These days it is quite cool to be a geek. In our aimless hours spent trawling the internet, we noticed the trend for young women to wear the kind of glasses that once would have been parodied in ITV sitcoms. Girls, if you’re reading this: we’ve been wearing such glasses for years. Various television shows have seen the rise of the nerds. Maybe in response to ‘dumbing-down’ and reality TV, literature and beards and fantasy and board games and quizzes have not been so popular for decades. Yet when in response to the question “what did you do last night?”, we answer “we wrote about cricket”, people usually cough and hurry away. And perhaps the only thing uncooler than writing about cricket is reading about cricket – something else that occupies our time between looking at Instagram, Tinder and Facebook and clearing our search history. Our problem (well, one of our problems) is that new cricket books are sodding expensive and we’ve not had any free gifts for a fucking age. As a result, we have started to trawl charity shops and second-hand stalls and the internet for long-forgotten, dusty old books. And in the absence of a plethora of superhot-foxygeeks to buy drinks for, we can probably afford the few quid that they cost.
Robin Smith was always a bit of a childhood hero: not only did he play in a decent Hampshire team alongside Jefford and David Gower, but his batting against quick bowlers was invigorating at a time when batsmen like Mark Ramprakash and Graeme Hick were being humiliated. Furthermore, in appropriate style for England in the 1990s, his career seemed to finish a bit too soon, to the relief of future website writers who had more unlikely lads to write about as a consequence. Therefore it was a nice surprise to find that he had had a book published in 1993.
What was an even nicer surprise was finding out that his book (co-written with John Crace) is a gem. It is not an autobiography – Smith wasn’t yet 30 at the time of its writing – rather an insight into playing cricket and the myriad of material considerations that can affect performance. The book is divided into chapters with headings such as Luck, Anxiety and Failure, and Confidence and it really is a psychological examination. Each chapter is split into two: starting with Crace discussing the theme with people such as David Gower, Chris Smith (Robin’s brother, not the ex-Labour Minister) and Mike Brearley; the second part Robin’s own take on the matter. As such it is illuminating. It is also, in an era when depression is no longer taboo, Jonathan Trott is sadly afflicted with a stress-related illness and Michael Vaughan an ignoramus, very relevant.
Aside from a paragraph where Smith reveals his faith (serious overuse of the capitalised word Him), this is a fine book. It brings back happy/sad memories of a time when England lurched from one crisis to another and when – at risk of stumbling into a clanging cliche – players had character. Smith reminds us that in his first nine Tests (spread over around 18 months) he had 35 different teammates. At the time of writing he had scored 2954 runs in 40 Tests and he declares his aim to score 7000 in 100. Sadly, he scored only 1282 more runs in 22 further matches before being jettisoned for Ronnie Irani.
Happily for us though, the book’s insight into all things psychological has rubbed off on us. We’re now not completely hopeless at talking to girls. Not at all bad for two quid.