history, I would like to see the club honour and recognise the last man who will ever take a thousand wickets for them. Whether in a lifetime achievement award, or the offer of the club presidency, it would be apposite and overdue recognition for a quite remarkable man.
Indeed, one of my few gripes with the current administration is that the contributions of a number of older generation cricketers, people who I grew up watching, appear to be overlooked.The presidency, an honorary role, has gone from Geoff Miller to Kim Barnett and then Michael Holding. Legends to a man and wonderful players, but it would seem that the claims of those of an earlier vintage, such as Edwin, Harold Rhodes, Peter Eyre and many more, have been disregarded. Once 'twas not so and the office went to the senior capped professional in turn. Better that way, I think. And fairer.
I hope that the club will do the right thing in the near future, before it is too late. An early season lunch and an award to recognise his outstanding contribution to the club would be the right thing to do.
And I would travel from Glasgow and back in a day to be there for a very special man.