Last week saw the seal set on the Leinster club cricketing season as the LCU handed out their individual and club honours at their annual awards dinner. The big winner on the night was Dave Langford-Smith as his name was called for three awards including the Player’s Player of the Year award. It was a fitting nod from his contemporaries as the big fast bowler bade farewell to Irish cricket after a decade on these shores. Langford-Smith also collected the O’Grady Cup, after taking 29 Division One wickets @ 15.03, and the Solomon’s Cup for most catches after another season of the highest quality performances.
He was not there on the night to collect his awards as he had already departed for his homeland. After a decade in the game in Ireland family and financial constraints saw him depart these shores to head back to the place he learned to ply his trade before impacting on Irish cricket as the national team burst onto the world stage at the 2007 Cricket World Cup.
His impact on the game in this country is not confined to his performance for the national side but he will be best remembered for being part of the side that shocked the cricketing world in 2007. Many fans will remember Langford-Smith for his ‘ferret dance’ celebrations which encapsulated the joie de vivre of the Irish team in the tournament but that should not disguise the seriousness and competitiveness with which he played the game.
His final efforts in 2011 were not to be enough to save Phoenix from relegation from Division One nor was it enough to see Phoenix through to the Bob Kerr Irish Senior Cup final but Lanky made sure he went out with a bang and not a whimper. On the final day of the season he produced a five-for in a losing cause away to YMCA as he stepped off the Irish cricketing stage in the same place he had begun a decade earlier. Throughout the season his efforts kept his side alive and kicking when without them they would have been doomed.
While wickets tumbled when he ran in to bowl in the league it was with the bat that he blazed a trail in the Irish Senior Cup. An innings of savage grace which saw him smash 83 from 36 deliveries away to Merrion in the Quarter Final helped propel his side from setting a modest looking total to securing victory by 64 runs. The Semi Final away to Instonians saw his side again struggling before his Herculean effort of 106* from 70 deliveries gave them hope. It was not to be enough to see them through in the end but Langford-Smith displayed all of the fire and skill that took him to the top of the Irish game.
His cricketing education came at Bowen Centrals, a four hour drive west of Sydney, and with the raw talent he possessed, and his father as his chauffeur, he began to make the cut for various representative sides. His reward for all the hard effort was representative honours for New South Wales under 17 and New South Wales Schools sides where he shared the new ball with Brett Lee.
From there he went on to play First Grade Cricket in Sydney for St George, where the players of the ilk of Sir Donald Bradman and Tiger O’Reilly had plied their trade over the years, for five seasons before a brief stint with the University of New South Wales. It was in this elite club cricket that he put the finishing touches on his game.
Before departing Lanky took the time to take a look back over a distinguished and entertaining career.
“I played my first ever First Grade game when I was 18. It was a semi final and in the opposition team was Glenn McGrath, Stuart Clark and Stuey MacGill. One day you’re watching Glenn McGrath bowling for Australia and the next thing you know you’re standing at the crease and there he is steaming in at you.
I would say it was in my final two seasons in there that I really worked it out. Up until that point I probably didn’t have the self belief that was necessary but then it came together for me. I got forty-two wickets my penultimate year and forty-nine in my final year so at that stage I really knew what I was doing”, he elaborates.
His career at international level may have been fleeting, his debut came in April 2006 and his final appearance in March 2008, but his contribution to the game cannot be underestimated. At club level he performed to a consistently high standard at his adopted home, Phoenix, in order to catch the eye of the Ireland management team. He has also coached players at all levels, from under 11 to Senior 1, in his time in Ireland.
“I have enjoyed every minute of my experience here and it’s been more than just the cricket. Of course it is sad to have to leave the life myself and Maebh have made here but it’s also good to look forward to going home” said Langford-Smith.
Langford-Smith came to Ireland looking for adventure and ended up with far more than he’d ever expected. From being part of Irelands first ever ODI at Stormont back in June 2006, making eight appearances at the Cricket World Cup finals while on his way to claiming twenty-five ODI wickets, marrying his wife Maebh in 2005 and the birth of his first child, Amelie, in 2009 it’s all been a lot more than the young man from Orange expected when he departed for these shores in 2002.
“I was at a stage in my life back in Australia where I was doing a job that would allow me to get off at 3pm so I had enough time to drive into town and train in the evenings. I just kind of wanted to get some excitement in my life because all I was doing was working, driving, and training” he explains.
“I didn’t know what to expect to be perfectly honest. I wasn’t 100% sure where Ireland was on a map at that stage really. I was extremely naïve when I came over in all honesty. I never could have imagined things would turn out like back then” he adds.
It wasn’t all plain sailing for him, though, as his initial breakthrough into the international setup hit a wall early on. After a strong showing in his opening games he found himself dropped from the starting eleven. It was to be the first and last wakeup call he would need.
“When I started to play with the Irish team I knew I was probably a bit overweight. I never saw myself as unfit but I knew I wasn’t in the best shape I could be. I don’t know if, at that stage, I really thought of myself as an international cricketer.
I was so content with my life I didn’t really think international cricket would change how I felt about the game. It was only when I got dropped that I realised just how much I missed it and wanted it. So I went hard at it and I’d say I lost 9-10 kilos and I got back in the team. After that I was fine and I said to myself I’d never get dropped again.”
Having found his way back onto the straight and narrow all roads led to the Cricket World Cup to be held in the West Indies in 2007. Adrian Birrell and his side went head-to-head with the giants of the game and made the world take notice of Irish cricket.
A dramatic tie with Zimbabwe in their opening group game set them up for a St Patrick’s Day clash with Pakistan. It was a game Ireland were supposed to lose comfortably but after skittling their opponents out for 132 before knocking off the runs with three wickets to spare in a tense, rain affected chase. It was a result that few outside of the Cricket Ireland setup could ever have predicted but it helped propel Ireland to the new heights and a new found stature within the game.
“We were looking around the room at each other at the interval because we knew it was on. There wasn’t a huge amount of talking but there was a lot of eye contact. You were talking to each other without saying anything.
TJ got up and talked and basically asked how much we wanted it. Looking around the room at these lads you know have the talent, your mates, and knowing we could go ahead and do it. Without speaking a word we said to each other we were going to go and win it. Mind you it wouldn’t have mattered if any of us had spoken a word because TJ would just have spoken over us as usual!” he quips.
Ireland went on to qualify for the Super Sixes, the tournament’s second phase, and compete against all the major nations and announce themselves on the world stage. As the squad pushed back the boundaries of what could be achieved by Ireland on the cricket field Langford-Smith enjoyed every moment of it.
“It was the best two years of my sporting life. That goes without saying. The only thing I do look back and regret that I wasn’t a bit more in shape when I started out. When I’m fit I really do have a lot more to offer as compared to what I was like when I started.
It was an absolutely amazing time in my life and it’s a very emotional time too even looking back on it. I’ve never experienced being away for so long from Maebh like that. I had never really experienced spending as much time with a gang of lads like I did with the squad. More than that, though, I’d never experienced the kind of support we got. In Sydney Grade cricket you’d get twenty-five people at the game. For Ireland you’d get all these people at the game. Everyone knew your name and they were all cheering for you. It was totally amazing” he admits.
It was less than twelve months later when he decided to retire from the international setup. It may have been seen as a surprising move given that he had cemented his place in a team that was clearly going places but while there were World Cups and international tours there were none of the financial rewards that the game’s elite can demand.
“I had to work a full time job so it made it hard and I knew that the contracts we have now weren’t coming into effect for about twelve to eighteen months at that stage. I also knew that I really didn’t enjoy being away from Maebhy for long periods of time which would have been required if I wanted to keep going.
It was a combination of things really. My brother-in-law was owned a painting and decorating business and asked if I wanted to join him so there was that offer to consider. Maebhy and I were also talking about starting a family at that stage too. Basically it came down to my life in Ireland with Maebh being the most important thing to me and being able to provide for that.
Of course it was hard to give it up because I’d had an incredibly time playing cricket for Ireland but it was also a necessary step for me” he explains.
And where to now for Irish cricket? At the Cricket World Cup in India earlier this year Ireland once again showed their ability to compete on the biggest stage. However the ICC, crickets governing body, announced shortly after than only the ten Test playing nations would be allowed compete at the 2015 edition in Australia. The decision caused outrage and uproar and Cricket Ireland were quick to fire back voicing their anger at the announcement.
After a groundswell of support the ICC did an about turn on the matter and announced the qualification process that crickets associate nations will have to go through to claim one of the final four spots on offer. Ireland are already well placed to qualify via the Intercontinental Cup One Day tournament which they currently top. If they finish in the top two of that tournament they will book their place in Australia. If they miss out they will then have to make the final of the supplementary qualifying tournament.
While taking nothing for granted Langford-Smith sees Irish cricket as continuing to go from strength to strength.
“Well these central contracts have worked wonders for us. They have done everything that they were put in place to do and really allowed us to develop properly and quickly. Our performances on the field are consistently at a high level now. We’ve basically forced everybody to sit up and take notice.
I look back to 2007 and how it became harder and harder as the tournament went on. We were training pretty much every day we didn’t play a game and because we were only Ireland we were allocated the midday to 2pm slot for the nets. I mean this was in the high heat when it was absolutely stinking hot. As the tournament wore on I started to run out of puff and I also think the rest of the boys did too.
Now you look at the difference being able to play cricket all year round has made for us. Having all these guys who work on their game and their condition has been such a huge plus. The best example of it for me would be John Mooney. You look at his performances over the last while with both bat and ball and you can see how much he’s improved. He’s a superb athlete now as well as anything else. You look at how he’s built now and he’s twice the man he was back in the 2007 World Cup. Being paid to train will always bring about great results and we’ve seen that with the performances that we’ve produced at the last World Cup again”, he muses.
There is a clear assertion that he believes Irish cricket can go all the places in needs to but that it needs to be allowed to do so by the games governing bodies.
“Ireland will always give due respect to the other associate nations but we want to keep pushing ahead to the highest levels of the game. You look at the calibre of players we have with the likes of Ports, Boyd, Ed Joyce, Niall and all the rest and you ask the question can we play Test cricket. Of course we can. We want to keep pushing ahead to that goal but it’s hard when there is this glass ceiling in place” he contends.
All that will be someone else’s burden to bear, though, as the man they call Lanky will have to cast his eye over the progress of the game in Ireland from his new home in Coffs Harbour, New South Wales.
“I’d really like to thank everyone who has dealt with me over the last decade both on and off the field in Irish cricket. It has been an absolutely incredible experience and the people I've met and the things I’ve been part of will always be with me. I’d also like to say a really heartfelt thank you to everyone at Phoenix and to let them know that I do genuinely love the club”, he concludes.
However he is far from done with the game yet and he plans to dive headlong from his last Irish campaign and straight into the Australian season. Any suggestion that he might slow down when he returns to the searing heat of his native shores after a decade in the milder climes of Ireland is quickly put to bed.
“Oh I’m going to be playing for Sawtell Cricket Club when I get to Australia. The season has only started over there. I’ll certainly still be batting and bowling when I get back there. The heat might be a bit of an adjustment but I just love it too much to even think about slowing down to be perfectly honest. I think I’ll be one of these players who only packs it in when I fall to bits” he says with a rye smile.
Last week’s awards brought a fitting end to Langford-Smiths decade long sojourn in Irish cricket. His Player’s Player of the Year Award was given on merit, though, and not out of sentiment. His performances were still at as high a level in 2011 as they had been for the entirety of his Phoenix career. He leaves the stage with Irish cricket all the healthier for his decade long contribution to the game.