Cricket: Past experience helps Smith pull off rescue act: Frocester reach last eight after a nerveless knock by a seasoned campaigner. Norman Harris on the National Village Cup trail

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The Independent Online
THERE is something about Ian Smith - the big build, the bushy eyebrows and moustache - which suggests one from a different age and culture. A farmer, perhaps, in the old Rhodesia of his namesake. But Ian Smith is a man of the Severn Vale, the headmaster of Newnham-on-Severn Primary. He is also the hitter who all but won Frocester the last Lord's final.

Smith is 39, but three Frocester team-mates are older, the captain one of them; and age would prove a beguiling theme as Frocester and Usk, two teams who knew each other well, fought for a place in the last eight. Usk respected the experience of their opponents, but they hoped that the speed and talent of their 'buzzing' young team would prove decisive. As, indeed, it did in the previous cup round.

The ground at the small market town of Usk is of a size to stage matches for Glamorgan and Wales, and against visitors known to play on a small village ground, Usk pushed the boundaries all the way out. The result was four run-outs, three of them with fast, flat throws from the boundary.

Today, with Usk batting first, the opening ball immediately sets youth against age. On one hand, Deri Watkins, an opener who always goes for his shots. On the other, 45-year-old Basil Norbury, the purveyor of tempting, slow drifters. The first one draws a furious drive and a miss. Soon, two in one over sail far over the straight boundary.

But none of Usk's batsmen are to build on good starts. Nerves, it is said, cause them to take risks. Their most nerveless batsman is their oldest: the former footballer, Peter Spiring, whose wiry and fit-looking frame belies his 46 years. The man, whose clubs included Bristol City and Liverpool, has been a big influence on the Usk youngsters.

The senior pro might have made a big impact, but for a nudge being intercepted by the marvellous reaction catch of a diving Simon Reed.

By the end, the wicketkeeper has made four catches and two stumpings, and leads off his applauding team-mates. Usk's 156 looks distinctly light. The reliability of Frocester's batting is legendary.

But the ball swings, as it has all through a hazy afternoon. A wicket falls immediately. The recovery is slow. The man for the hour will surely be the captain, John Evans. His phlegmatic dead bat, and an occasionally measured cover drive, suggest a Patsy Hendren of the village game.

All of Usk is aghast when Evans hoists to square leg and Mike Kear, a talented all-round sportsman, sees the ball spill from his cupped hands. In the next over, a flash by Evans is followed by an unmistakable click-smack. All fielders run to the keeper, but none faster than Kear.

Soon it is 56 for 4, and the Big Four are all gone. It is a situation Frocester have not known in recent cup history, and it generates near-panic. 'We've got to go beserk,' one player says. 'No, we don't need to go beserk,' Norbury says. 'Smithy's got to be in with 10 overs to go.'

Taking charge, Norbury tells the next batsman: 'Tie up one end. No more wickets.' Tony Clarkson straight away uses his feet, hits a four and then a catch. It is 60 for 5. He returns to explain: 'I can't stop myself, if it's there I've got to hit it.'

But there is no hitting from Smith, who belted 53 in that Lord's final, as the left-hander does little more than stretch a big right foot down the wicket. Later, one of the umpires will say that he was the only calm man on the field. With the fast bowler, Sean Little, he inches the score along, but the overs are racing by. And the ground has gone quiet.

'Let's get some noise on,' Norbury says to Reed, and the vice-captain hurries around to the Frocester side of the ground. There, sisters-in-law who are both named Grace chart the score ball-by-ball. Their homemade cards show Frocester 48 behind Usk at the same point. The two Graces accept the long cup trail is at an end. Then, next over, Smith uses his reach to strike three clean fours.

Smith and Little have doubled the score but the fast bowler succumbs to impatience, failing to connect with even bigger swings and then holing out at long-off. A maiden over, and now 26 are needed from three overs.

For the third-last, Smith faces an opening bowler who will give him some 'width', and his eye is now in. It is the game's decisive over. Three times, and without lifting the ball, Smith's strokes thread the ball between sprinting oufielders. The over yields 15.

'Wanting 11 from two overs,' Smith says later, 'made me think of Lord's, where we wanted 11 from one. I hit the first ball for six and was bowled having another swing. Afterwards, people kept asking me what I was thinking, and I realised I wasn't thinking of anything. That has haunted me, really. But I think I learnt a lot from it. It's made me much calmer.'

----------------------------------------------------------------- USK ----------------------------------------------------------------- D Watkins c Reed b Woodmason. . . . . . . . .21 M Tamplin run out . . . . . . . . . . . . . .13 M Kear c Collins b Smith. . . . . . . . . . .21 P Spiring c Reed b Camm . . . . . . . . . . .12 J Hughes c Reed b Little . . . . . . . . . . .8 S Dance c Reed b Hudd . . . . . . . . . . . .17 O Watkins st Reed b Little. . . . . . . . . .24 R Rees c and b Little. . . . . . . . . . . . .0 *A Kear not out . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .14 J Spencer b Hudd . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .9 D Waters st Reed b Woodmason . . . . . . . . .4 Extras (lb3 w9 nb1). . . . . . . . . . . . .13 Total (40 overs). . . . . . . . . . . . . .156 Fall: 1-28 2-43 3-61 4-81 5-90 6-123 7-125 8-131 9-143. Bowling: Norbury 9-1-36-0; Woodmason 7-1-18-2; Camm 4-0-25-1; Smith 3-1-11-1; Little 9-0-35-3; Hudd 8-0-28-2. FROCESTER I Collins c Dance b Watkins. . . . . . . . . .10 D Whincup c Dance b Spencer . . . . . . . . . .0 *J Evans c Dance b Watkins. . . . . . . . . . .27 S Reed b Watkins. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .5 I Smith not out. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .44 A Clarkson c Spencer b A Kear . . . . . . . . .4 S Little c A Kear b Waters. . . . . . . . . . .29 M Camm not out. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .13 Extras (b9 lb6 w9 nb1). . . . . . . . . . . . .25 Total (for 6, 39.2 overs). . . . . . . . . . .157 Fall 1-1 2-43 3-52 4-55 5-60 6-128. Did not bat: G Hudd, B Norbury, E Woodmason. Bowling: Waters 9-2-29-1; Spencer 6.2-0-42-1; Watkins 9-1-23-3; A Kear 9-2-19-1; M Kear 6-1-29-0. -----------------------------------------------------------------

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