When Jamie Smith was named in the England Lions squad that will shadow the senior squad during their Ashes preparation, it topped off a 2021 that has taken a promising career to a new level.
After scoring more runs than anyone else in a Surrey shirt across the season, getting his first taste of captaincy and winning five prizes at the End of Season Awards, Smith will now complete his calendar year down under on his first senior tour.
The 21-year-old will join Surrey teammate Ben Foakes in the Lions squad that will play two intra-squad matches and one fixture against Australia A before returning home at the start of the second Ashes Test.
Red-ball kicks the season off
His 2021, in cricket terms at least, began when he opened up in Surrey’s pre-season friendly – one of the many positions in the top six he took up across the season. When the first day of the LV= County Championship season arrived with Surrey waking up in Bristol to take on Gloucestershire, there was a tussle for spots.
England men Rory Burns, Ollie Pope and Ben Foakes were all expected to be available for the first seven matches before international duty came calling while overseas superstar Hashim Amla & experienced opener Mark Stoneman looked immovable objects. That left just one spot in Surrey’s top six for Smith, Laurie Evans, Will Jacks, Ryan Patel & Nico Reifer.
Smith got the nod and made 20 & 27 in the opener. With the other players breathing down his neck, the pressure was on in the first Kia Oval match of the season against Leicestershire the following week. He hammered 123 from 148 balls, bringing up the century with a delightful clearance over mid off and into the stands.
He made 78 in the next Kia Oval fixture, a victory over Hampshire, but then red-ball innings proved limited either due to weather or match situations.
After the seventh match, a freak injury to Ben Foakes gave Smith the gloves for almost the entirety of the rest of the season. That coincided with the departure of Rory Burns & Ollie Pope, meaning Smith’s responsibility with the bat increased.
When the T20 season arrived in early June, Smith spent the majority of the time floating in the middle order; acting as the enforcer or steady hand, depending on what the situation called for.
His unbeaten 35 from 24 took us home in the Kia Oval fixture against Glamorgan before Jason Roy’s move into the England camp meant a move back to the top of the order for Smith. He made 20 from 12 at number three before 27 in the home London Derby win, 57 at Hove against Sussex, 59 at the Ageas Bowl against Hampshire and 60 at Cheltenham to close out the tournament. 297 runs in 12 innings at 33 is certainly not to be sniffed at in T20 cricket.
A young skipper
Then came the start of the Royal London Cup, the country’s premiere 50-over competition. With this taking place alongside The Hundred, many of the first team squad weren’t available for Surrey. However, Smith had elected not to put his name forward for the Wildcard option entitled to Hundred sides after the end of the Vitality Blast group stages – stating he wanted to guarantee game time.
For the first four matches of the competition, Surrey were skippered by Hashim Amla. When the great South African was injured, Smith was handed the reins at the remarkably young age of 21.
Surrounded by experienced players, Smith had plenty of advice on offer but also the strong will to believe in his own knowledge and intuition. Combining the captaincy duties, glovework & batting in the top five at all times, Smith led Surrey to the semi-finals and scored 315 runs at an average of 63.
The best of those innings came in the semi-final defeat, partnering Stoneman to drag Surrey to a respectable total after arriving at the crease at 40/3. He made 85 from 107 balls and although it didn’t prove enough to win the match, it again proved his mettle in a tough situation.
Cashing in as the season ends
Once that defeat was confirmed, Surrey had just the Division Two LV= County Championship campaign remaining. The first of those four matches was cancelled due to a COVID case in the squad, leaving just three matches in the season.
He took full advantage of that additional cricket though, gliding through to 123 in the first innings against Northamptonshire and then hitting a career best first-class score of 138 when opening in the season closer against Glamorgan.
That final week was also a memorable one for Smith as he collected his five prizes at the End of Season Awards; Players’ Player of the Year, Members’ Player of the Year, Supporter’s Club Player of the Year, Supporter’s Club Young Player of the Year and Kia Young Player of the Year.
Now, after a bit of time off, Smith has a new challenge to dig his teeth into. While there are likely members of the Lions squad who currently sit above him in the pecking order should replacements be required, this opportunity to work closely with England’s coaching staff is one that could help shape his career in the medium to long term.