Notts Physio Craig Smith maintains an unwavering enthusiasm for sports medicine 18 years on from his first assignment.
Smith was introduced to professional cricket when he accompanied Mike Gatting’s rebels on their tour of South Africa in 1990, a team that featured Notts trio Bruce French, Chris Broad and Tim Robinson who would later help him to find employment at Trent Bridge.
The South African is now in his fifth season with the club having spent time with Lancashire and the South African national team.
“That was my introduction to cricket because I was only into surfing and football at school. We played a little bit of cricket but surfing was the most important thing to me at the weekends,” said Smith.
“Eighteen months after the Gatting tour, South Africa were back in international sport and they put a tour to India together in two days. They needed a physio and I was available to get on the plane and travel and that was my way in.”
South Africa made a bold impression on world cricket and Smith was a vital part of the team that helped the Proteas to victory in the ICC Knockout Trophy in Bangladesh in 1998.
”I remember when Dale Benkenstein broke a bone in his foot and he was desperate to play in the final,” recalls Smith.
”In that situation, a player will undertake any procedure to get fit. We worked with him for 24 hours a day for four days to get him fit for the match and he played a crucial innings and helped us to win the tournament. That gave me a lot of satisfaction.
“When a patient comes into the clinic, it’s difficult to develop a rapport. In a sporting environment, you get to know the guys and learn how to manage the. Some of them need to be mollycoddled and some of them need the rough stuff. You learn a lot about their mentality and a big aspect of physiotherapy is to massage their confidence and frame of mind as much as their soft tissue.
“I finished with SA in 2002 and took six months off. I’d done 11 years with them and hadn’t put roots down anywhere and they wanted to make changes to the staff. The coach left and I did as well and I spent some time taking stock and planning my next move.”
Smith didn’t have to wait long for offers. With more and more of his compatriots plying their trade in England, Lancashire came calling.
“I had a lot of contacts in the game and an opportunity came up with Lancashire,” he said.
”I spent a year there and we lost our final game of the season at Trent Bridge in 2003 when I bumped into Tim Robinson. I left Lancs and went back to South Africa and Robbo called to express an interest on behalf of Mick Newell.
“I didn’t want to rush back into cricket but I came across to get a feel for the club and liked what I saw. I settled well and decided to start a business and became a consultant rather than an employee. It works well and the club are happy because nothing has really changed.
“I’m constantly looking to improve things and my company has put a physio in at Derbyshire and we’ve recruited Kevin Paxton who is our fitness and conditioner at Notts. I want to establish a private practice, continue to contract physios to professional clubs and run education courses in England and South Africa whilst maintaining my commitment to Notts.
“Sportsmen always want to get better quickly and enthusiastic patients make physios look good. I like the dressing room environment because it gives me an opportunity to treat patients but also to manage their rehabilitation for the good of the team. You can’t just push them out of the door all of the time because even if they want to play, they could risk further damage and that’s where experience comes in.”