Preview: Sussex v Durham CCC

Durham's Will Smith will be aiming to bow out on a high as he makes his final appearance for the Riversiders

Paul Thomas/Getty Images Will Smith in action for Durham

Today at Hove, Will Smith makes his final Durham appearance. It will be a sad occasion, not least for him, but he will be going out on a high.

In decades to come, Smith will not be considered as one of the greatest batsmen or bowlers to have played for the county. He will probably be one of its finest fielders, but that art is often overlooked.

However, he will have made a significant dent on the history books, having won four County Championships, three with the Riversiders. How he views them gives a clear indication of the man.

The 2008 campaign established Smith as a county cricketer, easily his best in terms of batting average.

In 2009 he captained the side which retained its title. In 2013 his has been a supporting role, and his favourite season of the lot.

“I’ve won four titles, it’s phenomenal really,” he says, scarcely believing the words coming out of his mouth. “I can’t think of any other players still playing the game who will have done that.

“This one is probably the best and most memorable for so many reasons – even above the year I was captain.

“You look at some of the guys in the squad at the start of the year and some people were tipping us for relegation. I never thought that would be the case but I didn’t think we’d win it, and I didn’t think we’d win it so convincingly.

“It’s just been phenomenal.”

It has always been easy to underestimate Smith and his contribution this season is no different.

Mark Stoneman, Scott Borthwick and Phil Mustard have outscored him but you realise what he has done when you consider that Dale Benkenstein has not been missed.

In such an inexperienced team, Benkenstein ought to have been indispensable. The only member of the top five to have scored 1,000 first-class runs in a season, he had done it many times. When he dislocated his shoulder in May, it could have left Durham’s youngsters exposed.

Instead, Smith moved down to the unfamiliar position of four and provided the glue the innings needed.

“It’s almost like every week something happened and every step of the way someone has been able to pull a rabbit out of the hat and we’ve moved on and on,” is all his modesty would allow him to say on that.

“We built a bit of momentum and carried it on.”

Yet it highlighted what a team man Smith has been.

Three of his eight seasons have been cut short through a lack of form. At each turn it looked like it might be the end for Smith. Every time he has come back.

Last year he was left out of the side for the run-in and replaced by second team wicketkeeper Michael Richardson.

Smith just volunteered to keep for the seconds, even doing that unfamiliar job in a one-day final.

Durham have played without a finger spinner in many games this season, so Smith has bowled more first-class overs this year than in any other with the club.

He has opened the bowling in one-day cricket, and the batting in the Championship before settling in the middle order in both forms of the game.

Smith added: “As I’ve become older I’ve become better at becoming more versatile and being more aware of what I can and can’t do.

I’m becoming more aware there are plenty of things I can do, which is reassuring really.

“It’s probably been my best all-round year in terms of four-day, one-day, bowling and batting. I don’t know what I expected from this season really. When I was a young guy I used to set targets for myself to score a thousand runs or do this or that.

“As you grow older you become a bit more philosophical about things, especially playing your home cricket at Chester-le-Street.

“You can have a run of three or four games where you get good balls.

“I’m just really privileged and really lucky to be involved in this team this year, and the Championships in 2008 and 2009, it’s been very special.”

It all makes Smith, who turns 31 the day after the season finishes, sound like the kind of man you would never want to let go from a club, but finances have dictated otherwise.

He will be released at the end of his contract. Settled in the county he went to university at with a young child, he does not want to go.

Perhaps if Ben Stokes gets a central contract next summer, or if Benkenstein’s homesickness for South Africa causes him to pull out of the final year of his contract, money could be found to keep him but the reality is this is almost certainly the end.

You would never have known it from his performances.

He admits: “It’s not an ideal situation at all. When things that are out of your hands it’s very difficult to keep your focus, but I’m out of contract and that’s that.

“I wanted to stay until the end of the year and perform as well as I could. I don’t think there’s a contract next year but that’s life.

“I’m paid to be a cricketer, that’s what I do. I’ve been lucky to play so many good years here and to cap it off with a Championship win has been pretty special.”


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