Eversley Cricket Club paid tribute to one of Hampshire's finest servants last Friday, as they welcomed Robin Smith to Cross Green in celebration of the former England star's testimonial year, writes ALEX NAREY.
Despite Pakistan's Wasim Akram not being present, Smith brought along a strong Hants side as the baking sun brought the crowds out in their numbers.
And the man who has held centre stage on so many occasions throughout a glittering career, did not disappoint on his big day, hitting a fine half-century despite some fierce competition from the Thames Valley League outfit.
Batting first, Hants were restricted to 38 for three, thanks largely to the lively bowling of South African paceman Louis Piso.
And when Farnborough-born Shaun Udal was sent packing for a duck back to pavilion bar, a few jitters and concerns could be sensed around the Rose Bowl side's changing room — but fortunately Smith had other ideas.
At 51 for four, He set about the Eversley attack with his usual manner and he was given ample support at the other end as Will Kendall helped to bring Hants back into the game with some sparkling strokeplay.
After Smith had reached his fifty, he was eventually dismissed for 66 off the bowling of Jeremy Ackroyd. However, Kendall's knock even overshadowed that of Smith's and included 12 fours and three sixes in his 51-ball 78.
Former Fleet Town Manager and Southampton footballer Mark Dennis came and went cheaply but a combined effort from coach Paul Terry and club physio Patrick Farhart enabled Smith's men to reach a respectable 253.
Piso finished with figures of three for 36 and proved a threat throughout, whilst Ackroyd bagged three for 30 and skipper Andrew O'Kelly two for 23.
In reply, Eversley were always in the game and were given the perfect start to their run chase with an opening stand of 71 between Martin David and Andy South.
Hants' opening seam duo of Farhart and Dimitri Mascarenhas struggled to contain both of the openers, and so the left-arm pace of Alan Mullally was brought into the attack to help put the shackles on the run-rate.
Having been driven through the covers by South for four, Mullally then replied with a peach of a delivery that had just a tad more pace on it and seemed to come through with the message: "Don't try that again mate." Alas, South took his marching orders as the timber was asked to do some work for the first time in the innings.
But Eversley were not fazed, and in particular O'Kelly continued to take the fight to the county side until Kendall trapped him leg before wicket for 44, scored from just 41 balls.
David then departed for a hard-fought 59, and from here Hants began to take a grip of the game as the Eversley middle-order struggled to cope with the variety of the visitors attack.
Dennis showed that his appetite for competitive sport and respect for sporting officials hadn't changed, as he attempted to bully the umpires into giving him some questionable lbw decisions — much like the way that he would have a quiet word with referees on the football field. However, his actions were always taken in the sprit that they were intended as the fantastic atmosphere kept the crowd interested right until the end.
Needing 25 to win off the last over, Eversley went on the attack once again, but Smith claimed two wickets to halt the run charge as he finished the match to seal his place as the man of the moment.
Speaking to the Mail afterwards, Smith said: "It's always a great day when you come to Eversley. The atmosphere here is great and they really tested us with their bowling attack and took their cricket seriously. To add to that the weather has been superb and the crowd is fantastic."
With regards to his innings which brought the life back into Hants' stint at the crease, he added: "It would have been embarrassing if the beneficiary did not get any runs so it was very pleasing in that respect."
In recognition of his outstanding efforts over the last twenty years, Smith was rewarded with a cheque for £3,500 from Eversley Chairman John Hartle. Along with the proceeds from the auction, raffle and a collection around the ground that raised more than £600 from the appreciative crowd, his total haul on the day topped £10,000.
Andrew Renshaw, Chairman of the match organisers, said: "The brilliant weather and top-class cricket from both sides in front of the largest crowd Eversley has seen for years, all combined to make it a memorable day, and we are delighted with the result for Robin."
l Look out for a full report on Hampshire's much-anticipated Twenty20 Cup clash with Surrey tonight (Tuesday) in Friday's News, along with a full league round-up.