With the start of a new season just around the corner things are starting to gear up at Phoenix Cricket Club. Nets have already begun with a high level of intensity that will only increase over the coming weeks and the numbers have been high. The five senior men’s teams at the club have started to gear up for the challenge ahead and will be fully prepared for the coming season.
The first XI, though, will have a strange look about it as they take the field for their opening matches. For the first time in a decade they won’t have Dave Langford-Smith at their disposal. Having cemented his place in Phoenix and Irish cricketing history he departed for home in Australia after the end of last season. His absence leaves a sizeable hole in the first XI’s bowling attack and middle order.
Lanky undoubtedly left his mark on the club during his tenure in Ireland. His last season was no exception as he continued to produce performances of high quality with bat and ball. He won the O’Grady Cup for bowling after collecting 29 Division 1 wickets, a fitting way for a player of his calibre to sign off. He also continued to disturb the furniture both on and off the field right until the last as many a set of stumps, as well as Polly’s plasma TV and a couple of pictures in the clubhouse, found out to their dismay. A bon viveur he made sure his farewell season was a memorable one for many reasons.
Lanky has adjusted well in his new home in Sawtell collecting 17 wickets at 10.24 and with an economy rate of 2.83 to boot. Some things never change it seems; although, he has been surprisingly shy with the bat. Something I’m sure he’d attribute to a decade batting on slow and low Irish pitches.
Before his departure Lanky took a wistful look back over his time at Phoenix and the highs and lows of life at the club.
“I came over, and I was down in Kilkenny, and I met up with a bunch of Phoenix people at JB’s wedding. I had a pint or two and they all decided I ought to come back in a month or two for the start of the Irish season. I had no real plans to stay or anything at that stage. 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.
I think Jeremy Bray was the main reason I got sold on Phoenix. We’ve been good mates for a long time and I think him recommending it really made the difference. Jeremy and I played for St George together and are great mates. I thought to play alongside him again would be great and to go traveling and do it would be great”, he mused.
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 to be honest.
I can remember my first game as though it was yesterday. We played in YMCA. I’d just come off a 49 wicket season and I came into bowl and hit the deck hard and I died a little inside when the ball hit the pitch. All of the pace just went off it when it hit the surface. Slow and low, I know that now, but at the time I was used to fast and bouncy pitches so to see all that effort in the run up and action killed as soon as the ball hit the surface was a bit of a shock to begin with” he continued.
It wouldn’t be an easy adjustment but it was one that he would make with startling alacrity. Australian and Irish pitches are chalk and cheese but that mattered little to a player who was destined to claim his place in the Ireland 2007 World Cup squad.
“I finally tuned in to the fact that what I needed to do here was pitch it up. I adjusted my line and length and I was alright. I actually settled in pretty nicely but that first game was a little bit of a shock to the system but, yeah, I worked it out soon enough.
My first season I couldn’t score a run. I thought I could just pick up the line of the ball and put it out of the park. A lot of what I had learned in Grade One cricket in Sydney was about negating the bounce of the ball whereas here there was no bounce so it took me a little bit longer to pick that up” he added.
That was just the beginning of what would be an event time at the club. Many players and coaches came and went in the span of Lanky’s Phoenix career and some of them even went on to surprise him after they had left.
“We’ve had some quality overseas players come through as well. You’ve the likes of Kirk Edwards, Keegan Meth and Andrew Downton who played plenty of Shield cricket with Tasmania. To be honest I wouldn’t have expected Kirk to turn out to be the player he is. He didn’t get many runs when he was here but I guess he’s worked hard at his game and got to where he is now. Then on the other hand you have Ben Larkin who scored plenty here last season and then went home and is playing Grade Two. Cricket can be a strange game like that sometimes.
When I started back in 2002 there was myself and Hendy Wallace doing most of the coaching. Hendy was very laid back in his style of coaching. We then had Chris Torissi come in the next year and he was a really good coach. I think he was level three. Then we kind of got a bit lost in terms of the coaching aspect until maybe 2009. We had Mark Webb come over from New Zealand and he was a fantastic coach but he only stayed for one year. Then Tony was here last year and he was good too. He was particularly good with the kids and worked very well with them. He was much loved at the club in his time here.
Then, as you know, this year you had Willie, JB and I doing most of the coaching. I think that just how important having a high level of coaching can be missed sometimes. I think it’s just as important as buying in players or whatever else. The club needs guidance and getting in a top level coach is essential“, he pondered.
There were a lot of highs on a personal level with selection for Ireland being foremost among them as well as individual plaudits for bowling and fielding but there was a paucity of team titles in his time at the club. Something he clearly regretted on leaving.
“I really enjoyed the 2010 season and getting promoted from Division 2. We had a superb season and fully deserved to be promoted. In my ten years of First Grade cricket I’ve only ever won two things. There was the Division 2 title last year and the LHW back in 2006 I think. So it was very satisfying to do that last year. From a team perspective it was great. With the players we’ve had over the years I feel we’ve underachieved. I know the quality of these guys and it’s frustrating and disappointing to not have done more”.
Then there was the veritable curate’s egg of the century landmark. A feat he achieved five times for the club with his explosive middle order batting but never with the desired final outcome.
“I managed five centuries in my time at Phoenix and not one of them led to a win. It got to be a bit of joke saying that if I got to 99 I should just go back and step on my stumps. When we played the semi final I was on 93 and I hit another six and I thought what I do now! You just go with your instinct and I think I hooked the next one for six too. Another century and another loss that day unfortunately. I can tell you for a fact that it’s much better to not play well and win than to play well personally and lose. I would rather get a duck and get smashed to all parts and walk off a winner than to be hitting tons and taking wickets and losing. That is something younger cricketers should always keep in perspective”.
A clear message from the clubs most prominent player of recent times to the Phoenix youth. Individual commitment to a group effort is key to success in cricket. Individual accolades were never to the forefront of Lanky’s mind. It was the collective that mattered. However the individual commitment he gave to that collective was immense right up until the bittersweet farewell he bade the club, and Irish cricket, at YMCA last September. 5 for 19 and a gritty 37 in the middle order couldn’t save his side from relegation on the last day of the season as he ended his career on the same ground he had started.
“I think the last game I played was one of my best performances. Emotions were running high for me, obviously, as I wanted to go out on a good note. To be honest I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform on the day. I think I did as much as I could have really. I bowled well and got wickets and I think I batted pretty well too. It was just one of those things that wasn’t meant to be”, he melancholically mused.
Yet that’s no way to end the story of David Langford-Smith and his time at Phoenix. Lanky’s time at the club is a story of success and enjoyment both on and off the field. There may have been lows but there were plenty of highs as well.
“There are two games that really stand out for me as being my favourites”, he recalled and immediately a smile and chuckle followed.
We had refix in around 2005 that was set for a Friday. We were playing Malahide and basically none of our players were available. I remember our 8-9-10-11 was Chris Cavanagh, Dick Forrest, Jim Gallagher and Dan Johnston. I mean this in the nicest possible way but we knew we had to chase the 230 they set us for the loss of four or five wickets. We started really poorly and we were four for nothing basically. Then Corie and I came together at the crease and put on around 180. It was Corie’s maiden First Grade ton as well which made it more special. It was an unbelievable day and a really superb win. Then Corie and I got in the car and drove down to Electric Picnic and celebrated that win for the next three days. It’s a great memory.
And I’ll have to be honest and say that I didn’t think we had much of a chance away to Merrion in the Irish Senior Cup this year. On paper they had a much, much stronger team than we did. They are a really strong side so we were always going to be up against it. In the end I think we beat them by sixty or seventy runs and it was one of those days when you walk off and you’re grinning from ear to ear,” he surmised
So there it is. Lanky’s time has been and gone at Phoenix. He left behind some great memories and achievements that will be hard to match for those who follow him. Phoenix loss was definitely Sawtells gain and no doubt Lanky will be leading the charge as they take the field in their Championship semi final this weekend. The final word on his stay at the club are best left to the man himself.
“I’d really like to thank everyone who has dealt with me over the last decade. It has been an amazing experience to be here and do all the things I’ve done. I genuinely do love the club. There have been a fair few good Aussies who’ve been and gone. Eric Godward, Chris Torissi, Garth Anchor and Matt Plunkett-Cole. I hope people can look back on my with the same fondness they do with those guys who have been at the club.
I’d also like to thank Corie, Rory and Polly for putting up with all my moods swings and grumpiness out on the pitch because I know it can’t have been easy. They are my three amigos and I really look forward to seeing them out in Oz”.