Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Sporting Heroes : Robin Smith

Robin Smith - Hampshire and England cricketer.

The stereotypical view of cricket is of a slow paced sedate game played out by gentlemen in a green and pleasant English meadow, but the reality of top class International cricket is completely different. It is about pressure, aggression and hostility - a place where only the brave survive.

And none were braver than Robin Smith, England's hard hitting middle-order batsman of the late 80s and early 90s. He was at his best when facing fast, hostile bowling and never took a backward step. You knew when he walked out to take on the opposition's snarling attack dogs that you were in for some great theater. Take the video above. Ian Bishop and Courtney Walsh - two of the West Indies "pacemen of the apocalypse" - unleash a torrent of vicious short-pitched deliveries to Smith who ducks and weaves out of the way until he's finally pinned and smashed in the jaw. By a hard ball delivered in excess of 90mph. A short pause to allow copious swelling of the jaw follows (Smith would have his jaw broken by another West Indian several years later), then the very next ball Walsh delivers another bouncer that Smith just smiles at.

What the clip doesn't show is the devastatingly explosive power of Smith's batting. Possessing the biggest forearms in cricket, he hooked and cut the ball with such power that it often clattered into the boundary before the fielders had moved. I remember him scoring 167 not out against Australia in a one day International in the early 1990s where he single-handedly took their attack apart. Although he had a weakness against top class spin bowlers like Shane Warne (and let's face it, who didn't), the selectors ended his International career far too soon and he was still an outstanding player until his retirement in 2003.

My favorite Robin Smith story concerns that fine Australian fast bowler (and master sledger) and character Merv Hughes (they don't make them like him anymore). Well known for "having a few things to say" to the batsman, he bowled a ball which Smith played and missed. Lumbering up to the batsman, Merv growled "Smith, you can't f***ing bat". Next ball Smith clobbered it out of the ground. He looked over to where Hughes stood glaring at him and retorted "we make a fine pair Merv. I can't f***ing bat and you can't f***ing bowl".

So for standing up to the best pace attacks in the world and being a phenomenal batsman, Robin Smith is the third entry in my sporting heroes series.

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