Hampshire 231 for 5 (Smith 70) vs DerbyshireScorecard
Will Smith showed the qualities that made Hampshire snap him up © Getty Images
Players/Officials: Will Smith
Matches: Derbyshire v Hampshire at Derby
Series/Tournaments: LV= County Championship Division Two | England Domestic Season
Teams: Derbyshire | England | Hampshire
‘Will Smith is dead’ is one of the great hoaxes of the Internet. He has been misreported to have died in surgery in the United States and in a fall in New Zealand. There is barely a Twitter hoaxer alive who does not wake up one morning and think “Today, I will tell the world that Will Smith is dead.” There are even hoaxes that there have been hoaxes. Such are the trappings of fame.
Will Smith, the Hampshire version, shares a name with the American actor if not a bank balance. As he possesses a quieter intelligence, that is not likely to change. But if he was not reported dead at the end of last season, he was certainly presumed to be ailing. Durham had won the Championship but Smith, a former captain just the wrong side of 30, was judged surplus to requirements at the end of the season.
When Hampshire gave him a two-year contract, only a few days elapsed before he was asked if he wanted to be captain again. He said he did not, although all it will take is a crisis for him to be reconsidered.
He wanted to make his mark as a batsman, to improve his status late in his career, and his judicious 70 on a breezy and largely chilly Easter Day at Derby represented a solid start. It was not the sort of statement to attract an Internet hoaxer, in fact it will not always have held the attention of the Derbyshire faithful as they stared at the slate-grey skies for hope of light relief, and a hat-trick from nowhere, or Wes Durston, but it was the sort of innings to gain dressing room respect.
According to the Second Division table, which is still not as much embryonic as a gleam in the eye, this was top vs bottom: Hampshire lie top on accounts of having played two matches and winning one of them thanks in part to a hundred by Michael Carberry against Gloucestershire; Derbyshire are bottom, outdone by Alastair Cook at Chelmsford after routing Essex for a two-figure score in the first innings.
But in reality this is an important early-season joust between two likely promotion contenders, making it the sort of match on which to munch a sausage bap and contemplate the meaning of life, an appropriate Easter pursuit.
Derbyshire bowled wastefully in the morning, although that impression is also heightened by Carberry, who is an excellent leaver. He played well for 45 before leaving a little grumpily when Tony Palladino, in his first over against the breeze, had him lbw. “That’ll tarnish your England chances,” came a cry from the outer. It is best not to pause on an lbw at Derby: it deserves to be recognised as the ground where five-second bursts of spleen are always possible.
Adams’ inconsequential affair ended when he edged Mark Turner, the loosest of Derbyshire’s attack, to the keeper, before the afternoon gave way to an earnest battle between Smith and the Derbyshire seamers, a colourless landscape lit up by floodlights for much of the day. It was the sort of contest where you dreaded Iain O’Brien, the former New Zealand bowler, who was commentating for the BBC, inviting you to offer technical analysis from a press box square of the wicket and someway distant from the action.
In the Derbyshire club bookshop, a mid-afternoon refuge, there was an air of excitement at the sudden arrival of as many as 42 second-hand copies of The Harold Rhodes Affair – Rhodes’ own story of one of the great throwing storms in cricket history.
Rhodes, who has never entirely forgiven the events of half a century ago, was eventually judged to have had a hyper-extending arm but his England career was ruined. He would doubtless be judged innocent these days after extensive technological analysis judged his action to be within the 15-degree limit.
Quite why so many copies have suddenly become available was not made clear. Maybe Rhodes has cleared out his garage, always the sort of thing you attempt around Easter, unless you come to Derby, grab an extra layer of clothing out of the boot at lunchtime, and set your face into the wind to watch Will Smith prove that his heart if still beating.