Back in 2009, Hampshire’s Jimmy Adams wrote about Robin ‘The Judge’ Smith, his cricketing inspiration.
Published in 2009
I can’t remember too many times when I wished I was right-handed. In fact, being cack-handed has proved pretty useful – bar smudging my handwriting at school and finding scissors harder to use than most five-year-olds. But 20-odd years ago, stoked by sibling rivalry, I really did wish I’d been forced to join the massed ranks of the right.
With only a year separating my brother Ben and I, we had some highly-charged back garden games of cricket. We would even keep score. I’d select 11 lefties to play against his right-handed XI. There were no real problems with this until ‘The Judge’, as he was known, came along and made competing with my younger sibling impossible – seeing RA Smith on his team sheet seemed unfair. No Gower, ‘Tubby’ Taylor or Graham Thorpe could replace him and certainly no Wasim Akram, Tufnell or Mark Illott could remove him. I would watch enviously as Ben would mimic my hero by whirling his arms, widening and blinking his eyes madly and then proceed to square-cut me to kingdom come.
I remember his Test debut against the West Indies in 1988. And in the way that memories tend to be somewhat random, a clip off his legs for three comes to mind. A cameo in the B&H Cup final, one of the few players to stand up to the Aussies the following summer, and the first of his Caribbean battles: I was a firm devotee in the ways of all things Robin Smith.
When Judge traded his trademark bat – the Powerspot Giant for an Elite – I had to have one. Not the best bat I’ve ever used but it felt like a magic wand. It didn’t take long for the Adams brothers to find out about the lucky four-leaf clover taped to the back of our hero’s bat and hours of searching the lawn and nearby fields followed. The autobiography was devoured in no time and only added to his aura with tales told of school records held for decades.
Time went by, Judge carried on crashing the ball to the cover point boundary, but he was not as infallible as we’d thought. Quality spin was his kryptonite. In the face of fast bowling he was nails, but we now also knew he was human. He had weaknesses. It made him easier to relate to.
Next thing I know I’m sharing a changing room with him. It’s been said there hasn’t been a more welcoming man in cricket than Robin, and it’s true. Probably too down-to-earth for his own good, he was always willing to help out amid his own meticulous practice. With his dad feeding the bowling machine, Judge would be there before anyone else. Hammering balls, swaying out of the way of short pitch feeds and sweating yet another pair of gloves to the point of overflow.
In amongst all this, I made my debut against Sussex at Hove and Robin was my captain. Somehow I survived long enough to be in the middle when we lost our third wicket and out walked the man himself, admittedly at the twilight of his career but even so, I couldn’t have asked for much more. Except perhaps that I’d lasted a bit longer to improve on our partnership of one.
Judge played a final season – unfortunately we weren’t able to give him a proper send-off. Hampshire had a horrible year. He still played hard on and off the field as he’d always done. On an away trip to Durham that year he popped out for a bite with his great pal, Shaun Udal. Judge and Shaggy arrived back having acquired toy guns that fired ping-pong balls, re-enacting something from the Vietnam War in the foyer.
I still had a brief part to play in Judge’s swansong – he went off with a torn hamstring in what proved to be his last innings for the club. But in typical fashion he went back out to carry on. His runner? That’s right, probably the longest time I spent at the crease with him.
His retirement wasn’t a great surprise when it happened, but it left a huge vacuum in the changing room, although we still saw a good deal of him in his role as a corporate host. He’d pop his head around the dressing room door, sweating profusely as usual, checking everyone was well and, in his own words ask if we were all, “Strong, China?”
For a few winters following I was lucky enough to take up his offer of a coaching net – where I would walk out afterwards thinking I could take on the world. Maybe if he’d been able to talk to himself as he did others then he really would have gone down as an all-time England great. Whatever the case, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that to a generation of England-watching youngsters he truly was a very real legend.
He and his family are based in Western Australia now. Rumour has it that the Smith brothers – his elder brother Kippy also lives in Perth – are still playing in a friendly Saturday competition. No doubt giving the Aussies a run for their money, on both the cricket and social fronts. By all accounts the unwritten rule of the league is that players simply turn up and play. No practice allowed. The Smiths, however, can be found every Saturday morning in the local indoor school fine-tuning their batting on the bowling machine, just to make sure they don’t let their standards slip.
Published in 2009