Will Smeed is in it to ping it as Somerset seek end-of-season tonic

After county's Championship stumble, youngster offers fear-free finale

Paul Edwards
Paul Edwards
Will Smeed helped launch a counterattack, Somerset vs Hampshire, Vitality Blast, Taunton, June 25, 2021

Will Smeed has been one of the season's breakout stars  •  Getty Images

Will Smeed's memories of Somerset's last appearance at T20 Finals Day are as hazy as a pint of the lethal cider sold in Tucker's Grave but they still give you the idea he understands the occasion rather well. "I would have been at school," he said. "But I remember seeing some of the Somerset boys that weren't playing dressed up as monks."
In fact Smeed was a 16-year-old schoolboy at King's College, Taunton when his county lost to Sussex in the second semi-final in 2018 but he was already able to hit a cricket ball bloody hard and very far. And his reputation was growing. In addition to the expected county age-group appearances there had been second-team Championship matches, during one of which he had shared a long partnership with Marcus Trescothick. "He took his glasses off halfway through the innings because they kept steaming up and I just asked him: 'How are you doing that?' It was ridiculous."
That winter Smeed would go on tour with England Under-19s but over the next 18 months a combination of a shoulder operation and Covid combined to press the pause button on his career. So that when he got the nod for his debut in last year's Blast, which was played, lest we can ever forget, in front of deserted stands, it caused little stir except amongst those fluent in Anorak. Then Smeed made 82 off 49 balls against Gloucestershire at the County Ground, an innings that included six fours and five sixes. And not that much has been the same since.
True, Smeed's first-team appearances have been confined to T20 games, something he is keen to change, but he is his county's leading scorer in this year's Blast with 327 runs and was also selected to play for Birmingham Phoenix in the Hundred. Even on Saturday, when four county teams will be crammed with deadly batters and death bowlers Smeed's performances will be closely watched. He is capable of playing the innings that can win the Blast for Somerset. One wonders when he first noticed that he could hit a cricket ball so far and so cleanly
I would have been at school. But I remember seeing some of the Somerset boys that weren't playing dressed up as monks.
Smeed on his memories of Somerset's 2018 Finals Day appearance
"I used to be quite small but I still managed to clear the ropes, and then I filled out a bit and got stronger and good bats help as well," he said. "It's always been a natural thing for me. But I'm now working on finding the gaps and rotating the strike. I don't have a clue about the weight of my bat. I just use what feels nice and what pings. I could try and guess what weight a bat was and I'd be wrong every time."
"Pings." It's a pleasingly onomatopoeic word and it was particularly good to hear it on a September morning in Taunton without its connotations of self-isolation. "Crack" has similar qualities and it was the word used some three weeks ago to describe the sound made by Smeed's bat when he hit Lancashire's Tom Bailey for six onto the roof of the retirement flats on the town side of the County Ground. That blow was measured at 99 metres and it might have caused complaints from some of the residents had they not already been giving it large on their balconies and sinking the Medoc like there was no reckoning demanded for such shenanigans.
Smeed made 44 off 33 balls and was partly responsible for ensuring that, as far as this year's Blast is concerned, there was no tomorrow for Lancashire. And yet he will admit that he has no idea where he will bat against Hampshire on Saturday morning and he often brings the conversation back either to things he can't do or to the roads he has yet to travel.
"I'm still figuring out what a big innings will look like for me in the various formats. In T20 I'm still not sure how I'm going to get to 80 or 90 consistently and bat through the twenty overs."
They are remarkably self-aware disclosures from a player who must stand a chance of attracting an offer or two from overseas franchises this autumn. Were Smeed to grace T20 Finals Day with the sort of dominating innings he confesses he has yet to master, those offers would become more lucrative and the player would welcome them. This is not only because he is "a big fan of the sun" but also because he feels his cricket developed in his time with Birmingham Phoenix during the Hundred.
"I improved at the Hundred partly because I was around players of high quality like Liam Livingstone and Moeen Ali. I wasn't expecting to play when I went to join Birmingham Phoenix but I was confident I'd improve simply by training with players like that."
And so as Somerset suffered their third four-day thumping on the trot this past week it wasn't greatly surprising to hear voices declare that Smeed was a white-ball specialist and what's more, my lovely, he had said as much. The only problem was that none of the speakers had asked the player himself. Had they done so they would have heard this:
"My aspirations are just as strong in red-ball cricket as they are in the white-ball game. It may not look like that because my white-ball stuff has come on more quickly but I worked really hard over the winter on my red-ball game and I hope that will pay off in the future. The last few four-day games didn't go anything like we wanted but there is still the belief in the camp that at some point soon we will win the County Championship for the first time. I'm desperate to be a part of that.
"In red-ball I'm trying to find the right tempo but I hope it comes sooner rather than later. When I was playing with Liam for Birmingham Phoenix it struck me how keen he was to play red-ball games. Test cricket is the pinnacle. I think it's the hardest, most challenging form of the game."
Nevertheless, Saturday will be the biggest day in a career that comprises only 23 top-level T20 matches, six of which were played in the Hundred in any case. Smeed remains a little in awe of his seniors, not only local legends like Trescothick but also his county captain, Tom Abell, who can switch easily from white- to red-ball formats. And so, regardless of how events unfold at Edgbaston, the young cricketer will return to Taunton's indoor school where he has acquired many of the skills he possesses but where there is so much for him yet to learn.
"I've never been told: 'Do this,' by any of my coaches," he said. "It's always been a case of them asking me what I think about particular ideas. We will discuss what works for me because that will always be different from what works for anybody else. I've done most of my work with the second-team coach Greg Kennis and he understands my game really well. And every now and then it's really useful to look at what the cameras are picking up about how you are batting. Batting's a feel thing and it's intriguing at time to see how different it looks when compared to how it feels."

Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications