Ah, 1997. One of the great years. A little-known band called Texas were putting out a stream of cracking singles. Literally lots of brilliant albums were released. John Prescott and Neil Kinnock danced together to D:Ream. Television schedules included This Life, I’m Alan Partridge and The Royle Family. And in sport, England beat Australia in the opening Ashes Test. Equally impressively, they won the final match as well. It was just a shame that the Australians won three of the four games in the middle of the series. Nevermind, everyone in England was far too busy listening to White On Blonde and discussing how much of a good egg that nice Tony Blair was.
It was in this Cool Britannia context that arguably one of the unlikeliest lads made his England debut, prompting us to ask, whatever happened to
England’s rotation of their bowlers during the 1990s (see WHTTUL? passim) was at times forced by injury and at other times the result of muddled thinking, pressure and general idiocy. One of their semi-regular traits was to try and find a left-arm seamer to augment their legion of right-armers. However England’s stock of such cricketers has never been particularly full and the international careers of the likes of Alan Mullally and Simon Brown demonstrate this perfectly.
It had taken a while for Gloucestershire’s resident Yorkshireman Mike Smith to establish himself as a cricketer – he didn’t make his first-class debut until he was 23 – but as the decade progressed he began to take an increasing number of wickets: 32 in 1994, 59 in 1995 and 60 in 1996. He did even better the following year: his 83 first-class wickets at an average of 17.63 were more than anyone else. Being quite short, he had a skiddy kind of action that produced significant swing in helpful conditions.
As such, that summer he was picked instead of Andrew Caddick for the Headingley Test – where he managed to take a grand total of zero wickets (although we should point out that Graham Thorpe dropped Matthew Elliott off Smith’s bowling, which cost a further 170 runs from Elliott’s bat alone). The innings defeat that ensued put England behind in the series; by the time of the next match Smith was back out of fashion – Caddick was recalled in his place and the Hollioake brothers were plucked almost from thin air to make their debuts together, heralding the new dawn of yet another era of relentless disappointment – which come to think of it is a perfect synonym for the post-Britpop music scene at the end of the decade.
Perhaps it would have been so different had Thorpe held that catch. But we doubt it. In truth, as so often was the case, Smith was just a decent county bowler who was clearly not international class – but at least he had his (brief) chance before returning to the county circuit, where he served Gloucestershire with distinction through to 2003. And if any Gloucestershire fans are reading this and feel we are being harsh – well you can say what you want but it won’t change our mind.