A dynamic New South Wales batsman. Brilliant fielder.
A child prodigy.
Represented his country in Test and one day cricket.
Not highly educated. Never quite made it as a top-level player.
I’m talking, of course, about Steve Smith. What? Steve Smith? Never quite made it?
Hang on a second…
I’m not talking about Steven Peter Devereux Smith – or, as Wikipedia calls him, “Steve Smith (cricketer)”.
Australian cricketer Steve Smith (the one you’ve heard of) (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
I mean Steven Barry Smith, aka in Wikipedia speak “Steve Smith (cricketer, born 1961)”, aka the first Steve Smith.
He’s not very well remembered now outside nuffie circles but at one stage Steve Smith (born 1961) was the Next Big Thing in Australian cricket.
This was partly because he was a very good batsman who hit his stride in his early twenties – a sexy time to get in form because the sky’s the limit.
It was partly because he was a superb one day cricketer with a bit of flash about him – lots of fours, moustache, a good fielder, that sort of thing.
It was also partly because he was from New South Wales and benefited from considerable press exposure.
In 1985 when Australian cricketers were signing up for rebel tours of South Africa, Kerry Packer considered Steve Smith so important to the future of the game that he offered Smith a special contract to ensure he stayed with the establishment.
He was one of only four cricketers Packer made that offer to (the others being Dirk Wellham, Wayne Phillips and Graeme Wood).
At the time he wasn’t even in the Test or ODI team or the Ashes squad. That’s how highly Smith was regarded by Packer.
He was born, as Wikipedia says, in 1961. From Sydney’s west. His mother was Norm O’Neill’s cousin, fact frequently brought up in Smith’s heyday.
Steve Smith – the not-so-famous one. (Photo by Getty Images)
For those unaware, O’Neill was a batting star of the 50s and 60 whose talent saw him dubbed “the next Don” at one stage. He never hit those heights but had a fine career; he later worked for Benson and Hedges and had a bit too much enthusiasm for the company’s product, dying of lung cancer.
His preferred position was opener.
Smith made his first class debut for NSW in 1981-82 and did well. He did even better the following summer, making an eye catching innings of 263 in a Sheffield Shield game. This helped him get picked in the Australian ODI team, and he scored 117 in only his third appearance, against New Zealand. Most of the other batsmen at the time had been around since World Series Cricket – Smith was new and exciting.
He toured Sri Lanka with the Australian side, playing one dayers but not in the Tests – Kepler Wessels had just established himself as an opener. He pressed for a place over the 1983-84 summer, but Wayne Phillips took the other opening spot going.
Smith became an ODI regular however and no one was surprised when he made the squad to tour the West Indies in early 1984.
This tour was a crucial one for Australia, who had just lost Greg Chappell, Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh to retirement. Wayne Phillips and Wessells were expected to be Test openers but Smith hit a hot vein of form in the tour games, and so Philips was made wicketkeeper (a decision which seemed clever in the short term but ultimately had disastrous consequences for Phillips’ career and Australia’s bowlers).
Smith ended up playing in the first, third and fifth Tests, missing the second through injury and being dropped for the fourth. His top score was 12. He batted better in the ODIs, making two half centuries.
Smith toured India in 1984 with the Australian one day side, and continued to play ODIs over the 1984-85 summer but struggled in the Shield and was unable to force his way back into the Test team. He missed selection on both the 1985 Ashes and the ODI tour to Sharjah.
Frustrated, he accepted an offer to tour South Africa for two summers, despite the requests of Kerry Packer; Bruce Francis, who arranged the rebel tours, later wrote he felt Smith was motivated by a desire to prove himself as a first-class cricketer as much as the money on offer.
Smith had an okay 1985-86 tour of South Africa, but thrived in 1986-87, making two centuries in the unofficial Tests and being Australia’s highest run-scorer; he was anointed South Africa’s Cricketer of the Year in 1987.
Smith played two more seasons of first-class cricket in Australia but never recaptured his previous form (for some reason this was something that happened to all the rebel tourist batsmen on their return to Australia – while several of the bowers [Trevor Hohns, Carl Rackemann, Terry Alderman] – went on to play Test cricket). Smith moved to South Africa and played for Transvaal for two seasons, then retired from first-class cricket.
He ran an indoor cricket centre, became a batting coach for Bankstown and briefly selected for NSW.
Steve Smith had an entirely decent cricketing career – he represented his country in Tests and ODIs, made several international tours, played first class cricket for a decade, helped NSW win a few Sheffield Shields.
He only got three Tests but they were all against the greatest team in the world in their own backyard; he also scored three centuries in unofficial Tests in South Africa. He has an excellent ODI record including two international centuries.
For the past decade – and probably for the rest of his life – he’ll have to constantly go “no I was the other Steve Smith to play cricket for Australia”. But he’s still remembered by those of us who saw him carving it up at the SCG back in the day.
Here’s to you, the first Steve Smith!