Odean Smith models ambition 'to be one of the world's top allrounders' on idol Andre Russell

"We can do similar things: he hits the ball a long way and bowls fast, and I can do that"

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Odean Smith picked up two wickets, Pakistan vs West Indies, 2nd T20I, Karachi, December 14, 2021

"Playing for my country, my region, is always going to come first" - Odean Smith  •  PCB

A Jamaican allrounder who hits 100-metre sixes and bowls at 90mph/145kph will represent West Indies against England this week - but it isn't Andre Russell.
While Russell takes part in the Bangladesh Premier League, Odean Smith will be tasked with closing out the innings with both bat and ball in the five T20Is in Barbados. Smith, 25, was among the young players introduced into West Indies' white-ball set-up after their World Cup debacle in the UAE, and will be given opportunities to impress in his first T20I series on Caribbean soil.
Last week's ODI series against Ireland brought mixed emotions for him. A surprise 2-1 defeat meant the team started 2022 on a low note, but Smith had personal success in his maiden series: he hit 84 runs off 47 balls across three innings - surprisingly held back to No. 10 - and chipped in with three wickets.
He was also involved in the series' viral moment, when he hit Josh Little for six over cover only to see it land on the roof of his team-mate Sheldon Cottrell's bright-blue Range Rover. "I was praying for that ball to go over the car," he laughs. "He made a post about it, but you can't park there. It was just unfortunate… he's not going to make me pay."
Smith was part of the West Indies Under-19 squad that won the World Cup in 2016 but has only burst onto the scene in the last six months, a period which has represented a breakthrough in his career. He impressed for Guyana Amazon Warriors in the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) - Smith finished as the joint-second-highest wicket-taker in 2021 - and came into consideration for the T20 World Cup squad, reportedly missing out on fitness grounds.
"I had put in a lot of work going into that CPL, so I was quite confident," he says. "That was a big part of why I did well: I was very confident in my body, physically, and that's where it all started. I just went out there and expressed myself.
"Fitness is something I've worked a lot on. I'm quite a powerful guy but you need to do a lot of running in this game, so that's somewhere I've done a lot of work - not so much on being strong, but just trying to get a lot of miles in the legs. Once I'm fit and feeling well, I'm going to perform at the highest level. Nobody has to tell me that - I know it already."
Ian Bishop was impressed by what he saw while covering the CPL as a broadcaster. "He needs to refine his skillset - a couple of yorkers here and there, refine that slower ball," he told ESPNcricinfo. "And refine his batting, because his batting is still raw - but it is powerful as heck. If someone gets a hold of him and refines his game, he's a very exciting prospect."
Late in the CPL, a call came through from Sunil Narine, asking if Smith would be interested in joining Kolkata Knight Riders' camp in the UAE as a net bowler; he jumped at the chance.
"It was a very, very good experience," he says. "I knew I wasn't going to play but it was an opportunity to train with a lot of experienced guys. After the first training session I didn't bowl much because I had hit somebody - it was Ben Cutting - on the head, so they had to rub my name off the board. After that nobody wanted to bat against me, but the coaches were very helpful, especially with my bowling."
He also had the chance to catch up with Russell, who has acted as something of a mentor for him. "He's always been my idol in cricket," Smith explains. "We can do similar things: he hits the ball a long way and bowls fast, and I can do that. He's a busy guy - he's doesn't really answer messages - but whenever he's around, he's somebody that I talk to, somebody I look up to and somebody that in the future I'd hope to be like.
"I'm somebody that learns by looking. I watch what he's doing and I'll try it for myself. [I watch him] hitting sixes, getting a good base at the crease, trying to stay as still as possible, keep his eyes on the ball as long as possible. That's something I've seen him do and tried for myself in the nets."
They were reunited a month later at the Abu Dhabi T10, playing in Deccan Gladiators' title-winning side. Smith's role - "just to express myself" - suited him well: he hit 139 runs off 49 balls across the tournament, and felt as though his death bowling improved immeasurably in the face of ultra-attacking batters.
From there, he travelled to Pakistan - where he had made his T20I debut as part of an under-strength side in 2018 - for the T20I series, where West Indies felt as though they made strides despite losing 3-0.
"There's a few new faces [in the upcoming England series], and they've trying to figure out where everyone fits," Smith says. "The guys need games together… we haven't played much T20 together, so these five games are going to be very important."
Phil Simmons and Kieron Pollard, West Indies' coach and captain, have been publicly supportive. "We've seen what his strengths are: he has a lot of pace when he bowls and he's getting his yorkers in a lot more, and it's something we're working hard on with him," Simmons said. "And he can change a game with the bat for any team he's playing for."
"I've watched a lot of IPL games. Mumbai [Indians] was one of the teams that I really liked growing up"
Smith hopes he too can play in the IPL
"I'm very, very proud," Pollard said of Smith and Romario Shepherd, his friend and CPL team-mate. "They have come in and they have shown that they want to be at the international level. Obviously they are a bit rough on the edges [...] but you can see the raw talent."
After the England series, Smith can expect to be part of the squads for the limited-overs tour to India, which will be interrupted in the middle for the IPL auction. He has put his name forward, and will be watching nervously on February 12 and 13.
"I've watched a lot of IPL games. Mumbai [Indians] was one of the teams that I really liked growing up - I like someone that hits the ball, and I've seen Pollard, who hits the ball real far. Then when Andre Russell came through, I went over to [support] KKR. It's a league I've always wanted to play [in], but you have to be really up there to get into it."
Smith is clear, though, that international cricket is his priority. "When there's no West Indies cricket, I'm available for other leagues and I'll definitely play in them. But if I have to choose, I'm going to choose international cricket. Playing for my country, my region, is always going to come first.
"My ambition is to be one of the top allrounders in the world," he says. "Hopefully, I could play some Test cricket also - I don't see why I shouldn't be able to - but my aspiration is to be one of the best allrounders going around, in all aspects of the game: T20, 50 overs and Test cricket."

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98