Surrey’s 21-year-old starlet is a man in a hurry; after a breakthrough, award-winning season last year and a busy winter with England Lions, he returns to his hometown club with a clear mission.
With Surrey’s squad for their pipe-opener against Warwickshire featuring five homegrown batters – and with Jason Roy, Laurie Evans and the greenhorns Nico Reifer and Ben Geddes all waiting in the wings – the club’s renowned run factory has produced nine batters for this year’s first team squad.
It is an enviable list of names. Two of those are Test players; Roy is a white-ball phenomenon; Evans and Will Jacks are in-demand short-format stars, while Ryan Patel, who will open against Warwickshire, has started pre-season on fire; and then there is Jamie Smith.
Smith is not a new name; Surrey fans have been following his prodigious progress for many seasons already, perhaps even before he made a first-class century on debut for Surrey as an 18-year-old in the season’s curtain-raiser against the MCC in 2019. To those who had steered his development since he first joined the club aged nine, it was no surprise. The clarity of his technique and crispness of his ball-striking, all held together by the kind of easy-going undemonstrative confidence that can’t be faked, was already well known at the club.
But after a breakthrough campaign in 2021, which led to him claiming the Members’ Player of the Year, the Supporters’ Club Player of the Year and the Players’ Player of the Year, the secret can no longer be contained. The winter saw him called into the England Lions set-up, spending a month shadowing the senior squad in Australia, and he has already captained his hometown club in last season’s Royal London One-Day Cup: keeping wicket, batting at No.5 and directing the play. He is still just 21.
For the first part of the campaign the red ball is his sole focus. Despite finishing last summer strongly, with back-to-back Championship centuries – he now has four tons in 26 matches – he knows that nothing is guaranteed. “With the calibre of players we have, especially in our batting line-up, there’s not too many spots to fill. A goal of mine is to play every game in all three formats. To do that, you’re going to have to put yourself in whichever positions become available. Looking down at our line-up for the first game, there are maybe two spots available.”
He has spent large chunks of the winter refining his technique and “tightening up” against the red ball. “I guess for me, it’s about giving myself a bit more of a chance. It’s obviously a long time, four-day cricket, and you don’t have to play as many shots as maybe you’ve grown up playing. It’s almost about seeing what the best players do, and you’ve only got to look at the way Popey [Ollie Pope] or Burnsy [Rory Burns] bat and there’s very low risk. They just go about their own game without playing outside that too much.”
While Smith’s red-ball batting is characterised by control and, as he puts it, “knowing what my limitations and strengths are”, in white-ball cricket it’s about developing the shot-making expansiveness that his coaches have long identified. “I want to be a multi-format player. There’s no doubt about that, and I think you can do it. At times, it’s almost like your priorities will swing. I guess it’s not a set-in-stone thing that you’re a red-ball player one season. Next season, you’re going to be prioritising something different. It can change, depending on a few different situations.”
Smith is not a new name; he has been on the club’s books since he was a boy and Surrey fans have been following his prodigious progress for many seasons already, perhaps even before he made a first-class century on debut for Surrey as an 18-year-old in the season’s curtain-raiser against the MCC in 2019. To those who had steered his development since he first joined the club aged nine, it was no surprise. The clarity of his technique and crispness of his ball-striking, all held together by the kind of easy-going undemonstrative confidence that can’t be faked, was already well known at the club.
He is ambitious to further enhance his skills on the white-ball franchise circuit and knows that a profitable campaign for Surrey will open doors. “I think the next step for my white-ball game is to try and break into these tournaments. I find that’s going to help you when you come back into your red-ball stuff, because you’re going to be learning off different players, different clubs, different coaches. You’ve always got aspirations to play at the highest level. It’s about getting your foot in the door with these franchise competitions.”
In the meantime, however, he is buckling up for an intense stint of Championship cricket knowing that red-ball runs are the most valuable currency in town. His versatility with the bat – he has made first-class hundreds from both No.6 and as an opener – allied to his proven class with the gloves if Ben Foakes is unavailable, gives the coaching staff options ahead of a gruelling campaign.
Born: Epsom, Surrey
Role: Right-hand top/middle-order bat; wicketkeeper
Surrey debut: 2018
26 first-class matches, 1,395 runs at 36.71, 4 hundreds, 4 fifties, HS 138
15 List-A matches, 425 runs at 42.50, 3 fifties, HS 85
25 T20 matches, 393 runs at 30.23, 3 fifties, HS 60