In the third edition of our series looking at the unsung heroes Behind the Badge at Edgbaston we spoke to Mel Smith, the stadium's recognisable voice.
At nine minutes past eleven on Friday 5 April, 2013, a freezing morning at The Parks, Varun Chopra was late on an inswinger from Oxford MCCU seamer Ben Kemp and out lbw for five.
This apparently anonymous dismissal at the start of the season in fact secured a small footnote in Bears history. It was the first wicket to be recorded by Mel Smith as Warwickshire scorer.
The 2023 season will be Mel’s 11th in the role since he succeeded the estimable David Wainwright – and it is a role that the lifelong cricket-enthusiast loves. “Every day is like Christmas,” he says, although his induction at the windswept Parks ten years ago was bracing, that day only the weather was like Christmas.
“It was bitterly cold,” Mel recalls, “so cold that at one point Jerry Lloyd’s phoned Lord’s to ask if they could call it off because of the cold. I was sitting there shivering in the euphemistically-called ‘scorebox’ at The Parks thinking, ‘what the b—- hell have I let myself in for?’
“But it was the best thing I’ve ever done. I am so fortunate to do what I do. I work at an amazing stadium with some great people and I know and appreciate that. From the middle of March to the end of September, every day is like Christmas for me!”
Already in his fifties when he was appointed at Edgbaston, Mel arrived with a wealth of cricket experience – from playing, umpiring and scoring. The latter became his principal vocation, however, following a very abrupt and enforced change of direction.
“I was on the 2nd XI umpiring panel for 25 years, umpiring county 2nd XI and club games in Northamptonshire and player pathway games and youth Tests. Then out of the blue one morning early in January 2000 I woke up and couldn’t hear a word. I’d gone profoundly deaf overnight.
“That put paid to my ambitions to become a first-class umpire, but I had always taken it upon myself, as an umpire, to learn exactly what scorers do and I was also a qualified scorer, so it was off with one hat and on with another. With hearing aids in place, I can score perfectly well – even in the hubbub of a Twenty20.
“Now I have scored Ashes Tests and Champions Trophy finals and Lord’s finals…I would never have been involved in those as an umpire! I am a firm believer that when one door shuts, another one opens.”
Mel brings to the critical role of scorer attributes honed over decades working in the army and as a GP practice manager: a mighty work ethic, an obsession with accuracy and a passion to do the best possible job – and then see how it can be improved.
“Every year I sit down and go through everything I’ve done and think ‘how can I add a bit more value to this? What can I provide that they don’t have?’” he said. “Of course, my primary role is to score cricket matches and work with the umpires and match referee to apply the rules. The umpires want all the information on the scoreboard and my computer runs both scoreboards at the ground and also the livestream, so if somebody in Australia wants to know how the Bears are doing, they just have to log on. It’s all pumping out from me.
“But I don’t want to be just the guy that says ‘that’s a dot ball, that’s a dot ball.’ I want to, on behalf of Warwickshire, provide a service to the fans, the players and coaches, the media and anybody else that wants it.
“I’ve always been at pains to be very accurate. I run about 25 different Excel workbooks, from County Championship to 2nd XI red-ball friendly. Over the last ten years I have put all manner of statistics at the players or coaches’ disposal. I realise the information that I provide to the coaches can have an influence, albeit a very small one, on people’s livelihoods, so I check and recheck every detail I pass on to make sure they are correct.”
In a sport which generates more statistics than any other, Mel’s information supply is massively appreciated by all those who benefit from it. But while part of his role is to trawl that ocean of stats for records and milestones, much the greater part is to add to that ocean. High up in his scorebox on Level Three at the Hollies Stand end of the South Stand, every dot, every boundary, every wicket and every leg-bye in every game is recorded by Mel – twice.
“We use the ECB’s preferred scoring programme, PCS Pro,” he said. “But computers sometimes fail, so I score on paper at the same time and keep those records in the scorebox, so that if in five, ten, 50 years time, people want to research games, like the last one last season, the information is there.
“During championship and 50-over matches the spectators also have the pleasure (or not!) of hearing my dulcet tones on the public address. Before every game I go through all the players’ career statistics to see if any milestones are coming up because I think the paying public appreciate these things. I remember I was devastated when Tim Ambrose, such a lovely guy, played his 200th first class game and was promptly out first ball! I felt dreadful when I had to announce that as he walked back to the pavilion.”
It is that generosity of spirit, allied to his skills, which makes Mel a brilliant ambassador for Warwickshire County Cricket Club. After reading former Birmingham Mail reporter Brian Halford’s book about Percy Jeeves, a superb all-rounder who was killed on the Somme in 1916, Mel said, ‘we should go.’ He drove the author to northern France and to High Wood, where Jeeves disappeared without trace, and proper tribute was paid to a gallant Bear who gave his life for his country.
“That is a great book which tells an important story and it was an to honour to go and pay respect to Percy Jeeves,” said Mel. “I am proud to be an ambassador for Warwickshire County Cricket Club and proud to wear the Warwickshire tie and I want people to associate me with Warwickshire and to think we are a professional organisation which is always looking to improve.
“I love my job. I look back to a rainy day in 2012 at Loughborough, when I was scoring an ECB player pathway game, and during a rain break I was on the internet and saw that Warwickshire were looking for a first-team scorer. I phoned my good lady wife and said, ‘what do you reckon?’ and Jean said ‘go for it.’ How glad am I that I did!”
And how glad are the Bears, Mel.
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