After representing their respective English league cricket clubs, former West Indies fast bowler Tom Dewdney joined fellow Jamaican O’Neil Gordon Smith – known to everyone as Collie – and Garfield Sobers in Manchester for the four-hour, 164-mile trip south to London where they were scheduled to take part in a charity game the next day, Sunday.
“There was a Barbadian supporter who lived in Manchester and we would meet at his place and have some food and drink before heading out, which was what we did on that Saturday night (September 6, 1959),” recalled Dewdney who now lives in Scarborough. “I drove for a while before handing over the wheel to Gary because I was very tired.”
Dewdney sat in the front passenger seat while Smith slept in the backseat.
As Sobers’ Ford Prefect approached the Darlaston Bend in Stone on the then single carriageway at around 4.45 a.m., the former West Indies captain – who was the only one awake at the time – was confronted with two dazzling headlights coming straight at him. The oncoming vehicle turned out to be a 10-ton cattle truck that slammed head on into the small car carrying the three cricketers.
“I regained consciousness in the hospital,” said Dewdney who suffered a deep facial cut and lost a few teeth. “A few days after the accident, I remembered a priest came into the room where both myself and Gary were hospitalized and telling us that life is like that and that things happen. He then proceeded to say that Collie had passed away.
“The news really shook me up because I was not expecting it. Collie was a super little guy and Jamaicans looked up to him to be a leader. He was fearless and a tremendous talent.”
Just 26 at the time of his death, Smith was a product of Boys Town and one of the few bright spots to emerge from the underprivileged community. With the help of Father Hugh Sherlock who wrote the words for Jamaica’s national anthem, and later Bishop Percival Gibson, Smith developed into a well-rounded person and fine cricketer who served as an inspiration for the people from his under-served community.
“I remember seeing Collie for the first time when we were Under-15 Colts,” recalled Dewdney, who played nine Tests for the West Indies. “I was at Calabar and he was playing for Kingston College in short pants and cricket boots. He had a group of supporters that came down from Boys Town to see him play and it was obvious that he was a hero who was worshiped at a very young age.
“From the time he came to the crease, he started to stroke the ball with authority. I immediately knew that he was special. When it was his turn to bowl, he took either five or six wickets and his supporters came on to the field when the innings ended and lifted him off the ground. I could not believe it
“Later on when he played for Boys Town club and I represented Wembley, I got him cheaply with a good ball and he graciously came over and congratulated me, saying well bowled. He was very friendly and humble and it was evident that he was well groomed.”
Smith and Dewdney were teammates in Smith’s second game for Jamaica against Trinidad & Tobago at Melbourne Park in 1955. Batting at number seven, the young all-rounder scored 32 and 58 not out and picked up six wickets with his off-spin in the game that Jamaica won by six wickets.
A month later, in just the third game for his country, Smith belted a magnificent 169 against a formidable Australian attack that included Ray Lindwall, Keith Miller, Allan Davidson and Richie Benaud. He also claimed four wickets in the Aussies first innings.
The scintillating display earned Smith a call-up for the first Test against the Australians at Sabina Park and the young Jamaican responded with a second innings century that took 220 minutes and included 14 boundaries.
The next year, he recorded his first regional century – 109 against Guyana at Bourda – and sent down 61 overs in Guyana’s first innings which is the second most delivered in an innings by a Jamaican bowler behind Alf Valentine’s 90.5 overs in the same innings. (Guyana scored 601-5 declared in the drawn game with Bruce Pairaudeau, Rohan Kanhai, Basil Butcher and Joe Solomon scoring centuries).
Dewdney and Smith were roommates when the West Indies toured England in 1957.
“The tour was not going well (the Caribbean cricketers lost the second Test by an innings and 36 runs after the first Test was drawn) and by the time we got to Trent Bridge for the third match, I told Collie that we couldn’t lose the game and that he had to bat for us because there was not much left after him,” said Dewdney. “He responded by saying, ‘why you don’t tell the other big bats that and go away from me’. The next thing I knew Collie batted like a champion, making 168 in the second innings.
“He was a very assured player who always gave 100 per cent. He was an excellent driver of the ball through the off-side and he also lifted the ball on occasion over the head of the fielders when he knew it was safe to do so. As an off-spinner, he bowled with a lot of variation. He was also a brilliant and nimble outfielder with a safe pair of hands.”
Dewdney suggests that Smith would have accumulated more than the 1331 runs (av. 31.69) he recorded in his 26 Tests if he was elevated in the batting order.
“Collie should have batted no lower than number five,” he said. “When Collie came in at six and seven, he was with the tailenders most of the time and he often felt the need to force the pace and in the process he lost his wicket doing so. That hurt him in the long run.”
Smith is buried in Jamaica’s May Pen cemetery and Dewdney plans to visit the gravesite next year.
“I just can’t believe it’s 50 years since he has left us,” said Dewdney, who celebrates his 76th birthday next Friday (October 23). “I have never been to his gravesite but I will definitely do so next year.”
On Smith’s tombstone is inscribed the epithet, “Keen Cricketer, Unselfish Friend, Worthy Hero, Loyal Disciple, Happy Warrior.”
That pretty much sums up the man who many felt would have become one of the game’s best all-rounders had he not lost his life so early.