‘His record as a player was exemplary and his loyalty indisputable’ – tributes to paid to former Petersfield, Havant and Hampshire Seniors cricketer Jim Smallbone
Local cricket has been saddened by the death after a short illness of Petersfield stalwart Jim Smallbone, arguably one of town’s best known sportsmen. He was 71.
A competitive left-arm slow bowler with bucket-like catching hands and a crunching handshake, Jim’s contribution to cricket in Hampshire and beyond, both on and off the field, has been enormous.
It stretched well beyond the 50 years he spent at Petersfield as a player, Colts manager, 1st X1 captain, groundsman and maintenance man - not to mention serving behind the bar, and often making the teas.
He ended his club playing career with Havant still turning out for the 2nd and 3rd XIs as recently as the 2019 season as well as playing for Hampshire’s over-70s in the same year.
Bob Pullin, Jim’s former skipper at The Heath, recalled: ‘Having joined Petersfield in 1963 and going on to become captain of the 1st X1, it was good to have a keen and enthusiastic team of players.
‘This was enhanced further when Jim, a young left arm spinner, came into the team.
‘He worked hard at his bowling and he became a valuable member of the team, helping us achieve success in both the Hampshire League and the Southern League.
‘He was the ultimate clubman who did virtually everything and just loved playing cricket and being involved with the game, frequently captaining sides in which he played.’
An electrician by trade, Jim didn’t take up cricket until he was 18, but he captured almost 290 Southern League wickets for Petersfield and many, many more in the Hampshire League during his long at The Heath, which ended ten years ago when he joined Havant.
His career best bowling was 7-56 for Petersfield in a friendly against Odiham & Greywell, while his best Southern League figures were 6-38 against Bournemouth in 1979.
His best figures for Havant were 6-47 for the 3rds against Sarisbury Athletic 4ths in 2014.
Long-time Petersfield and Hampshire Seniors’ team-mate Chris Wood recalled: ‘Jim was a man of action, not a talker. He was incredibly hard-working, loyal, generous with his time and extremely stubborn. Nothing could dissuade him once his mind was made-up.
‘His record as a player was exemplary and his loyalty indisputable.
‘As a bowler, his massive hand and iron grip meant he could spin the ball prodigiously, but on the slow wickets of the south he preferred to bowl flatter and quicker and use the seam to ‘cut the ball.
He was held in high regard by many of his opponents.
‘Jim put in a huge amount of work for Petersfield Cricket Club. He coached all of the Colts for many years, looked after the ground, did umpteen jobs on the pavilion, attended every function and was available for every match, whatever day it was.’
Havant director of cricket Jeremy Bulled played alongside Smallbone for Petersfield 2nds in the 1990s after joining the club as a teenager.
‘Jim was very experienced then,’ said Bulled. ‘We had a good time – I think we won promotion four years running.
‘Jim was a lovely chap – competitive but quite a gentle guy.
‘Petersfield were a very healthy club then – the first team were in the old Southern League.
‘I didn’t know how Jim came to join Havant – I just saw him at the club one day and said ‘oh hello, you’re playing for us now?’
‘He just did what he’d always done – turned up, bowled well, bowled economically, and took three or four wickets every week.’
A long time member of the XL Club, Jim captained the Hants & Sussex Borderers on countless August West Country tours, also managing the successful Hampshire Cricket Association and Cricket Board representative side for more than a decade.
Under his tutelage, the HCA team twice reached the NCA inter-county final, initially losing to
Scotland before winning it the following summer, beating powerful Staffordshire by seven wickets in the 1991 final at Wolverhampton.
In 1999 (as the Hampshire Cricket Board) they also progressed to the third round of the NatWest Trophy beating Suffolk and Shropshire en route before losing to Glamorgan at Northlands Road.
The HCB XI included one-time Havant players Matt Compton, Lawrie Prittipaul, Andy Perry and Roger Miller.
Jim subsequently became an integral playing member of the Hampshire Seniors, representing the county throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s age groups.
In his final year of playing, he was still among the wickets - bagging 3-25 against Sussex Over-70s and 3-29 against Kent Over-70s.
He also took 4-27 for Havant 2nds against Ropley in a Hampshire League game and 4-16 for Havant 3rds against Liss 2nds.
An inveterate tourist, Jim was a key figure on Seniors’ trips to Malaysia, Australia, Sri Lanka, South Africa and Barbados.
Jim was the all-time leading wicket taker for the county vets, with well in excess of 200 victims in all competitions. He features prominently in the nationwide top ten in 60s and 70s cricket with a total of 171 wickets.
His constant success with Hampshire was rewarded with an international call-up in 2009, when he shone with the ball, bowling economical spells in England’s two 60s ‘Ashes’ victories against the touring Australians, and a 4-22 return in a preceding nine-wicket win over Wales at Liphook & Ripsley.
Two winters later he was selected for the return ‘Ashes’ series in Australia and twice ripped through the Aussie middle-orders with telling three-wicket spells.
Ironically, his career – and his life – very nearly ended a year later in June 2012 when he suffered a cardiac arrest and collapsed at the crease while batting in a Hampshire 60s match against Sussex at Middleton.
Jim stopped breathing for 45 minutes after a heart attack which left three of his main arteries blocked.
By a freak of remarkable good fortune, the Sussex wicketkeeper Mick Tindall, a late replacement, was a fully qualified paramedic and saved Jim’s life.
He was air-lifted to hospital, recovered and was back playing cricket (and taking wickets) again in 2013 – and for another six years!
It was a truly remarkable comeback by a guy of boundless energy whose contribution to Hampshire recreational cricket was enormous.