On and off the Field

Published: 2004
Pages: 259
Author: Smith, Ed
Publisher: Penguin
Rating: 4 stars

On And Off The Field
On and off the Field

Some might think of the Kent and Middlesex batsman Ed Smith as one of England’s lost captains. When he first appeared in the public consciousness in 2003 much was made of his Double First from Cambridge – although the player himself drily pointed out to interviewers that it didn’t make batting any easier – and comparisons were inevitably made with Mike Brearley, a Cambridge man of an earlier generation, whom Smith was to emulate in due course by being made captain of Middlesex.

This was his second book, following quickly on from Playing Hard Ball, and a very good one it is. It was Smith’s good fortune at the start of 2003 to decide to write a diary of the season, although it’s debatable whether he would have found a publisher so readily had he not been called up by England during the course of it. It’s a rollercoaster few months for Smith, starting as just another county player, selected for England almost by popular demand after hitting imperious form, and then the deflation of learning that he’d been omitted from England’s winter tour party.

As so often happens when a player has a stellar year, the season starts quietly. Smith gets some 20s and 30s, but nothing eye-catching. Kent win some and lose some. The Zimbabweans arrive in England and are duly rolled over. No-one is advocating Ed Smith for the England team. But in this part of the book there are some telling and prescient passages. Andrew Flintoff, for instance, “came in with Lancashire at 43 for 4 and played as well as Ian Botham in his pomp … as only Graeme Hick can do among contemporaries, Flintoff made it look like men amongs boys. If he can bat like that for England – and there is no reason why he can’t – crowds around the world are in for a real treat.”

It’s a typical piece of writing. Smith analyses his own technique, but he has just as much to say about his team-mates, and he’s good at quoting them, so we get a side of players that we otherwise never would. It’s a long way from the somewhat anodyne autobiographies that we so often get from current players.

He finishes June with a pair, his first in over 100 first-class games, but turns a corner in July with a string of hundreds starting with 135 against the (then) very strong Surrey side. Picked to captain Kent against the touring South Africans, he learns in the middle of the match that he’s been picked for the third Test. Elation quickly gives way to irritation as a local radio station wakes him at 8 o’clock on a Sunday morning.

Smith makes 64 in his first Test innings, but only 23 in the next four, including two ducks, and isn’t surprised to be omitted from the winter tour squad. Before the last Test his county captain tells him, “get runs in the fifth Test and you’ll be picked for two tours … fail, and given that you were picked in good form, you might never play again.” That’s exactly what transpires, of course – but Smith had no way of knowing it at the time. A senior player at Kent, he is genuinely thrilled to be a new boy in the England set-up and feels privileged to play in Alec Stewart’s memorable farewell, even though it turns out to be his as well. A good number of colour photographs help to make this a title well worth tracking down.

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