HAVING wrested back control of his Durham career, Will Smith has been given two more years to enjoy life in the North East.
The right-hander has been awarded an extension to his contract after what threatened to be his last season at Chester-le-Street.
Smith, who led the Riversiders to the 2009 County Championship was ousted as captain the following May and did not play four-day cricket again that year.
But an injury to Mark Stoneman allowed Smith back in for the second game of 2011, and he never relinquished his place.
Opening the batting – a role he previously struggled in – he made 978 First-Class runs at an average of 39.12, his biggest tally in a season. He was also Durham’s fielder of the year.
“When things like this happen, whatever stance the club takes it’s only ever up to the individual how their career progresses,” said the 29-year-old.
“They were very open for me to come back (into the first team) as long as I was performing well. It was just a case of me getting into a frame of mind and getting myself fit so there were no excuses. That was my main goal really.”
Although he started his professional career at Nottinghamshire, Bedford-born Smith is a Durham University graduate with an affinity for the region. His first child will be born here in December. It only made Smith more determined to extend his time in the North East.
“I’ve come to learn over the last few years there’s only one person responsible for your career and that’s you,” he said. “I was guilty when I was younger of looking for excuses.
“I love the way people approach life up here and the way they follow their sport. It’s very different to a lot of areas of the country. People up here are quite fanatical in a really good way.
“I’d love to call this my home for a long time. It really helps when you’re settled in somewhere.”
Smith feels that for himself and his county 2011 was a good season, but with plenty of scope for improvement.
“We did well this year but we could have done better,” he reflected. “We set the standards over those three years from 2007-2009. The last few years have not matched those levels. While last season was a definite improvement, we still weren’t back to those levels.
“We need to improve and if we do we’ll come close to winning things, although it might be we have to surpass those levels to win anything next year because the game has moved on.”
Durham were in contention in all three competitions until their penultimate day. “I’d almost have taken winning the Championship and being terrible at one-day cricket,” said Smith.
He is just the latest player to extend their time at Durham. Paul Collingwood signed a three-year deal during the campaign and since it ended Graham Onions, Ruel Brathwaite and emerging all-rounder Mark Wood have extended their stays.
Meanwhile, leg-spinner Scott Borthwick will be hoping Tuesday’s 5-31 against a Hyderabad XI earns him a place in the side for England’s first one-day international against India, which starts this morning.
Kevin Pietersen has been recalled after being rested for this summer’s limited-overs games against India and West Indies, but faces a fight for his place with exciting youngster Jonny Bairstow and established fixture Ian Bell.
Skipper Alastair Cook seems sure to tell an established frontline batsman he is not required, to make way for rising star Bairstow.
The England captain insists, however, the selection “headache“ is no hardship and merely a sign of the strength and depth in his country’s cricket.
“What a great position to be in,” said Cook. “As a captain and as a coach to select a side, you want these headaches.”
Teams for today's first one-day international at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium (10am BST) – England (from): AN Cook (Captain), C Kieswetter (wkt), IJL Trott, KP Pietersen, RS Bopara, JM Bairstow, SR Patel, TT Bresnan, GP Swann, JW Dernbach, ST Finn, IR Bell, SG Borthwick, CR Woakes.
India (from): MS Dhoni (Captain, wkt), P Patel, A Rahane, G Gambhir, V Kohli, S Raina, R Jadeja, P Kumar, R Ashwin, R Vinay Kumar, U Yadav, V Aaron, M Tiwary, R Sharma, S Aravind.