HAROLD GEOFFREY OWEN-SMITH -- distinctly the most exhilarating member of the last South African team to visit this country -- was born at Rondebosch, Cape Town, on February 18, 1909, so that he had only reached his twentieth year when he enjoyed the distinction of playing in his first Test Match.
He was at school from 1923 onwards to 1927 at the Diocesan College, Rondebosch, where he learned his cricket and received valuable coaching from the English professionals who annually go out to South Africa. Among those responsible for his training were Newman, Astill, Lee (Middlesex), O'Connor and Sibbles.
Previous to coming to England, he had played twice against English cricketers -- for Western Province and also for South African schoolboys -- but had taken no part in the matches of the Currie Cup tournament.
Cricket was not his only game in South Africa. At Rugby football he became a useful fly-half and centre three-quarter and gained a Blue at Cape Town University and, as a boxer, he won the Inter-Varsity Light-Weight Championship.
It is scarcely saying too much to venture the opinion that the 1929 South African tour in England will seldom be spoken of without reference to Owen-Smith. Quite early in the season, he stood out by himself for his magnificent fielding, in which department of the game his versatility became exemplified by his speed and accuracy whether at cover-point or in the outfield. Clean picking-up and a splendid return, allied to unbounded energy, were the attributes which gained for him a well-deserved prominence among his colleagues.
He obtained certain successes with his slow leg-break bowling but not until the Test match at Lord's did he show his pluck and resource as the batsman for a desperate situation. In that particular game he went in when five men were out for 189, helped Morkel in a useful partnership which produced 48, saw the ninth wicket fall at 279 and then, with Bell, put on 42 for the last stand.
On the face of it his 52 did not appear a very remarkable score but the manner in which he made his runs appealed to everybody. He manoeuvred to get the bowling in most clever fashion and punished anything in the nature of a loose ball with the utmost certainty. Moreover, when he hit White for six he accomplished a feat of which no batsman in Australia during the last tour of the M.C.C. team had been capable.
Owen-Smith's great triumph came in the Third Test Match, when on the last morning he and Bell again engaged in a remarkable partnership. Nine wickets being down for 172 when Bell joined Smith, the match looked as good as over but, by cricket of a character very similar to that they had displayed at Lord's, the two men actually added 103 before the innings closed.
In so doing they set up a new record for South African cricket for the last wicket, beating the 94 by Percy Sherwell and A.E. Vogler at Cape Town in 1905-06. In making his 129, Smith played with the judgment of a veteran in his selection of the right ball to punish and his hitting was as safe as it was brilliant. Once again, too, he displayed extraordinary skill in managing to get most of the bowling.
It would possibly be an exaggeration to say that he is a really great batsman -- his methods are, perhaps, a little too daring -- but as to his courage and refusal to be daunted by the odds against him no two opinions can be held. He drives, cuts and hits to leg very well indeed and is clearly a cricketer for whom the future holds unbounded possibilities. After he returned to South Africa, it was announced that he would come back to England as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University.