Saturday, June 15, 2024

Jamie Smith: I’m ready to keep for England, even if I don’t for Surrey

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Smith has enjoyed the classic Surrey route – Whitgift School on a cricket scholarship and the club’s pathways into the first team and England Lions. He is a talented all-round sportsman who played for AFC Wimbledon until he was 15 before concentrating on cricket. Stewart rates him as easily the best footballer at Surrey. Smith and his Dad are big West Ham fans, travellling home and away to watch their team play and unusually there is no cricket link within the family. Smith is the first to play the sport to any level and says nobody else has any “massive plans” to follow him despite his success.

He first played the game when his parents signed him up for a summer holiday course at Sutton Cricket Club aged six or seven and like many young children of the era he was inspired by the 2005 Ashes. He was only five when the series gripped the nation but still felt its effects.

“I remember my dad buying the box set and I used to watch on repeat and would know word for word the commentary and what happened. My first main bat was the replicate of the bat Kevin Pietersen used. It was always two sizes too big. It was a size 6 when I was six-years-old, too big but stuck with me for a few years. My dad says the first time I went to a cricket match was an ODI before the 2005 Ashes at Lord’s. He says I lasted 30 overs before I was bored. Not bad. It stemmed from there and took off.”

His footballing skills could be why he is so light on his feet at the crease, often advancing at seamers in England to impose himself and negate swing and seam. He averages 40 in first-class cricket, and 45.2 since the start of last season. He is aggressive, looks to assert himself early and credits Surrey and the positive vibe promulgated by McCullum and Ben Stokes for his approach. He speaks their language.

“I have made big strides in the last 18 months. It has come down to the clarity of backing and trusting how I want to play. In 2022 we won the championship and I scored a double hundred at Bristol but that was my only contribution to the season. I felt deflated and was fortunate to be picked on a Lions tour that winter,” he says.

“I went on that trip putting trust back on what I do well which is putting people under pressure rather than thinking I have to bat 200 balls and be tight in defence. It is about imposing myself a bit more and being as positive as I can. It was a mindset shift, not worrying about how someone was trying to get me out. Now my mind is clear. I am thinking not about that but how to score runs. [Bazball] has benefited me a lot. It has made it more simple – you go out there thinking of scoring runs being the be all and end all.”

He credits Foakes with helping his keeping: “We could speak for an hour about that” and works closely with Stewart as well, two good sources for a young keeper. Surrey rate his keeping as high as Bairstow’s at his best but there is a concern that picking him to bat at seven for England will not bring out the best in the strongest aspect of his game, his batting. He will also have to handle extra scrutiny on his keeping but unless England decide to look again at Ollie Pope at No 3, Smith’s only route in the Test side is taking Foakes’s place. With England building to the Ashes, they may feel it is time to trust a 23-year-old, give him time to grow into the role and ultimately be thankful for Sutton Cricket Club running a summer holiday camp all those years ago.

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