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23rd December 2009

Will Smith Interviewed for Riverside Review

As a rookie captain Will Smith could not have asked for more from his Durham side and the club could not have asked anything more from him in his first year as skipper.

In retaining the County Championship title, Durham remained unbeaten and utterly dominated domestic four day cricket as they won the league with two games to spare.

It was, despite a frustratingly inconsistent campaign in one day cricket, a fantastic year for the club and a remarkable one for Smith who had the unenviable task of filling Dale Benkenstein’s sizeable shoes as captain while also trying to maintain his own form with the bat.

It was a difficult balancing act which tested his mental strength to breaking point. At times, the runs dried up, and, with private heartache to cope with and a new-look one day side to try and mould into shape, Smith did not always have things easy despite the brilliance of the team’s Championship cricket.

“I thoroughly enjoyed my first year as captain and I learnt more about myself as a person over the course of the season than I have done at any other stage of my career,” said Smith. “I couldn’t have done it without the support of my teammates and my girlfriend Katherine was unbelievable really. Her dad was seriously ill during the season and sadly passed away at the end of September, but the support she gave me never wavered. Her support and the way she kept going kept me going.

“I made a conscious decision at the start of the year not to beat myself up if things went badly and not to take it too personally and I think that helped me cope. I have learnt so much and I’m sure I will be a better captain and a better player for that experience. It is something I definitely want to carry on next season and hopefully beyond that.

“I was blessed, really, with the team I had in my first year. If we had not had such a strong side or one with as much experience, Durham might have needed a more experienced captain to lead them, but we have so many players who lead themselves, they made the job a lot easier.

“My form did suffer a little, but I think that was only to be expected. I think my focus was 60% on the captaincy and 40% on my batting. I never felt as though I was out for form, as such, and there were a few innings I was really happy with as they came at vitals times for the team, but I don’t think there was anyway I was going to be as prolific as I had been the year before.

“It is something that should change as I get used to that extra responsibility. There were times when I didn’t have the mental strength required to build an innings, but I don’t think that will be so much of a problem next year because I have that experience behind me.

“It really excites me. There are still so many areas we can improve, particularly in one day cricket. We have changed the way we play and we have put together a young side which, as a young captain, I hope I can leave my impression on a little bit.

“We’re so lucky in four day cricket because we have so many talented and experienced players, they’re an amazing group, but there is a big challenge in the one day stuff and I can’t wait to get started again.”

Nevertheless, it is still in four day cricket that Smith expects Durham to excel and he is already targeting a third uccessive title and the building of a Durham dynasty.

He explained: “Our ultimate aim was to retain the Championship title and we managed to do that. We wanted to prove our success the previous year was not a flash in the pan and I think we won it fairly comprehensively.

“There were times over the course of the season when it felt like anything but comprehensive, we had some tough days and some tough matches, but we came through them. The challenge now for this squad of players is to go on and build a golden era for the club.

“The most successful sides in sporting history don’t rest on their laurels, they aren’t satisfied with the success they have had in the past, they strive to get as close to perfection as they can possibly get and that is what we intend to do.

“Whether we are happy about it or not, we will start next season as favourites to win the title. We won it by such a large margin last year. It is up to us to justify that tag and I’m confident we will do, because there is such a good attitude in the dressing and room and collective determination to keep progressing.”