Cricketer's Diary: Smith's battle honours

GOOCH has guts, Gower exudes grace, but there is no one more solid than Smith. He is the one in the England team most gambling men would have put their house on to halt Pakistan's procession.

There's something about his forward defensive that says: 'Get past that,', the nature of his rasping cut that announces 'Take that, sir' in the manner of medieval jousters.

The duel between Smith and Waqar Younis has been a captivating one all summer, laden with punches and counter-punches, bristling with aggression.

There have been some choice verbal exchanges too. Waqar appears not to have been averse to threatening more target practice after a quick bouncer has been skilfully avoided. Smith responds with some metaphorical chest-beating - a back-foot smash next ball followed by the retort: 'You'll have to bowl faster than that, you know.' This is brave man's talk.

There must be mutual respect between these two but it is not obvious. There were so many private comments exchanged that during one match Wasim Akram, fielding at mid-off, suddenly said: 'Hey you two, why don't you just make up.'

In spite of a lingering South African accent, Smith is an evolving Englishman with a declared love of the country and no intention of returning to his birthplace. But he has never neglected the work ethic that he gleaned in Durban from his British-born father, a saddler, and his mother.

As a teenager he would be up at 5am to practise on a strip of artificial turf in the back garden, a run and swim complementing the pre-breakfast routine.

The Smiths helped to fix up winter club contracts for various other Hampshire players and they would arrive regularly in mid-morning for a session against the bowling machine before sampling one of Florence the cook's legendary lunches by the pool.

It was a far cry from the tense, sometimes acrimonious atmosphere of a Test match, but has stood Robin in good stead. And while he perspires, honing technique and muscle, his brother Chris will be loafing on a lilo in Perth, betraying a satisfied smile. He wagered good money at long odds on his brother playing 50 Tests before he had even made his debut. So far Robin has appeared in 36, his average is 50.86 and rising.

Smith obviously has no worries about imminent winter employment, but he is in the lucky minority. For most county cricketers the last day of the season comes as a nasty shock after five months of having your life mapped out and some of the mortgage covered.

Suddenly you are dumped like a stone with no retainers or fringe benefits and only a contract for next year as a source of some optimism. One leading bowler in his early twenties is still earning under pounds 8,000 this year - calculated on an hourly rate that is less than the average wage of an office cleaner.

With the recession biting even harder in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, winter coaching jobs are more difficult to find and it is possibly time the Cricketers' Association appointed someone to find their members off-season jobs.

It does not matter much what they are. In the past, players have performed as the back end of a horse in a pantomime, caught free-range chickens with a large net, or sampled sugar-beet crop for moisture content, as the wicketkeeper, Chris Scott, will be doing shortly.

Scott wore the benefit tie of his erstwhile colleague, Kevin Cooper, last week as a mark of respect to the stalwart whose release was announced by Nottinghamshire. This is sad news, but Cooper is in a class of his own as man and swing bowler and should find other pastures on which to ply his trade.

Simon Hughes, of Durham, composed his column while rejoicing at the termination of shortened run-ups for bowlers in the Sunday League from next season.

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