In this era of big bats and small boundaries phenomenal feats of scoring are pretty commonplace.
England made 400 in a 50 overs international last week, a feat that was unthinkable a decade ago. Who knows? In ten years' time a score of 500 from 50 overs might seem like a throwback to a distant age.
Back in the 1950s scoring 400 runs in a day of County Championship cricket – one-day matches did not start until 1963 – was extremely rare, and a rate of more than three runs an over was considered good progress.
Sussex supporters had seen some wonderful batsmen in the post-war era although it would be fair to say Don Smith was not among the county’s all-time greats. In 1957 Don was 34 and in his 13th season with Sussex. He was also the senior professional and someone greatly admired by his team-mates. A few years earlier he had successfully turned himself into a left-arm medium-pace bowler having previously bowled spin and took 73 wickets in 1955.
Two years later Smith, restored to his best position as opener, went out to bat with Les Lenham after Sussex had been set 267 to beat Gloucestershire in three and a quarter hours at Hove in early May.
After 80 minutes they had scored 81 and the task appeared beyond them – but then Smith transformed the match with what Sussex historian John Marshall described as “an innings of electrifying brilliance.” In 58 balls after tea Smith scored 74 of the 82 runs added from 34 balls as he moved from 48 to 104 in just 19 minutes. When he was finally dismissed for 166, he’d struck 11 fours and nine sixes, most of them landing in the Hove pavilion and one hitting a spectator who needed hospital treatment. Sussex won the game by seven wickets.
Team-mate Jim Parks remembers Smith as “a model professional who was well liked by his colleagues and a player capable of winning a game with something a bit special.” That summer Smith’s form earned him three Test caps against West Indies and although he only managed 25 runs and 1 wicket it wasn’t his last taste of the highest level.
As a coach he looked after Sri Lanka during their formative years in international cricket. Now aged 92, he lives in quiet retirement in Australia, having emigrated several years ago, and is one of Sussex’s oldest living cricketers.
Sussex head to Arundel Castle next week for five days of cricket and this year’s festival marks a special anniversary as it’s 25 years since the county first went there to play Championship fixtures.
Over the years, the wickets there tend to be a touch on the slow side, although after the traumas Sussex batsmen have experienced at Hove this season, when they have only scored one century between them in four games, a surface where the ball isn’t pinging around their earholes could be just what they need to restore confidence and form.
Slow pitches have produced attritional cricket at times but in such a timeless setting no one seems to mind too much. And it doesn’t mean that there has been a lack of drama over the past quarter-century.
Back in 1994 Sussex won there for the first time against Middlesex thanks to an inspired debut by local lad Jason Lewry, who went on to take 600 wickets for the county. On the first day Lewry took 4 for 40, his victims including former England captain Mike Gatting.
Another high-class operator, New Zealander Chris Cairns, produced the best bowling performance on the ground a year later. Surrounded as it is by trees, the Castle Ground has often been a haven for bowlers who can get the ball to move through the air and Cairns ended up with 15 for 83 as Nottinghamshire shredded Sussex in two days. The visitors’ Tim Robinson, the former England opener, took advantage of the unscheduled day off by umpiring in a club game down the road at Arundel CC.
Sussex won their in two of their Championship winning seasons of 2003 and 2007 at Arundel while current Head Coach Mark Robinson enjoyed one of his finest moments as a batsman in 2005, defying his former county Yorkshire for 11 balls and 18 minutes as Sussex clung on for a draw with nine wickets down.
Batsmen have prospered too. In that same game Darren Lehmann of Yorkshire, who will be here soon for the Ashes as Australia coach, smashed a brilliant 216, although that is not the highest score on the ground. Sussex’s Murray Goodwin made 235 a year later against the same opposition, one of 28 hundreds scored at Arundel.
Whatever happens, watching cricket there from the grass banks which hug two sides of the ground is always a treat. When the sun is out there are few better places to be in England to enjoy the summer game than the Duchess of Norfolk’s back garden.