Nirobi Smith-Mills on fast track to success
West Indies fast bowling legend Michael Holding earned the nickname “Whispering Death” from umpires, with the first part of the tag coming from his silent approach to the crease, the second owing to the end result after he let loose at speeds in excess of 90mph.
Holding’s was a rare combination of prodigious skill, athleticism, size and pure ruthlessness among bowlers, one that proved nightmarish to opposing batsmen.
While Bermuda’s Nirobi Smith-Mills would not yet be confused with Holding and was only conceived more than a decade after the Jamaican played his final international match, there are hopeful similarities that may one day stamp the teenage paceman with his own fearsome moniker.
Lithe, tall and unmerciful with ball in hand, Smith-Mills, like Holding, has a basis in athletics, the latter having first emerged as a talented sprinter, specialising in the 400 metres, while the former is ranked as the sixth-best 800 metres runner in Britain among his age group and 50th in the world.
The skill level of the Bermudian is, though, yet unrefined, a work in progress and one second on the totem pole to athletics, where greater emphasis is being placed on the Nottingham Trent University student-athlete becoming a world-class middle-distance competitor.
“Michael Holding was a track athlete and him transitioning from a track athlete to cricket is something that is inspirational to me,” said Smith-Mills, who has 800 metres gold at the 2019 Carifta Games to his credit, as well as a recent win at the National Championships, and has Aaron Evans’s Bermuda record of 1min 46.26sec as his target. “Right now, I definitely favour track,” he says.
“In the UK, just before I came home, after I ran 1:50, I was sixth in the UK and I was 50th in the world in my age group — my goal is to go after the national record.”
“I want to get into the 1:47s, 1:48s, definitely get down in those figures, and if I don’t get the national record in the 2023 season, then in the 2024 season I can get the national record and make it on to the Olympic team.”
Smith-Mills put his slow start to the 2022 cricket campaign, where he turns out for Southampton Rangers, to having not played much before his return from school, noting how his early inconsistencies with line and length were indicative of a lack of practice.
However, he added how he was able to knock off the rust fairly quickly, find his rhythm and demonstrate the form that earned him a place as a Cup Match reserve for champions Somerset last year — and has him on the cusp of breaking into the starting XI for this year’s Classic.
Two three-wicket hauls and a bag of four — each at low economy rates — in the most recent matches played for his club will not have harmed Smith-Mills’s chances of breaking through as a prime strike option for Somerset alongside Greg Maybury Jr, particularly as Malachi Jones has persisted in his quest to convert to bowling off spin with greater regularity.
“I’m trying my best to get into the Cup Match team, that’s been a dream of mine, so I’m definitely trying to do that,” Smith-Mills said. “It’s definitely a difficult situation to be in, considering Somerset’s position, but I’ve heard a few things from people.
“I’m not so much thinking about it as allowing my abilities to carry me and hopefully my performances will give me a shot.
“The competition is stiff. It’s very, very challenging, but it also helps me because I feed off that and it makes me want to get better.”
Also a follower of veteran England swing bowler James Anderson, Smith-Mills prides himself on his own ability to move the ball in the air and off the seam, while always having raw speed at his command.
“Among my strengths is my ability to swing the ball both ways,” he said. “Early on in a game my pace definitely helps me, but the ability to move the ball both ways is certainly a key quality to have.
“When I first came back to Bermuda there not much cricket, so there was some inconsistency, but once I got a few games in, got the rhythm and things clicking I think I’m on song right now.
“Training is a big aspect of being able to put things together, to practise and get line and length in proper order.
“One thing I try to do when I’m able to bowl in my areas is to stay straight with my action, my body, my run-up, whereby even on an average day, I’ll still bowl well.”
Smith-Mills has been fortunate to receive coaching from one of the best cricketers Bermuda has produced — Janeiro Tucker, “Mr Cup Match”.
“If I could say anyone home or abroad who I’ve looked to coming up, it would be Janeiro, who, even though he’s not a fast bowler, when it comes to mindset and aggression, that’s where my aggressive mindset when coming in to bowl comes from,” Smith-Mills said. “In terms of Janeiro, it’s not about how fast I’m bowling. As long as I’m hitting my areas and playing with intensity, he’s not stressed about it.”
One other person whom Smith-Mills would not mind gifting the present of a Cup Match place is grandfather Dennis Trott, who first encouraged his involvement in sport and continues to do so.
“I wasn’t much of an athlete in primary school, but with my springing up, getting taller and leaner, running came into the picture, with me doing cross-country running in Bermuda, placing second,” said Smith-Mills, who is studying animal biology at school. “From there, it blossomed into something and my grandfather kept encouraging me to succeed.
“I always had an affinity for cricket, which built on from the athletic aspect and slowly grew to where I developed a measure of proficiency in both.”
Whether it be on the rubberised or lush green oval, Smith-Mills appears on the fast track to athletic superstardom.