WILL Smith is desperate to make up for his previous Finals Day disappointment.
Smith, Adam Wheater and Matt Coles are the only Hampshire players without a T20 winner’s medal having been signed since the county’s last triumph in 2012.
But Smith has no shortage of Finals Day experience with Nottinghamshire and Durham.
“I took four catches and ran out Mark Butcher, which was handy because I was in the team for my fielding!” laughs Hampshire’s off-spinning all-rounder as he recalls his contribution when Notts beat Surrey in the 2006 semi-final at Trent Bridge.
“It was a great occasion and I took one of the best catches of my career at deep backward square leg.
“Azhar Mahmood was batting against Graeme Swann when the ball came in my direction. I misjudged it but dived back and caught it one-handed as it went over my head.”
Notts were beaten by four runs in a dramatic final, with Smith on strike during the thrilling and controversial denouement as Leicestershire won the first of their three titles (a record Hampshire can equal today).
“I came in at No. 7, with 14 needed off the last four balls. With Ryan Sidebottom at the other end, I needed 11 off the last ball. Jim Allenby bowled a chest-high full toss that I smashed over long-on into the stands for six. I should have faced another ball only needing three but the umpires didn’t give a no-ball.”
In 2008, Smith played his first T20 match at The Rose Bowl, a semi-final for a Durham side captained by Hampshire coach Dale Benkenstein against Shaun Udal’s Middlesex (for whom Owais Shah was the matchwinner in the final).
“We didn’t get enough and Tyron Henderson smashed it everywhere. So I’ve got close but I’m yet to get over the line.”
Smith did not bowl regularly in the T20 format until last season, his final summer with Durham, but has been Hampshire’s surprise package.
“If someone had told me at the start of the year I’d play every T20 game I’d have been surprised,” admits the 31-year-old, who had only taken seven career T20 wickets before joining Hampshire.
He has bowled in every powerplay for Hampshire this season and has been his new county’s most economical bowler. Only Coles and fellow spinner Danny Briggs have taken more than his 17 wickets.
“I used to try to be more of a floaty four-day type off-spinner which never really came about,” he explains.
“But because I haven’t played a great deal of one-day cricket in the last couple of years I’ve done a hell of a lot of work on the different skills you seem to need now.
“I’ve realised that you need to get to a point where the batsmen can’t get underneath the ball or get his arms free.”
Smith, who took a career-best 3-17 at Essex in the final group game, has bowled the first over in all but three of Hampshire’s 15 matches.
He was given the responsibility after Liam Dawson suffered a groin injury as Hampshire lost their opening game against Glamorgan.
“I got Vincey (captain James Vince) out stumped in the first over of a one-day game against Hampshire last year so maybe he thinks I’m a mystery spinner!
“If you can bowl a good first over with only two fielders out, you should find it easier after the powerplay and it seems to be working. But you have to be ready to think on your feet.”
Smith has also impressed with the bat.
He is on course to reach 1,000 runs for the first time in the Championship but was Hampshire’s No.9 when he hit three sixes in four balls – two against Dirk Nannes and one against Alfonso Thomas – in a dramatic T20 finish against Somerset at Taunton in June.
Crucially, when Smith returned to Trent Bridge for the quarter-final against Notts, he hit successive fours at the beginning of the penultimate over as Hampshire chased down 198 to win with six balls to spare. “You could sense people lifting themselves at Trent Bridge because they knew it was an occasion they’ve excelled in many times before. I’m sure everyone will be even more wired in at Finals Day and hopefully the teams we come up against will go the other way.”