Smith heading home — but not just yet
Coach of the Year Wendell Smith will be back with league and Eastern Counties champions St David's next year . . . but in 2015 he wants to rejoin his hometown club St George's to help return them to past glory.
It was under Smith's captaincy and coaching in the 1980s that St George's were transformed into one of the Island's top teams, winning league, Camel Cup and Knockout Cup titles. In the Camel Cup they were particularly successful, winning five titles between 1988 and 1999 (88, 89, 90, 98, 99) and making eight appearances in the final in that time.
Now he wants to help bring more success to the club where he played all of his league cricket, though not before helping St David's build on this year's achievements which saw them win the league, Eastern Counties and T20 titles.
In his three years as coach, St David's won two league titles and reclaimed the coveted Eastern Counties Cup this year. Next year he thinks the team can achieve even more.
“I met with the executives and told them I would give them one more season and there are a number of reasons why I decided to do that. Primarily the two are, it's going to be a greater challenge next year to retain the league title than it has been winning it,” said Smith. “The second reason is because I really want to try to bring out the best in this St David's team which is loaded with potential and I really don't believe we have played our best cricket yet. “Although we went undefeated in the league, the main reason for that was that we had a number of different people who contributed at different times. If we can get most people clicking and in form for the entirety of the season then the possibilities are endless.”
Smith said the team enjoyed success despite modest seasons with the bat by senior players — captain OJ Pitcher and all-rounder Delyone Borden. The team were able to win low scoring matches on the back of some outstanding bowling by the likes of George O'Brien, Borden, Justin Pitcher and Rudell Pitcher, who Smith describes as “probably the most underrated player in Bermuda”.
“We have a number of match-winners in the team — Justin Pitcher, George O'Brien, OJ, Fiqre Crockwell, Delyone, Sammy Robinson — and in different matches different people stepped up and provided us with great performances,” said Smith.
“To me we are still a team that can improve and one of the goals for me is to create a shared vision and then work productively to have it come to fruition. Some of the guys, although we had a very good season, underperformed or maybe didn't play to what I think they would be satisfied with.
“With OJ Pitcher, if you take away the century he got against Warwick, he probably averaged about 15 for the season and to me he is one of the top bats in Bermuda.
“Although we won the league, I think we will be a better team next year, because there are two areas I'm going to focus on in pre-season — our batting and our fitness. The bowling was brilliant all year. In fact, only one team scored 200 against us and that was Cleveland on a really good wicket the day after the Eastern Counties when they nearly chased down the 230 that we made.
“The match that was most pleasing was the Eastern Counties against Bailey's Bay. From ball one we had intensity and fielded brilliantly and never let up until the very end. To dismiss a team like Bailey's Bay for 89 in a major match, that was quite an accomplishment by the players and they deserve full credit.
“I knew for Eastern Counties they were ready because it rained on the Thursday but the entire team came out for training.
“The week of Eastern Counties was pure business. That performance at Eastern Counties was one of the proudest I've ever been of a team that I've coached.
“Beating Bailey's Bay four times was almost as pleasing as winning the league because they had our number last year and let us know it.”
Smith admitted the commitment of players today is different than when he began coaching almost 30 years ago.
“I told those guys at St David's once ‘I've been afraid to train you guys like I trained St George's because I don't think you can handle it',”
“At St George's we had Squiggy (Ricky Hodsoll), Graham Fox and Calabash (Eugene Foggo) and we would have some real intense sessions with a lot of physical where guys would do runs out to the Causeway. I used to admire guys like Graham, Calabash and Squiggy because they would be working construction all day and come to Wellington Oval knowing they would be in for some gruelling sessions.
“I remember Eugene Foggo vomiting one night because the sessions were so gruelling.”
Smith captained St George's between 1985 and ‘92 when they won a number of titles against the top teams on the Island, like Warwick, Western Stars, Police, Bailey's Bay, Devonshire Rec and Southampton Rangers. He also coached the team during his captaincy.
“This team at St David's has better quality pace bowling but at St George's we had this aura at the time where the guys believed they were going to win every match and that came about because of preparation,” said Smith.
“That was a wonderful team with people like Dean Minors keeping wicket and Clay Smith in the early order, we had a few players of top class.”
St George's finished fifth in the league last year and have some talented youngsters coming through like Christian Burgess, Zeko Burgess and Macai Simmons, who was voted the Emerging Player of the Year.
“Of course, that will be in St George's hands whether they wish to have me back or stay with whoever is there,” added Smith. “They have a number of good youngsters and to me that is what people should do, give back to their home club, although I did give St George's 11 years as coach.”