In modern cricket we are always told that cricketers cannot be one-dimensional anymore. If they are, a bowler they must learn to contribute with the bat and; if a batsman can offer a few overs to give frontline bowlers a breather, then their stock rises. Also, now gone are the days of Phil Tufnell and Monty Panesar having to be hidden in the field, everyone must be able to field and catch.
Derbyshire this season, though, have gone one better and signed Daryn Smit who is potentially the world’s first true four dimensional cricketer: a middle order batsman averaging 36 in first-class cricket, a wicket keeper with over 350 dismissals, an excellent slip fielder and, finally, a leg spin bowler with over 100 first-class wickets to his name.
So far he has done all four for Derbyshire this summer, following a spell for the seconds last season where he scored a double hundred against Glamorgan. The club made him wait, however, as Smit tells the story.
“Scoring a double hundred on trial was a dream, but with the restructuring of the club nothing came through, contract-wise,” he said. “So I went back to South Africa and completed another season at home there, and was very much hoping to hear something.
“I put my feelers out and was hoping perhaps something would happen but nothing came through. Then on the March 8 an offer came through from Derbyshire, which was late as county offers go but very much an offer that you can’t say no to.”
I am sure that following Smit’s start to the season, Derbyshire and their fans will glad that he didn’t say no.
At one point last season, Derbyshire’s wicket-keeping cupboard looked pretty bare. The retirement of Tom Poynton due to injury left the club with just 19-year-old Harvey Hosein, who performed well. Then with the signing of Gary Wilson from Surrey, it appeared that Smit’s wicket keeping gloves would not be required.
However, with Wilson away on international duty it has been Smit and not Hosein who has been keeping, not what the all-rounder was exoecting.
“When they signed me they made it clear they were signing me as a batsmen,” he said. “The keeping side of things had been taken care of. [They were] wanting to be open and honest with me, so I wasn’t disappointed.
“But then, as its turned out over the last few weeks with Gary [Wilson] away, the captain’s choice has been to use me rather than go to the youngster in Harvey, which has been great.
“I’ve absolutely loved being back there behind the stumps; its turned out really brilliantly.”
Anyone who has seen Smit keep, while Wilson has been away with Ireland, would find it hard to disagree with that decision. His glove work has been superb, hardly conceding a bye and effecting two stumpings, taking seven catches and also being credited with a run out.
So what is his strongest dimension? Smit is very clear where he feels his biggest strength lies, and that is with his keeping.
“My whole career, I’ve always been a wicketkeeper. When I was first selected for South Africa Under 19s, AB de Villiers was the back-up wicket-keeper to me. That’s always what I’ve been about.”
However, like all good players, Smit has recognised the need to evolve and develop his game, and not be one-dimensional. He can see clearly how this has happened.
“As my career has developed, from 2003 onwards really, times have changed and wicketkeepers have been forced to contribute with the bat.
“If you look at the way my career has panned out, I was always a wicketkeeper who could kind of chip in, but as a result of supply and demand I’ve been forced to develop my batting and make much bigger contributions.
“I think that’s shown through in the stats over the years, as I’ve got older and developed my batting. So much so that, over the last few seasons, I’ve played as just a batsman.”
Smit’s realisation of the need to evolve, and add extra dimensions to his game, will be something that as a senior player Derbyshire will be hoping he can pass on to their young squad. It’s something Smit was keen to point out was part of his role at the club.
“It’s not just about scoring the runs, taking the catches, or wickets out there in the middle, particularly in the set-up we have at Derbyshire without a head coach as such.
“To be able to support Billy (Godleman) as captain, to be another senior player in there to develop others; in my case I can make contributions to wicketkeepers, leg spinners and batsmen and to try and develop the youngsters.
“Any contribution I can make can go a long way to helping the club develop.”
If Smit can help develop other players into cricketers as well rounded as him, this may even be his fifth dimension.
The new off field structure at Derbyshire is agreeing with Smit since his arrival, and the South African was singing its praises.
“I’m absolutely loving it. Not having a head coach breathing down your neck as such has allowed me that freedom. As an experienced 33-year-old who knows what it takes to perform at my peak, and get the best out of myself, it’s given me that space and freedom to do it.”
Smit was also keen to point out, though, that it did mean that extra responsibility on him and other senior players to nurture the younger players in the squad.
“That onus and responsibility falls on us, as a core of senior players, to help them learn their game and to show them the ropes.”
It’s clear that Smit is enjoying his move to Derbyshire and is enjoying the challenge of playing first-class cricket in England.
“Every week, every team you play against, you’re coming up against international quality players, whether it’s an overseas player or a local guy who’s played international cricket for England.
“You just don’t get that in South Africa. Very rarely do you get to play against international players and, as a professional cricketer that’s you want: to be testing yourself against the best in the world. The last game, we faced up against Nathan Lyon. That was a great challenge; it’s very rare to get that challenge in South Africa and I’m loving it.”
Derbyshire and their supporters will be hoping that Smit continues to enjoy his time and cricket for the county, and contributes with all four dimensions to his game on and off the field for years to come.
I have no doubt that Smit will be a great success for the club, and that he has the potential to write his name into the club’s history books with bat, ball, gloves and in the field. I look forward to watching him do so.