Alan Smith    Getty Images
Alan Smith Getty Images

Alan Christopher AC Smith, born October 25, 1936, was the last amateur to play Test cricket for England. A wicketkeeper who also bowled probing fast-medium, Smith was the fulcrum of Warwickshire cricket in the 1960s. He led the county with reasonable proficiency, and later served both his county and country in multiple roles as an administrator. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at one of the ultimate all-rounders of English cricket.

1965. Essex were hosting Warwickshire in one of those mid-season matches in the obscurity of Clacton-on-Sea. Wickets kept falling for both sides, the redoubtable pair of Barry Knight and Trevor Bailey causing reasonable damage to the tourists. The Warwicks hit back through Jack Bannister.

Essex were left to chase 203 in 235 minutes. It was one of those middling targets, given that the first three innings of the match had yielded 160, 163, and 205. Rudi Webster, a man who would adopt several other roles in cricket in later days, was ruled out with a back injury. This was a big blow, for Webster had taken 3 for 28 in the first innings.

Khalid Billy Ibadulla opened bowling with Bannister. Gordon Barker and Geoff Smith were off in a flash. It seemed Warwickshire were no track. Then something curious happened.

Alan AC Smith, donning those gauntlets behind stumps, had a brief discussion with Dennis Amiss before taking the pads off. Amiss took up the place behind stumps. Smith took the ball and sent down a maiden with his odd-looking action where he bowled off the wrong foot (think Mike Procter and Sohail Tanvir from later days). At the other end Ibadulla conceded 6. The score read 28 without loss.

Four dot balls passed by. Then Barker holed out to Roger Edmonds at long-leg. The batsmen had crossed, and Geoff Smith leg-glanced the next ball straight to Dennis Oakes at leg-slip. AC Smith was on a hat-trick.

Ibadulla kept things steady at the other end. Tony Steward played out a maiden. Keith Fletcher went for a pull first ball off the next over, but the ball had bounced more than he had expected: the ball flew to Oakes.

AC Smith became the first designated wicketkeeper to take a hat-trick in a First-Class match.

Note: There is an urban legend about Probir Sen taking his gloves off and doing a hat-trick for Bengal against Orissa in 1954-55. While the hat-trick was true, Sen was playing the match as a specialist batsman. Debutant Gopal Chakraborty kept wickets for Bengal in the match.

But the story was far from over. Smith went to lunch with figures of 4-4-0-3, and after lunch Bailey edged one to Amiss. His figures read 6-6-0-4. At this stage Smith was threatening to better Alfred Lyttelton s record of 4 for 19 the best figures for a designated wicketkeeper in a First-Class innings (Lyttelton did it in an Ashes Test). However, Knight hit a four and a two off his next over, and he took himself off after a spell of 12-7-17-4.

Smith came back later to finish with 21-10-36-4. At 112 for 8 it seemed Warwickshire would clinch the match, but Brian Edmeades, Stuart Turner, and Robin Hobbs the last three men saw off time.

Runsmith, wicketsmith, catchsmith, everythingsmith

There have been greater cricketers, but few stand out when it comes to overall contributions to cricket the way Smith does. To start with, Smith kept wickets (and was rather good at it), and whenever there was someone else in the side who could do the same he took to medium-paced bowling, sometimes during an innings, and did an excellent job almost every time he did the same.

Smith also captained Warwickshire. He led them to the County Championship title in 1971 as well as Gillette Cup in 1968. He was also the last bona-fide amateur to play for England. He played 6 Tests, all as wicketkeeper without really succeeding or failing.

He also served both Warwickshire CCC and Test and County Cricket Board (TCCB as the England cricket board was called in those days before they changed to ECB) in multiple roles, from manager to CEO to selector. Oh, did I also mention he was a Director of Aston Villa FC?

On the ground Smith was clumsy, often embarrassingly so. Tony Lewis (the England captain, not the man who, along with Frank Duckworth, is verbally abused whenever play resumes after rain in limited-overs cricket) played a lot of cricket against Smith, for they played for rival universities. Smith s shambles of walk belied a seriously athletic presence, wrote Lewis, adding that he was rather like a rag doll, arms and leg flapping independently, until someone behind his back electrified the wires and made them all work together.

A gutsy batsman who refused to budge, Smith played 428 matches, scoring 11,027 runs at 20.92. The batting average may seem a low in the post-Adam Gilchrist era, but quality batting was never really mandatory for wicketkeepers in the 1960s.

His seam bowling was often deceptive, more so because of his wrong-footed action. His 131 wickets came at 23.46, while he also had 715 catches and 61 stumpings with his safe (but seldom spectacular) glovework. His 597 dismissals put him fifth on the all-time list for Warwickshire. Of these there were 558 catches, which put him on the third spot.

There were 6 Tests in all this, from which he got 118 runs at a reasonable 29.50 as well as 20 catches.

Oxford days

Smith went to King Edward s School, Birmingham, which he led in 1955. He found himself in and out of Warwickshire 2nd XI. He also went to and Brasenose College, Oxford, and led them from 1958 the season in which he also made his County Championship debut.

This was no ordinary Oxford side. In fact, in Wisden Cricketer Stephen Chalke rightly called it the last great Oxford outfit. Indeed, leading Oxford (as well as opening batting and keeping wickets) in the Varsity match was Smith. The side also boasted of David Michael Green, Abbas Ali Baig, Javed Burki, Dan Piachaud, Mike Eagar, Andrew Corran, David Sayer (both of whom were genuinely quick) and this is perhaps not too relevant Charlie Fry, grandson of CB Fry.

Cambridge consisted of David John Green, Roger Prideaux, and (perhaps on a lesser note) Henry Blofeld, but they were never in the match. They lost by 85 runs.

A week before the match Hampshire got away with a draw against Oxford at Bournemouth. After Corran had skittled out Hampshire for 169, Smith held the innings together, adding 75 for the opening stand with Green and eventually scoring 145 out of a team score of 248.

Roy Marshall blasted away for Hampshire, helping them set Oxford 331. Smith, perhaps out of exhaustion, did not open but emerged when Green fell for a duck. This time he scored 124 as Oxford finished on 250 for 7. Smith became the fifth Oxford batsman to score hundreds in each innings of a match.

These two remained the last of Smith s 3 First-Class hundreds. The other one came for Oxford against MCC the year before, where his 106 and 77 were instrumental in an excellent win over MCC.

Next year, against Free Foresters, Smith played as a specialist batsman while Fry kept wickets. Smith took 5 for 32 and 4 for 45 as Free Foresters crashed to an innings defeat.

In between all this, Smith was the part of an MCC side that toured North America in 1959. The tour included a one-day, one-innings match against Manitoba. It was a drab affair, where time ran out after MCC declared on 169 for 7 and the hosts reached 23 for 4. Despite the short spell, however, Smith took a hat-trick.

There were more, including a fifty and 3 for 39 against British Columbia Mainland League and 7 wickets against Philadelphia. Denis Silk reminisced in ESPNCricinfo: Smith found himself bowling a great deal as second seamer and he did so with obvious relish. He also kept wicket efficiently and could hardly be expected to make many runs as well.

Alan Smith later became manager of England. He also served TCCB as selector and Chief Executive    Getty Images
Alan Smith later became manager of England. He also served TCCB as selector and Chief Executive Getty Images

Bastion of Edgbaston

It is not difficult to assess Smith s contributions to Warwickshire cricket. It is generally assumed that having a group of superstars is something all captains want. While there is truth in that, it is also a fact that a group of mercurial, outstanding cricketers is often difficult to handle.

Smith, for example, led Rohan Kanhai, Deryck Murray, Alvin Kallicharran, Lance Gibbs, Amiss, Ibadulla, Mike MJK Smith, Bob Barber, David Brown, John Jameson, Eddie Hemmings, Tom Cartwright, and Bob Willis and these were only the Test cricketers.

Smith handled the group efficiently, making sure the stars, some of whom were way superior to him in stature, were handled properly. It was not an easy ask. It is not clear whether being an amateur was a hindrance to this, but it certainly did not make things easier for him, more so given that a sizeable population of the men he had to lead were professionals.

Smith did things few would have. Warwickshire were keen on signing up young Kallicharran in 1971. Unfortunately, that was interrupted by a postal strike in England. So Smith flew out to Guyana…

As mentioned above, Smith led Warwickshire to the Gillette Cup in 1968. He had a quiet tournament himself till the final, where Sussex put up 214 for 7 in 60 overs. Jim Stewart scored 59 in response, but wickets kept falling as the twin threats of John Snow and Tony Greig loomed large.

Smith joined Amiss at 155 for 6. There were another 60 to be scored. The runs were secured in 34 minutes without the loss of another wicket, Smith dominating the partnership with a quick 39 not out. He had also taken 2 catches, and was named Man of the Match.

It was Smith s first season as Warwickshire captain, 7 seasons after he had earned his cap. He would be at the helm till 1974. Smith led them to the County Championship in 1972 their first title since 1951 and third overall. Warwickshire lost the Gillette Cup final that season, but Smith was fine with that: A pity about the Gillette Cup, but we all know which is the big one.

He kept wickets less and less as time went on. Between 1963 and 1968 he got 50 dismissals every season a count that came down to below 20 as time went on. On the other hand, he took 88 wickets at 24.14 between 1972 and 1974.

Against Glamorgan in 1972 he 5 for 47, his second and final five-wicket haul. When Warwickshire needed to defend 180 in a John Player League match later that year, Smith routed Northamptonshire for 119 with 5 for 19. And his old foes Cambridge were bowled out for 76 the following year, Smith taking 4 for 25.

Test cricket

Smith made his first major tour when EW Swanton s XI visited West Indies in 1960-61. He scored 203 runs at 50.75 (a number more than his highest score, 49, a curious achievement ). The big chance came in 1962-63, when Smith was selected for the twin tours of Australia and New Zealand.

He played 4 Tests in The Ashes that antipodean summer without much success (missing out the one England lost). He was a part of the second Test that England won at MCG. He did catch Alan Davidson in each innings and Bobby Simpson in the first. He also batted for over an hour for an unbeaten 6, securing a 16-run lead for England.

Note: The pair had their revenge in the final Test when Davidson dismissed Smith with the final ball of his Test career. Smith was caught at slip by Simpson.

The teams moved to New Zealand, where England went up 1-0. Smith was drafted in for the second Test at Wellington, where Fred Trueman and Knight skittled out the hosts for 194. Ken Barrington scored a diligent 76 while four others crossed 30. At 265 for 8 England were in a strong position, but they had not yet batted New Zealand out of the Test.

As Colin Cowdrey worked on stretching the lead, Smith stayed put, and the pair carried on, remaining unbroken till stumps and declaring on the third morning after a 234-run lead. Cowdrey (128*) and Smith (69*) had added an unbroken 163 then the world record stand for the ninth wicket.

The record changed hands in 1967 when Asif Iqbal and Intikhab Alam put on 190, but it remains the record ninth-wicket stand for England overcoming the 151 between WW Read and William Scotton, back in 1874.

England won the third Test as well, whitewashing the hosts 3-0, but Smith never played another Test. He was the last amateur to play Test cricket for England. The previous summer he was a part of the last Gentlemen vs Players contest, scoring 34 and 13.

Smith and Smith

With a surname like that, Smith was bound to end up sharing a dressing-room with another Smith. He was a teammate of MJK Smith, who led Warwickshire till 1967, captaining England as well. He quit as captain.

They always addressed each other by initials, which complicated things for those who knew only their first names. MJK s running between the wickets was atrocious, but the calling when the Smiths were together attained legendary status at times.

Snow recollected in his autobiography: I can remember a call between them in 1964 going something like No A.C. Yes, Mike Wait A.C. Damn it, Mike Sorry A.C. It was not amusing for the Smiths, but it had fielders in splits at times.

AC replaced MJK as captain, and continued to lead Warwickshire even after MJK returned in 1970, and the pair gelled well. Rowland Ryder wrote in Wisden: The two proved to be complementary: Alan Smith with his flair for precision and the mathematics of the game, M. J. K. with his seemingly casual approach.

Ryder added: Alan Smith has special qualities. He has a good sense of humour, which is all important in a dressing room, but at the same time is a dedicated, thoughtful and talented captain, who knows there are times when one needs to be firm and to express views very clearly. I think that he combines the necessary qualities, and there is no doubt that he is aided and abetted in all that he does by Mike Smith. I think between them they, therefore, cover all aspects, and for the rest they are a very nice bunch of fellows to deal with, quite apart from their talent in the game.

They formed the think-tank of Warwickshire during their rise at the turn of the decade. To Warwickshire s advantage (and the dismay of scorers) MJK led Warwickshire whenever AC was unavailable.

The second innings

When Leslie Deakins, the long-serving Warwickshire CCC Secretary, retired in 1976, he was replaced by Alan Smith. He held on to the position for a decade.

Smith managed the English side, most famously in 1980-81, when Robin Jackman was denied entry to Guyana. He also served as TCCB s Chief Executive from 1987 to 1996, and was a national selector.

He was honoured with a CBE in 1996 for his services to cricket, which was scant consolation, for England cricket went through an unenviable run of lows during Smith s tenure.

He also had a stint as a Director of Aston Villa FC (he was, after all, an Oxford Blue in football as well).

After quitting from his TCCB post Smith became an ICC match-referee, officiating in 9 Tests and 13 ODIs.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor at CricketCountry. He blogs at ovshake.blogspot.com and can be followed on Twitter @ovshake42.)