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On May 21, 1993, Robin Smith’s magnificent innings floored Australian bowlers into submission at Edgbaston. Bharath Ramaraj looks back at the heart-stirring knock for England that went in vain.
Once in a while, a cricketer feels like he is batting or bowling in a dream-like state and has touched celestial heights. He sends the crowd into a state of dizziness with his majestic brilliance, and his heroic deed will be reverberated for years to come.
On May 21st 1993, Robin ‘Judge’ Smith touched those fabulous peaks by bedazzling and bewitching the crowd with a compendium of breathtaking strokes against Australia at Edgbaston. At three for 55, England were reeling under overcast conditions. But once Smith came out to the middle, just like a lion that had been freed from the cage, he went onto smash Australian bowlers to shreds. As he played a few of those wondrous debonair pulls and lofted shots against pacers down the ground, you felt like capturing those shots in a large gilt-edged frame to keep it with you forever.
If we jog our memory back to the English summer of 1993, the confident Australian team were expected to win the Texaco Trophy and Ashes series comfortably. They showed nerves of steel to pull off a fine win in a scorching cliff-hanger of a contest in the first One-Day International (ODI) of the Texaco Trophy held at Old Trafford.
In the next ODI played at Edgbaston, they won the toss, elected to bowl under overcast conditions and ripped through England’s top-order. At that time, they looked set to wrap up the series. Craig McDermott had combined skill with chronometric precision to snare two early wickets. He had sent the key man in the opposition camp, Graham Gooch on a long walk back to the pavilion. By then, Paul ‘Pistol’ Reiffel had also dismissed a tentative looking Graeme Hick.
Smith must have felt like a boy on a burning deck then. He though, found an able partner in the left-handed Graham Thorpe. Thorpe, playing only in his second game seemed like a battle-hardened cricketer who would serve England for long. At the other end of the spectrum, Smith slowly but steadily started to open his shoulders.
Smith gave a glimpse of his ability to play in the ‘V’ with immaculate drives off Merv Hughes and more so, Reiffel. Smith was never a fine player of spin. But he used his feet to Tim May, the off-spinner to bisect the minutest of gaps on the on-side to collect a boundary. He soon compiled a well-measured half-century off 94 balls.
However, it was Smith thumping an audacious pull over wide long-on off Steve Waugh’s bowling in the 41st over of the innings that signalled we were about to watch something special. Smith suddenly started to play with renewed vitality and vigour. Within no time, Australian bowlers were engulfed by what can be called as the Robin Smith tornado.
Smith took a heavy toll of Reiffel’s seam/swing bowling. A mere flick of the wrists off Reiffel saw the ball scurrying towards the long-on region for a boundary. That stroke was a portent to what was to come. He followed it by essaying a crunching square-cut off Hughes. Australian fielders stood motionless, as it ricocheted off the boundary boards at the speed of lightning.
Once he completed a resplendent century, Smith played akin to a turbocharged engine. While up against Reiffel, he took a delivery from off-stump and swatted it like a fly over mid-wicket for a boundary. Smith then, made a bit of room for himself and lofted it down the ground for a jaw-dropping six. Now that stroke bordered on the outer limits of sheer audacity. Those were the days when bats weren’t as good what we see now. The chutzpah to thump a fine pacer like Reiffel for a towering six over his head requires immense power and heavy dollops of skill.
Reiffel was scratching his head in sheer disbelief, as he didn’t know what to do next. He went for a toe-crushing yorker, but missed it by a fraction. Smith who then, must have been watching it like a football clouted it over wide long-on for yet another sumptuous boundary. He must have had eagle-like eyes to play that shot, as it wasn’t a bad ball by any stretch of imagination.
If that wasn’t enough when Reiffel bowled a back of a length delivery, he swilled onto the back-foot in no time to play an outrageously brilliant pull front of square for a six. Poor Reiffel, as runs continued to flow like a gigantic river from the magical bat of Smith. He thwacked him for another monstrous six over long-off. Reiffel must have been a devastated man by the end of that innings. When Smith smashed a boundary for the umpteenth time off Steve Waugh’s bowling in the 52nd over of the game, even the battle-hardened cricketer applauded his bravery and fearless courage. Such was the carnage from Smith’s willow that around 100 were scored in the last eight overs of the innings.
Right at the end of England’s innings, Smith seemed to be a tired man, but he continued to shine like a beacon by playing felicitous strokes. It just shows the selfless devotion of the man, while playing for his adopted country. Smith finally ended up with 167 runs off 163 balls. Since compiling his century, he had smashed 67 runs in a mere 27 balls. No wonder, he won a tidal wave of appreciation for his whirlwind knock. In fact, there was a raw boyishness attached to that awe-inspiring display of rip-roaring batsmanship. Lest we forget, Thorpe’s contribution too. His cool, calm and collected approach allowed Smith to play with adventurism. England ended up with 277 runs for the loss of five wickets on the board.
If Smith was at his belligerent best then, Australia’s Mark Waugh killed the chase with his sublime grace. He brandished his willow like an expressionist painter and revivified Australia’s sagging spirits. The aesthetically pleasing batsman amassed a century to script Australia’s victory. In fact, it was hard to believe that Mark Waugh’s strike rate was above 90, as he didn’t play a single shot in anger. Allan Border, the captain himself played a gritty knock of 86. Australia then made a clean sweep of the series by defeating England in another tight contest at Lord’s.
England 277 for 5 in 55 overs (Robin Smith 167* Graham Thorpe 36; Craig McDermott 3 for 29) lost to Australia 280 for 4 in 53.3 overs (Mark Waugh 113, Allan Border 86*; Chris Lewis 2 for 61) by 6 wickets.
Man of the Match: Robin Smith
(Bharath Ramaraj, an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)
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