Tourists beware the sound of the Smiths
First it was Graeme last summer, now Devon and Dwayne are threatening Anderson and Co
Sunday 07 March 2004
England's bowlers found it hard enough coping with one Smith last summer. Now they face the prospect of dealing with two in the series against West Indies that starts at Sabina Park in Kingston on Thursday.
Graeme Smith, the South African captain and left-handed opener, amassed double-centuries in the first two Tests, at Edgbaston and Lord's, last year before he was finally contained. For West Indies, Devon, 22, another left-handed opener, and Dwayne, a 20-year-old right-handed No 6, will fill the two unsettled positions in a potentially potent batting order which, as it has for the past decade, will have Brian Lara as its hub.
Both Smiths approach their batting with typical West Indian flair and aggression, but they have come into Test cricket by contrasting routes. A first-class cricketer at 17, Devon graduated through the established system to become only the third Test cricketer from Grenada, after wicket-keeper Junior Murray and leg-spinner Rawl Lewis. Dwayne was plucked out of obscurity by the chief selector, Sir Viv Richards, as a replacement for the injured Marlon Samuels on the recent tour of South Africa.
Devon was the leading run-scorer on tours of England with the Under-19s in 2001 and the A team the following year. On each trip, he confronted James Anderson, an opponent he is likely to meet again over the next couple of months. Anderson opened the bowling in the Under-19 Tests, in which Smith hit 168 at Trent Bridge, and for Lancashire when Smith helped himself to 181 for the A team.
Along with three consistent seasons in the regional competition, such progress earned him promotion to the Test team for the home series against Australia last season. He started with a pugnacious 62 on debut against Brett Lee, Jason Gillespie and company, but an average of 23 by the end of the four Tests cost him a place on the subsequent tour of Zimbabwe and South Africa.
A session with Sir Garry Sobers and concentrated work on his technique led to yet another high-scoring 2004 regional Carib Beer Series (842 runs in eight matches, four hundreds and an average of 76) and, with Wavell Hinds now out of the series with a damaged groin, his recall was inevitable.
His small physique and dashing strokeplay are reminiscent of Roy Fredericks, a left-handed opener of an earlier generation. The coming series should provide a clue as to whether he can come close to matching Fredericks' record. If he does, a long career is in prospect, for Fredericks played 59 Tests in the 1970s, averaging 44.
This series is also likely to dictate Dwayne's immediate future. Richards had seen his solitary first-class hundred, for Barbados against the Leeward Islands in 2002, and a whirlwind, unbeaten 92, with nine sixes, in last October's domestic one-day tournament. They were enough to negate an ordinary first-class average of 22 when he was sent out to South Africa.
The gamble, one of several since Richards was appointed two years ago, earned spectacular returns. With West Indies fighting to avoid their third successive defeat in another disastrous overseas series, Dwayne marched on to Newlands in Cape Town midway through the last day of his debut Test and blasted a hundred filled with breathtaking strokes off 89 balls, briefly raising the tourists' sights from a probable loss into an unlikely victory.
When Lara decided a draw was the best option, Dwayne was unbeaten on 105 and West Indies had broken a sequence of seven successive Test defeats in South Africa.
In all-round ability and method, if not in his slim physique, Dwayne, who has spent the last two seasons in England in the Birmingham and Bolton leagues, is a West Indian Freddie Flintoff, a natural whose game is enhanced by medium-pace swing bowling and sure-handed fielding. Like Flintoff, he has discovered that swashbuckling hundreds are not everyday occurrences against Test bowling.
His last innings was unre-cognisable. On a slow Kensington Oval pitch, he grafted for the better part of four hours for 114 against Guyana to guide Barbados into the final of the Carib Beer Series.
"I decided that I'm going to show the people that I can also bat for long periods and still get runs," he said afterwards. "Every game, I've got to look to bat long and be better than I was the last game."
If he and Devon follow that, England are likely to be just as sick of the name Smith as they were last summer.
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