AS a former captain of Alastair Cook who has played in four LV County Championship-winning sides, Hampshire’s latest signing has an impressive CV.
Will Smith was captain of Bedford School’s first team when England captain Cook, two years his junior and with his choirboy days only just behind him, came under his wing.
“I was in the sixth form when he was in the lower school and was his captain for two years,” recalls the 31 year-old.
“I remember when he was four-foot tall with a very high voice, he had a phenomenal technique even then.
“By the time he was 15 he was a strapping young man. You could tell he had the mentality for it as well.
“When he was 14 he didn’t get picked for a game against an MCC side. So when they turned up with ten he played for them and scored a hundred against our first-team attack. He played every game after that!
“I batted at three and he opened with another good player so there were quite a few occasions when I didn’t even get in.
“He broke several run-scoring records and has become a phenomenal player and a brilliant captain which has been great to see. But I take no credit for that whatsoever!”
Cook will be attempting to lead England to a fourth successive Ashes series win while Smith prepares for the next chapter of his career.
It began at Trent Bridge due to Nottinghamshire’s links with Bedford School, where Derek Randall coached.
After playing three games during Notts’ 2005 title triumph, Smith joined Durham, where he has just won his third Championship in six years, having captained the north-east county to a successful defence in 2009.
It is hard to recall anyone else winning as many Championship medals as Smith since the likes of Graham Gooch, Cook’s principal mentor, and John Lever won their fourth title in eight seasons for Essex in 1986. “It’s been a huge privilege to play in some exceptional teams and it just makes me want to add a fifth and a sixth with Hampshire,” said Smith.
“We’ll have to get promoted first but who’s to say that won’t be the case after that. The Hampshire guys have already shown they have all the skills needed to perform at the highest level and if they can do it in one-day cricket they can adapt their skills to become really good four-day players.
“There isn’t a more talented bunch of younger guys around and it was proved at Durham what can happen if you give young guys experience and the chance to express themselves.”
Smith, a right-handed batsman, has scored 6,004 first-class runs at a relatively modest 31.27.
But he averages 36.9 for Durham away from the Riverside and expects to improve on that at the Ageas Bowl, where he made 150 for the champions four years ago.
“The Riverside is not the easiest place to bat, I’ll testify to that!” he said. “Averaging 30 at the Riverside is probably worth 40 elsewhere.
“When I go away I seem to do better, my best innings have come further south. I’ve always felt comfortable batting at the Ageas Bowl and I’m at a stage where my best years are ahead of me.
“I’m more aware of what I can and can’t do and with a fresh challenge, these could be a special four or five years.”
Other counties were interested, but Smith did not hesitate when Hampshire called. “My situation at Durham was a little undecided, I felt the need to be proactive,” he said.
“You’re the only one in control of your destiny and once I heard Hampshire were keen it was an easy decision. It was a case of ‘where do I sign?’ “There are so many things right about it. It has a similar ethos to Durham while some aspects are more professional.
“It’s a hugely progressive club with a fantastic ground, a rich history and a successful recent history.
“They’ve had really good results in one-day cricket and not that long ago they were challenging at the top of division one in the Championship.
“Guys like Shane Warne, Dominic Cork and Dimi Mascarenhas were exceptional and could win a few games with their performance alone.
"But with another year’s experience and maturity they have guys who can become match-winners.”