Edwin Smith: A Life in Derbyshire Cricket

Published: 2015
Pages: 143
Author: Dolman, Steve
Publisher: ACS
Rating: 4 stars

The ACS Lives in Cricket series reached Volume 40 with this life of Edwin Smith. It is fair to say the quality of the books has been a little uneven at times, but the best have been very good indeed, and this one is right up there with those on Jack Bond, Frank Foster and Frank Mitchell*.

Amongst many things I have learnt from Steve Dolman’s fine book is that as an off spinner Edwin Smith was a very fine bowler, and one who in the 1960s was not too far from England selection. This surprised me as although the name E. Smith was one I recalled well enough from poring over my father’s Wisdens as a child, I don’t actually remember knowing anything about him. How could it be that from an era from which I could still happily name more than a full side from every county in the Championship I didn’t have at least some basic knowledge of this man?

The answer became clear as I read the book. Rightly or wrongly (almost certainly the latter it would seem) Edwin only ever played eight List A matches, despite his career extending over the first three summers of the old John Player League, so 48 matches there, as well as nine seasons of the old Gillette Cup. What does this tell me? It confirms that my knowledge of the cricketers who I remember so well from my childhood was almost all gleaned from the televised cricket of the time, which was just Test and List A matches. I think my passion for cricket would have been fired anyway, but on reflection I wonder if perhaps I should reconsider whether there may be benefits, other than financial, to T20 cricket.

To return to Edwin Smith he is, like so many of his teammates were, a Derbyshire man through and through. There are, as I have observed many times before, real dangers for a biographer who embarks on a strictly chronological trip through his subject’s life. Steve Dolman has not, as far as I am aware, written a book before (although he does maintain a splendid blog on the subject of Derbyshire cricket) but despite such inexperience he amply demonstrates that, provided the job is done properly, there is no reason why such an approach should not work.

The Dolman formula is, essentially, to recognise that most of his readers are going to be well aware of how to access the scorecards of the matches Edwin played in during his career, so he dwells only on the highlights, or those with a story which adds something to the overall picture. In this way there is much detail on the Derbyshire v Australians match of 1968, a game in which Edwin played a leading role with bat and ball, and in which the county failed by just eight runs to defeat the tourists.

But the most impressive aspect of Dolman’s narrative is how, despite telling the story of Edwin’s life, he has managed to tell something of the stories of most of his teammates, and his writing is regularly interspersed with their contributions. Given that of those teammates only two have been the subject of previous biographies (Les Jackson and, Volume 35 of this series, Donald Carr), and only two others have written autobiographies (Harold Rhodes and Bob Taylor), there is much to be gained from this. As well as the reader feeling by the end of the book that they are on speaking terms with Edwin himself, they will also feel they know much of the personalities of men like Cliff Gladwin, Brian Jackson, Derek Morgan, Laurie Johnson and Mike Page, not to mention my own great favourite, Alan Ward.

So where does Edwin Smith: A Life in Derbyshire Cricket fit in the hierarchy of its peers? In his book about Jack Bond Douglas Miller had the advantage of writing about a man who awoke a sleeping giant, and turned them into English cricket’s first great limited overs side. With Frank Foster Robert Brooke was dealing with a very fine cricketer and a man with an extraordinary life and highly unusual personality, and whilst Frank Mitchell’s deeds on the cricket field might not have matched Foster’s, Anthony Bradbury had every bit as interesting a life to try and reconstruct. Steve Dolman on the other hand was working with a cricketer who despite being a fine player was ultimately just a loyal servant of a county club, and he never courted any sort of controversy. Yet without the ‘advantages’ enjoyed by Miller, Brooke and Bradbury Dolman has still produced a book which is a pleasure to read so, by the shortest of short heads, I nominate Edwin Smith: A Life in Derbyshire Cricket as, so far, the best in a generally excellent series.

*I have only sought to compare like with like, which is the only reason the splendid Brief Candles is not mentioned here.

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