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Will Smeed signs groundbreaking white-ball deal with Somerset

High demand on franchise circuit persuades 21-year-old to withdraw from first-class game

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Will Smeed will focus on white-ball cricket after signing a new deal at Somerset  •  Getty Images

Will Smeed will focus on white-ball cricket after signing a new deal at Somerset  •  Getty Images

Will Smeed has signed a white-ball-only contract at Somerset in a ground-breaking move that highlights the growing divide between formats in English cricket.
Smeed is one of the most promising young batters in the English game and made his debut for the Lions earlier this year. He has impressed for Somerset in the T20 Blast across the last three seasons and in August became the first player to score a century in the Hundred, playing for Birmingham Phoenix.
"I feel that my game is better suited to white-ball cricket," Smeed said in Somerset's press release. "After a huge amount of thorough and considered discussions, I feel that I need to solely focus my attention on the limited-overs formats in order to become the very best cricketer I can be.
"I can assure people that this [is] not a decision that I've taken lightly, and I've spoken to a lot of people about it. I want to be the best player that I can be, and to do that I believe that this needs to be my focus."
Smeed first came to mainstream attention when, aged 16, he made a second-team hundred in the same innings as a 42-year-old Marcus Trescothick in a red-ball game, but he has never played a first-class game and averaged 15.57 in his five outings in the Second XI Championship this season.
"I know how much our members love red-ball cricket, but unfortunately I haven't been performing how I would like to in the longer form of the game," Smeed added. "The easy option would have been to carry on playing red-ball cricket and try to fit everything in and reach a certain level across all formats, but I want to try to be the best that I can be.
"To achieve this, I feel that I need to focus on excelling in one format. I'm certainly not saying that I'll never play red-ball cricket again. I just feel that this is the right decision for me and Somerset at the current time."
It has become increasingly common for English players to sign white-ball deals with their counties since Adil Rashid and Alex Hales took that step in early 2018, but the vast majority of those players have been in their 30s and have already played a significant chunk of red-ball cricket. Smeed has made the decision weeks after his 21st birthday.
"I still want to play everything," Smeed insisted in an interview with ESPNcricinfo this summer but his exploits in short-form cricket have made him a sought-after player on the franchise circuit. He has already represented Quetta Gladiators in the PSL - who have retained him for the 2023 edition - and Bangla Tigers in the Abu Dhabi T10, a tournament he will return to next week playing for Deccan Gladiators.
Most significantly, he has a deal with MI Emirates - the franchise run by Mumbai Indians' owners Reliance in the ILT20, the new UAE league - and he appears certain to put his name forward for December's IPL auction. If selected, he would miss the first two months of the Championship season regardless of his Somerset contract.
Andy Hurry, Somerset's director of cricket, said that the club supported Smeed's decision. "As a club we will continue to do everything we can to ensure that our players fulfil their aspirations, and we therefore support Will in this decision," he said. "White-ball only contracts are not new in the game and are not new at Somerset. The game is developing all the time and I sense that we will see more contracts of this type emerging across the world.
"Will is an exceptional talent and has the potential to have an incredibly successful career. At this stage he is not drawing a permanent line under his red-ball future, and this is currently the best way forward for both Will and the club.
"He has all the attributes to become a very successful white-ball player and I am sure that our members and supporters will enjoy seeing him continue to improve. He has a very important role to play in limited-overs cricket for Somerset for many years to come."
Smeed had previously signed a one-year extension with Somerset earlier this year, which was due to expire at the end of the 2023 season. His new deal runs until the end of the 2024 season.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98