Big Interview: Tom Smith
Tom Smith knew Lancashire were on their way to title glory the moment he snaffled a catch to dismiss Hampshire's Neil McKenzie.
It looked like the Red Rose county were on their way to more County Championship heartbreak as a vital win at Aigburth in the penultimate game of the 2011 season appeared to be slipping by.
Needing all the points to keep their championship aspirations alive with a trip to Somerset to come, Preston-born spinner Simon Kerrigan had produced a magical spell to put the home side within one wicket of victory with more than 20 overs left on the final afternoon.
However, a stoic final wicket stand between McKenzie and James Tomlinson looked to have handed Hampshire, who were fighting for survival, a draw.
That is until Kerrigan – with four minutes to go – found the edge of McKenzie’s bat and Smith held his nerve at second slip.
Kerrigan finished with unbelievable figures of 9-51 as Lancashire won the match by 222 runs. Buoyed by that amazing last-ditch victory, Glen Chapple’s men went on to claim an historic title success – the club’s first in 77 years – with victory at Taunton in the final match.
“I think probably when we played Hampshire in the penultimate game of the season at Liverpool is my favourite memory of that season,” said Smith, who announced his retirement due to injury from all forms of cricket last month.
“We were coasting to victory on the final day but with half-an-hour to go, we still needed a wicket to win.
“I was standing in close at slip and managed to take the catch to dismiss Neil McKenzie off Simon Kerrigan.
“I can still picture Keggsy’s face, after he got that final wicket, in my head. It was an unbelievable moment.
“After taking that final wicket, I think we just knew we were going win at Taunton in the final game of the season. We knew what we had to do moving forward – Keggsy getting that wicket was going to be the turning point and would see us win the league for the first time in 70-odd years.”
That summer is certainly the biggest highlight of Smith’s career – his name forever etched in the history books as a member of that Red Rose team which finally ended the famous Championship curse.
“That year 2011 is something that will never be forgotten for that group of players.
“Looking back over the years, there have been some unbelievable players to have played for Lancashire, who never managed to win the County Championship.
“You had the team of the 90s – the great one-day team, but they never quite managed to get over the line, so to be part of the team which finally won the title since way back when, it’s something to be very proud of.
“But I don’t think Lancashire will have to wait quite as long for the next time we win it.”
Smith, who attended Parklands High School and Runshaw College, admits there was a certain sadness about his decision to end his playing career after a long battle with injury.
However the former Chorley CC star preferred to concentrate on the wonderful time he has had over the past decade making his dreams come true.
“I feel extremely lucky to have played a sport that I love and to get paid for it as well,” said Smith, who was born and bred in the small village of Withnell Fold. “I can’t really say I have put a day’s work in yet during my life. I never saw playing cricket as a job, if I’m being honest.”
That obvious love for the sport certainly transmitted to his performances on the pitch as Smith built up a reputation as a fans’ favourite at Old Trafford.
He also boasted a clever cricketing brain – so much so that he was awarded the captaincy ahead of the 2015 season by then head coach Ashley Giles.
Unfortunately, he was only able to do the job in one match as a back injury wrecked his season, forcing him to eventually resign as captain, replaced by Steven Croft
“Being awarded the captaincy is certainly up there as being one of my proudest moments during my career,” he said.
“To have that honour was huge. I will always be proud of being asked to do the job and I will always thank Ashley Giles for having the faith in me to do the job.
“I was really looking forward to doing it but unfortunately I got injured and I was only able to do the job for one game.
“Looking back, Crofty led the team unbelievably well that year so it was only right that he should carry on.
“It was the right decision for me to step down.
“As much as I wanted to carry on from a personal point of view, it was the right decision to let Crofty carry on what he was doing.
“And not just that, from the team’s point of view, the rest of the players needed to know what was going on and who was leading the team.
“It’s just unfortunate that injuries stopped me from doing the job.”
Smith was always destined to play cricket, especially as some of his earliest childhood memories are of watching his dad Mark and stepdad John Shaw, who both played club cricket.
“It was my family who got me playing,” said Smith.
“I suppose I was always destined to play cricket. I learned my cricket at Withnell Fold and started playing first-team cricket against adults at a young age.
“After a bit, I moved on to Chorley in the Northern League. The standard there was obviously a bit better than Withnell.
“My game started to develop and Chorley played a massive part in that.
“My school teacher Graham Sharples put me forward for trials with Lancashire Under-13s and I went pretty much all the way through.
“I played at all the different age groups and the academy.
“It got to the stage when I was 18 and 19-years-old; I was still involved and that’s when I though I could do this for a living.
“But I’ll always remember going to watch my dad play.
“I would go down to watch and think, ‘This is what I want to do’ – even if it was just playing for Chorley, so to do it for Lancashire was a dream come true.”
Despite the disappointing way his career has prematurely come to an end, Smith is looking forward to spending more time at home with his wife Holly and 11-month-old son Dougie.
He is not sure what the future holds, but he would like to stay in some capacity within the game and has been helping out Gary Yates, who coaches Lancashire’s academy players.
“It’s strange not to be getting ready for the season but at the same time, it’s nice because it gives me a bit more time to spend with my son,” he said.
“Obviously, I’m disappointed not to be playing – it’s coming up to the time when I’d be going away for pre-season training and when you come back from that, the season starts straight away.
“So it is nice to be here at home watching my son grow up.
“If the opportunity is out there to stay in the game, I would love to. I’ve been lucky enough that I have played cricket for the last 10 years, so what happens next is going be a big thing in my life.
“What that next thing is, I am not 100% sure, although I am excited about what that may be.”