Peter Smith

The career of THOMAS PETER BROMLY SMITH provides an example of the way natural ability can be moulded into shape by a master craftsman. Perhaps the choice of Peter Smith - as he is known in the cricket world - for W. R. Hammond's M.C.C. Australian touring team was one of the big surprises of last summer, but his whole life is a tale of unexpected happenings. Instead of playing for Essex and England, he might have gained fame with the Rhodesian Mounted Police, or as a film actor - he has appeared in crowd scenes - or in radio as an outdoor commentator - he broadcast in India as a member of Lord Tennyson's team in 1937-38.

This is his life story, which, like Washbrook, Fishlock and Bedser, he gave on the boat deck of the Stirling Castle on the voyage to Australia. Smith was born on October 30, 1908, in the Suffolk town of Ipswich; went to Chelmsford Grammar School, and became a border at Highfield College, Leigh-on-Sea. He played cricket first at the age of 10. His main interest then was making runs as a right-hand batsman, but on leaving school at 17 he played for the Essex village club at Boreham and developed some erratic fast bowling. Looking for a higher standard of cricket, he joined the Chelmsford club, but at 18 he said he was at the cross-roads of hislife.

Owing to depression there was no scope in farming, and he spent two years with the Post Office electrical engineering department. This occupation lacked excitement, and in the hope of finding adventure he approached the Rhodesian Mounted Police, who arranged for him to sail to Salisbury in June 1929. In april that year his mother became seriously ill, and his departure was postponed for six months. At that time Essex sent Nichols and O'Connor round the county on a talent-spotting expedition, and Smith, with the summer free, put in his name for trial as a batsman. His display with the bat resulted in rejection, but he stayed and spent his time behind the stumps returning the ball to the bowlers. This led to O'Connor asking him if he bowled leg-breaks - he must have been spinning the ball unwittingly - but he replied that he had never tried. O'Connor invited him to come into another net, and Smith promptly knocked down his off stump. So he was offered a further trial at Leyton, and, thought the day appointed was washed out by rain, Essex decided to retain him for one month. He responded so well to Charles McGahey's coaching that he was engaged for the rest of the season.

In the same summer he appeared in his first county match, and H. Storer and J. Bowden greeted him at Derby by making together 322, a record opening stand for Derbyshire. This certainly was no encouragement for a new bowler, but Smith did not worry, and was chosen for the matches against Yorkshire, Gloucestershire, Northamptonshire and the return with Derbyshire. His only success in all those games was the wicket of V. W. C. Jupp, who missed a high full toss that landed on the top of his stumps. This was achieved at a total expenditure of 233 runs, and in seven innings he scored only 42 runs. By now all thoughts of Rhodesia had vanished and cricket became the main objective. Smith went to G. A. Faulkner, the South African Test player, who ran a cricket school at Walham Green. He could not afford to pay for lessons, but after seeing him perform Faulkner suggested that if he bowled at his pupils, he, in turn, would coach him and give him £1 a week out-of-pocket expenses. So, during the winter of 1929-30, Smith, averaged six bowling hours each day and was taught the art of producing in- and out-swingers, leg-breaks, googlies and off-spinners.

When the season of 1930 began he was full of confidence. In the first match against Yorkshire he opened the bowling with Nichols and clean bowled Holmes and Mitchell. He did not attempt his spinners until the Whitsun match with Worcestershire at Leyton, when he took six wickets in each innings, and soon afterwards he was awarded his county cap. After that Smith concentrated on slow bowling; although on occassions he goes on with the new ball, he never attempts to mix in-swingers with spinners.

By 1933 the name of Peter Smith was cropping up in the newspapers among the possibiles for Test honours, and here is a humorous story which at the time he did not think at all funny. With the exception of the last place, the England team for the final Test against West Indies at The Oval had been published. On the eve of the match Smith went to a Chelmsford cinema, only to be disturbed by an announcement on the screen that he was required outside. There he met his father, very excited, with a telegram from the Essex secretary stating that he was to report with his kit at The Oval next morning. Smith confirmed this by telephoning to Leyton, and was informed that Essex were in receipt of a telegram from the M.C.C. secretary, Mr. Findlay. Next day he arrived at The Oval, and after seeing R. E. S. Wyatt, the England captain, and other officials, he discovered that he was the victim of a hoax, but he spent the day as a guest of the England Board of Control, and Mr. Findlay assured him that one day his ability would gain him a place in the England team - a prophecy that was fulfilled thirteen years later on that very ground.

Not until 1936 was Smith considered an all-rounder. Then at Porsmouth, he hit his first county hundred - against Hampshire in eighty minutes. That placed him leader for the Lawrence trophy, but Ames, in almost the final match of the season, beat him by reaching three figures in sixty-eight minutes for an England XI against India in the Folkestone Festival. Last season Smith went close to completing the double. He took 120 wickets but fell 166 short of 1,000 runs, mainly because he was out of the Essex side for five games with a torn muscle in the lumbar region, an injury which also delayed his Test debut, for he was chosen for the Manchester match but could not play. Previous to that mishap he struck his best form with both bat and ball, but had to wait until the extra trial at Canterbury before he received a chance to prove his worth. On figures he accomplished nothing out of the ordinary, but he impressed the selectors by his steady length and flight, with the result that his ambition was realised when he received invitations to go to Australia and play in the final match against India at The Oval.

Smith thrives on hard work and is never happier than when bowling. Generally he fields close to the wicket, slip or gully. As a batsman he is never deterred by a serious situation and specialises with the straight drive and late cut. He can be proud of his war record. He enlisted on September 1, 1939, and was commissioned in June 1940 to the Essex Regiment. Posted to Egypt in May 1943, he became Staff-captain of Combined Operations and Troop Movements at Alexandria. In his spare time he played a considerable amount of cricket at Gezira, Alamein Club, and Alexandria. He captained the Middle East army team that flew to Rome and played a two-days match against the C.M.F. Besides going to India in 1937-38, Smith visited New Zealand as an amateur with Julian Cahn's side in 1939. He is a cousin of Ray Smith another valuable Essex all-rounder.

© John Wisden & Co