The first cricketer from Worthing to play for England
Don Smith was born in Broadwater, Worthing on 14 June 1923 and until his death on 10 January 2021 was England’s oldest living Test cricketer. He was a left-hand opening batsman, a left-arm medium pace bowler and was the first player from Worthing to win an England cap. He first played for Sussex in 1946 and in his first three seasons produced nothing remarkable but in 1949 he began to open with John Langridge, becoming a full-time opener.
He was a Lancaster pilot
Don volunteered for the RAF in 1941 and served in Lancasters as a pilot. He was recommended for Sussex after the war and made his debut against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge in 1946. His maiden century for Sussex was an unbeaten 206 in1950 against Nottinghamshire and included three sixes and twenty-eight fours. Don passed 1,000 runs that season and looked set for a long period as the club’s opening batsman, but then he found himself relegated as David Sheppard returned from university. With the amateurs often returning half-way through the season this was something the professionals had to cope with. From 1951 until 1954, Don was the third opener but in 1955 he returned to batting at the top of the order.
Don becomes a bowler
In 1955 the new captain, Robin Marlar, suggested that Don try his hand at bowling left-arm medium. Until then, Don had taken just nine wickets in nine seasons but in 195 becoming a regular member of the team’s attack in future seasons. In 1955,In 1955 hDon bowled over 650 overs and took 73 wickets at just over 18. He would go on to make an important contribution to the team’s bowling. He also scored over 1,000 runs. To top it all off, Sussex finished in fourth place in the championship winning thirteen games. Don repeated the feat of scoring 1,000 runs in a season in 1956 and took 64 wickets -a fine bowling contribution from an opening batsman. His finest bowling performance came in the match against Gloucestershire when he took 6 for 29 with his left-arm swingers to reduce Gloucestershire to 64.
Don’s annus mirabilis
1957 has been described as Don’s annus mirabilis. It was his thirteenth season for Sussex in his 34th year. He began the year with a whirlwind of an innings against Gloucestershire and three weeks later played the first of three matches against the West Indies. The innings against Gloucestershire was arguably one of the hardest-hit innings ever witnessed on the County Ground. He may not have hit the ball out of the ground as Alletson did, or hit the ball over the south stand as Jessop did, but it was an innings of immense fury.
Gloucestershire had scored 322 and 233 for 7 declared, asking Sussex to get 277 in 195 minutes following their first innings of 279. At the end of 80 minutes Sussex were behind the clock with only 81 on the board, but then Don transformed the game with an innings of enormous ferocity that was pure brilliance. He hit nine sixes and eleven fours to enable Sussex to win by seven wickets with eight minutes to spare. Off 58 balls bowled after tea, Sussex scored 82 runs and Don scored 74 of them – in 27 minutes. At one point a spectator ran on to the pitch waving an umbrella and begging for a ceasefire. Another spectator was hit on the jaw and had to be taken to hospital. Don had scored 166 in 175 minutes when he was finally out, having made sure of a Sussex victory.
His Test career
A few weeks later, Don scored 147 off the West Indians and earned himself a call up for the Second Test at Lord’s. He scored 8 in an England victory and did not get the chance to bowl. He did not improve his performance in the next two Tests at Trent Bridge and Headingly. His whole Test career of 25 runs and the one wicket of Collie Smith spanned little more than one month. Despite the disappointing performances in the Test matches, Don had a marvellous summer totalling 2,000 runs in all matches.
Top of the batting averages
In 1957, Don finished top of the Sussex batting averages with 1,773 runs at an average of 46.65. However, the following season was a disappointing one for Don and Sussex. Don failed by just two runs to get to 1,000 runs and Sussex finished bottom of the table with just six wins.
Don passed 1,000 runs in four of his last five seasons before he retired at the end of the 1962 season. He had always been a local football referee and he continued with this hobby, and also began coaching cricket at Lancing College.
Don was closely connected to Pathfinder Cricket Club of Worthing for many years. He was President of the club for ten years and also played a few games, which included an unbeaten 103, in 1962, at Petworth, this being part of a partnership of 152 with Brian Dumigan.
In 1984 Don became manager for Sri Lanka’s national side for a short while before emigrating to Australia. He died in Adelaide on 10 January 2021, at the age of 97, having spent the previous days watching Australia play India. Don’s honour of having been England’s oldest living cricketer is now held by Ian Thomson, over a year ahead of Jim Parks.
Click here for an article on Sussex v Gloucestershire 1957
Sussex Record 1946-1962
Matches Innings NO Run Ave
360 596 63 15,935 29.89
Overs Maidens Runs W Ave
3,408 996 8,928 308 28.99