Tales from the Boundary
The Man With The Greengages
One feature of John Arlott's cricket books is his pen portraits of players who appeal to him; many are the personification of the typical County professional who plies his trade day in, day out as much for love of the game as anything else. It is thus no surprise to find in his first book - ”Indian Summer” (1946) - a portrait of Ray Smith.
Arlott begins: “Ray Smith is unique: no other bowler of his type can produce such greengages...he brings them to matches in a seven-pound bag.” Presumably they came from the family farm at Great Waltham.
Ray Smith served Essex faithfully from 1934 to 1956. His start was less than auspicious; in his first home game at Brentwood Kent ran up 803 for 4 (Smith 1 for 115 from 22 overs). By 1939 however he was top scoring at Sheffield in an innings win over Yorkshire.
During the war he captained the British Empire XI which raised funds for war charities as well as entertaining crowds at many venues in and around London. The batting averages for 1945 show Trevor Bailey at the top, with Harry Crabtree the leading scorer, and Bertie Clarke taking most wickets (135 at 7 apiece!). Others who appeared at various times included Learie Constantine, Keith Miller, Bob Wyatt and the New Zealander Martin Donnelly.
When cricket resumed in 1946, Ray Smith bore a heavy load for several seasons. Indeed Ray and his cousin Peter Smith pretty much comprised the Essex bowling in this period. Ray took pleasure in laying claim to an unwanted record: the most expensive 100 wickets in history - 125 at an average of 37.26 in 1947.
Ray would usually open the bowling with seamers and later switch to off-breaks by way of variation. He was also a fine fielder and - on occasions - an explosive hitter; more than once he hit the fastest century of the season. At Ilford in 1951 Essex met the South Africans and on the last day the tourists set Essex 280 to win in 135 minutes. Ray Smith came in at number 3 and scorched to 147 in 94 minutes (26 fours). When he was out the momentum flagged and Essex finished 25 short on 255 for 5 – still a noble effort against an attack featuring two outstanding spinners in Athol Rowan and Tufty Mann.
Ray's service ended on a suitably high note in 1956 when in his last home game, Essex beat Yorkshire for the first time since the war with Ray at the crease when the winning runs came.
John Arlott observed “Ray Smith lights the hard-working day of the typical county cricket all-rounder with an unquenchable gusto for the game......Ray Smith is a good man with whom to play or talk cricket; if his name does not belong among the great of the game it is stamped upon many good days - which may be a better mark to leave.”
What better epitaph for a career of devoted service?