Will Smeed makes huge impact for Birmingham Phoenix
By Tejas Anand, ECB Hundred Rising Reporter, Birmingham
Will Smeed made a late entry at a Birmingham Phoenix side looking for solutions to some early-competition problems.
The Phoenix has just lost back-to-back games. After suffering the ignominy of being skittled for 87 by Manchester Originals they then bottled a match they should have easily won against the Southern Brave.
The teenager was the team’s fourth opening batter in the space of three games and was making his debut at the tender age of 19.
He had never opened before in his brief professional career and was tasked with leading a fairly sizeable chase of 145 posted by the Trent Rockets.
It would be reasonable to expect some degree of nerves. However, that is simply not the way white-ball cricketers are made in this country anymore.
Smeed went on to launch a breath-taking assault upon the Trent Rockets bowlers, including 20 runs off just four deliveries from Timm van der Gugten.
He finished with 36 off just 12 balls to set up the first of five successive wins that have catapulted the Phoenix into Saturday’s final at Lord’s.
"I've never been one to want to block the ball and bat for ages. I always want to hit the ball,” says Smeed, offering a familiar tune that has followed the white-ball revolution in men’s English cricket.
"I like watching the England white ball team play and I try and take bits from everyone to improve my game.”
The filtering down of this aggressive attitude into the domestic game is perhaps best exemplified by the way in which the England side were able to beat Pakistan earlier this year with an inexperienced team plucked almost completely from the county set-up.
Stand-in captain for that series, Ben Stokes, praised the “all out aggression” which was displayed by his players.
This “all-out aggression” has been apparent from Smeed’s Hundred debut.
This aggression has been the mark of a fruitful tournament that has thus far yielded 10 sixes (4th overall) and 164 runs (15th overall) – numbers made all the more remarkable by the fact that Smeed has only played five games.
Smeed himself credits his fearlessness to “having the backing of the coach and the captain who say if you get out you get out but hopefully you can score some runs in that time.”
This almost unconditional backing seems eerily similar to that which exists in the England camp, Jos Buttler stating, “I know I’ve got the full backing of Morgs to go and do it, which gives me a lot of confidence.”
Perhaps most striking is the way in which Smeed talks about his experience in the Somerset Academy, where the message of “not fearing failure” was repeated.
This message was then delivered by coaches at England age group level, highlighting the way in which the current administration is seeking to breed its next generation of white-ball hitters.
"It's a calculated risk, I don't go out there trying to slog every ball but equally I'm not thinking about getting out,” he said.
"You might get it wrong sometimes and go a bit too aggressive but then you can reflect and look at it and see what you can do differently.
"The Academy used to speak about not fearing failure and it's working at the moment.”
Some purists bemoan this new fascination with limited overs cricket, suggesting that the “fearless” attitude coupled with “all-out aggression” is the reason for the current Test team’s slump in batting performance.
The side has suffered the ill-fortune of being bowled out for under 85 five times within the last three years.
Whilst Smeed still regards Test cricket to be the “purest and toughest form of the game” and dedicated most of his winter to working on his red-ball game, he is pragmatic about his current status.
“I’m just better at white-ball cricket at the moment,” he said.
It is this which prompts him to choose the IPL when faced with a hypothetical between the IPL, World Cup and the Ashes, a choice which will no doubt irk many fans of the longer format.
“I definitely don't want to shut off the red ball option,” he adds.
With all things considered, it seems obvious that Smeed, a man who has had a white ball mentality drilled into him from a young age and is yet to make his List A debut let alone his first class one, would choose the IPL over longer format glory.
When asked about national ambitions Smeed chuckles, taken aback by the very question, before describing how he wishes to “take every game as it comes” and states that a national call-up is “a long way in the future”.
With the strength in depth of English white ball batting one would suggest that Smeed’s caution is wisely placed.
However, with the rapid ascent of his career and the sheer brutality of his hitting thus far, it would take a brave man to bet against Smeed walking out in England colours sooner rather than later.