Collie Smith Biography
It was perhaps the most tragic day in West Indian cricket when Collie Smith died in a road accident in the prime of his life. Garry Sobers escaped with a cut eye, dislocated wrist bone and a severed nerve in the finger. Tom Dewdney lost a few teeth. But Smith damaged his spinal cord and soon succumbed to his injuries.
At 26, O’Neill Gordon ‘Collie’ Smith had just been maturing into a genuinely great all-rounder. With the supreme gifts of Sobers alongside him, Smith could have propelled the West Indian team into an unprecedented powerhouse of all-round strength. Instead, 60,000 mourners turned up in disbelief and dismay at his cruelly premature funeral in Kingston.
It was not only that Smith batted with aggressive fluency and bowled inspired spells of off-spin. There was much more to the man. His infectious enthusiasm and huge grin made it apparent that he was enjoying his cricket enormously, and it made him a joy to watch. His natural inclination was to belt every ball, but he had learnt to curb his instincts to attack with some semblance of restraint. He had the knack of picking up valuable wickets with his off-breaks. And he had the ability to lift the spirit of the entire side with his magnificent fielding.
Smith entered the fray with a bang, scoring 169 for Jamaica against the fantastic bowling of touring Australians. It was just his third First-Class game, and the next one he played was the first Test at Sabina Park. He scored 44 and 108 against Ray Lindwall, Keith Miller, Ron Archer, Richie Benaud and Bill Johnston. His short tale did not have the same level of success, but 161 at Edgbaston and five wickets in Christchurch gave immense testimony of his phenomenal all-round talent. He was named a Wisden Cricketer of the Year for his exploits in England in the summer of 1957.
Smith’s final figures show 1,331 runs at 31.69 and 48 wickets at 33.85 in 26 Tests. Popular belief remains that they were bound to improve with time. If fate had not snatched him from our midst and he had played for another decade, one wonders what he could have achieved. Smith had shown only glimpses of his enormous potential.
Some claimed he was as great a talent as Sobers. The tragic untimely death may have led to tribute tinged with tendency to exaggerate, spilling into the panegyric. But the very fact that such comparison could be attempted underlines what might have been.