Born and bred in the small village of Withnell Fold, new Lancashire captain Tom Smith admits having was no greater pride when being asked to skipper his home county.
The last six months are something the 29-year-old will never forget, in fact they’ve been quite surreal.
After being given the honour of skippering the Red Rose county, Smith also tied the knot with his partner Holly in December.
Captaincy was never a thing on Smith’s mind when going into the new County Championship Division Two season.
But when Lancashire’s newly-appointed cricket director and head coach Ashley Giles approached him about the matter, Smith admitted it did not take long for him to make a decision.
“It’s one of those things, you do think what would it be like to captain your home county,” he said.
“The appointment came about when Ashley Giles brought it up in a contract meeting – he asked what were my thoughts on leadership.
“Then it kind of snowballed from there, I remember going into the offices in the ground and he told me he’d like to appoint me as captain.
“I said ‘Yes’ within 30 seconds, I didn’t even have to think about it – it was just one of those things that you have to say yes too.
“It’s a dream job and it’s huge honour, if you look at the names on the board in the club in the previous eras it shows it’s a huge achievement.
“The support from everybody has been amazing.
“I don’t think it’s quite sunk in yet. When I look across the ground and take a look, it’s such an amazing facility we have her and I’m very lucky to play cricket here.
“For me to lead Lancashire County Cricket Club out on to the pitch is an unbelievable feeling.”
When it comes to leading a side out onto the pitch, Smith is quite a novice.
Having captained Lancashire through the junior age groups, skippering a side as a senior is something he lacks experience in.
The occasional second-team game is the only thing that sits proudly on his illustrious CV, which also includes England Lions and England Under-19s appearances, player-of-the-year awards and also promotions to the County Championship Division One.
But despite his lack of experience as the main man, it could be said Smith took to the role as captain like a duck does to water, after Lancashire notched up an impressive 250-run victory in their opening Division Two fixture against Derbyshire.
“I just can’t wait to get properly stuck in,” Smith told the Evening Post.
“Apart from the junior levels and the occasional second-team game, I am new to the role.
“That can be good and bad, it’s obviously a bit different from last year where I was a normal player.
“As I’ve said, the support off everybody has been excellent – the club, the players, they’ve all been great with me. The messages I’ve had have been amazing and I’m confident in myself and the team that we can have a huge impact this season.”
The 2014 County Championship season was somewhat bittersweet for Smith. On a personal level it could not have gone any better – with the bat he scored an excellent 773 batting as a lower middle-order batsman and with the ball, he had his best season to date, claiming 54 scalps.
All the success came in just 15 County Championship matches.
Regularly featuring in the four-day format, his one-day appearances were limited but, as always, Smith was a key figure in the Lancashire Twenty20 side that reached the competition’s finals day.
Smith’s fine performances were rewarded. He earned selection for the England Lions’ one-day series against the A sides of New Zealand and Sri Lanka last August, in which he scored a half-century against the former, whilst he was also crowned the Championship player of the year and the Lancashire’s overall player of the year.
But despite all the success for Smith, it was not so successful for Lancashire. A four-run defeat in the Twenty20 final against Warwickshire was followed by relegation from Division One of the County Championship.
For all the success Smith had on the field, the former Chorley Cricket Club star showed his true colours when admitting he had rather have seen the team stay up.
“There were plenty of positives and negatives to come out of last season.
“From a personal point of view, it was the best season I’ve ever had.
“For me, it was one of those dream seasons – whenever I seemed to bowl I’d take a wicket and then I’d be scoring runs as well.
“But, I would have given it all up to have stayed in Division One, I’m not going to lie.
“But, we didn’t beat relegation and we are where we are.
“I think everybody in the squad, not just the players but all the coaching staff, were absolutely gutted that we were relegated. It’s something we didn’t expect and something we certainly didn’t want.
“It wasn’t a nice feeling at all, I can assure you of that.”
It’s been a yo-yo few years for the Red Rose County. Rewind the clock back to 2011 and Lancashire won their eighth Division One title.
But one year later, they experienced something nobody expected – relegation.
After regrouping themselves over the winter, they bounced back to win the 2013 Division Two season.
However, it was a case of deja vu, as the following year, they were relegated from Division One.
Frustration is one thing that can certainly sum up the past few years at Old Trafford.
An immediate return to life in Division One is certainly one of the main priorities for Giles, Smith and the Lancashire team. But the new skipper has set the standards high and he admits the challenge won’t be an easy one.
“I do think this could my toughest season to date,” he said.
“I’ve got the pressures of the captaincy and that’s something I’ve not experienced before.
“What I don’t want to do and what I can’t do, is take last year for granted.
“It was an excellent year for me but I need to keep working hard and ensuring things go right for not only me but for the squad.
“But as a team we want to gain promotion but also challenge on all fronts.
“We want to make amends for last season and bounce back in the right direction.
“Competing in all three formats is something that we want to do this year.
“We want to get promoted but we also want to sustain the promotion.
“We want to build a team to ensure that if we do get promoted then we stay in Division One – we don’t want to be coming straight back down again after one-year.
“As a club I think we have the squad to challenge on all three fronts.”
All too often it has been seen that the captaincy has impacted a player’s performance.
The pressure of setting fields and deciding who should bowl next has often impacted performances with the bat and ball for certain players.
But for the vastly experienced Smith, who is now into his 10th year as a first-class player, the destructive left-handed batter has no plans to let the captaincy affect his performance and nor will he set any personal targets.
“I think the key is to enjoy the captaincy and not over-think it,” Smith said.
“That’s the way I like to play all my cricket, as soon as I start over-thinking things then my game starts to go wrong.
“Look, I love playing the game of cricket, as do we all, and I’m lucky that I can call it my job.
“I’m really enjoying the captaincy and I do expect there will be some tough times along the road.
“I’ve got a great deal of support here and the club have always looked to help me out.
“I know my game really well and I’ve got to this stage by learning along the way.
“The captaincy is something I’ve got to make sure I enjoy and embrace it.
“I don’t like going into the season setting targets, I know what I want to achieve and I know how to play the game and how I want to go about it. I need to do the simple things well.”
The Old Trafford outfit have strengthened their squad over the closed season signing Ashwell Prince, Peter Siddle and Alviro Petersen as overseas players.
When Siddle departs to join up with the Australia squad to compete against England for the coveted Ashes urn, he will be replaced by top all-rounder James Faulkner.
Faulkner is somewhat a coup of a capture for Lancashire after the Australian was named man of the match in the recent Cricket World Cup final.
“All the guys will have a huge impact and bring a great deal to the side,” Smith said.
“Ashwell Prince really is Lancashire lad now – over the past few years, he’s been amazing for us.
“He’s always been a consistent performer for us and he will always go out fighting, no matter what.
“We’ve played against Alviro Petersen before. He got a big hundred against us, it was nice to watch him bat but it was nice to bowl at him.
“Peter Siddle and James Faulkner are excellent signings.
“In the early season, Siddle will be a big asset, the areas he bowls and the bowler he is will suit the wickets, I’m sure he’ll do well.
“Faulkner has proved himself to be a destructive cricketer at times – he was awarded the man-of-the-match award in the World Cup and I can’t wait to work with him here at Lancashire.”
Despite living in the South Manchester suburb of Didsbury, Smith is never one to forget his roots.
First bowling a ball at Withnell Fold, Smith quickly moved on to Northern Premier League side Chorley, where, he truly established himself in the game.
After having huge success as a junior in which he played in the same team as brother Billy, Smith went on to captain the Windsor Park outfit, as well as being named the club’s professional.
All-rounder Smith is still the club’s youngstest ever professional when aged just 19 and he is also the youngest ever first-team player to score a Northern League century whilst playing in the green and yellow colours of the three Cs.
Whilst playing at Windsor Park, Smith’s game went from strength to strength, centuries wickets and performances for Lancashire led to him signing a full-time county contract.
His time with the club is something he will never forget and on the odd occasion he does have free time, he still tries to get down.
“It’s going to be tough to get to Chorley this year as we start a lot of our games on a Sunday,” he said.
“I still keep in regular contact with all the boys there, it’s my home club and I always want to go down and watch.
“I get down when I can. Over the past few years I’ve managed to watch quite a few games.
“It’s a shame my brother won’t be playing there this year as he’s moved to Germany.
“But I’m sure I’ll still be going down to the ground and watching whenever time allows me.”