Will Smeed could have been forgiven for wondering if he was more 90s than Cool Britannia and an episode of the Big Breakfast rolled into one (that is, if he hadn’t been born in 2001 and therefore possibly unaware of Zig and Zag). The right-hander had been flirting with his first century in professional cricket all year, making eye-catching scores of 97 and 99 for Quetta Gladiators in the Pakistan Super League, and then 94 not out and 98 for Somerset in the Blast. Last month, playing for England Lions, he also cracked a 56-ball 90 against the touring South Africans.
But on Wednesday night, decked out in the Butterkist-sponsored orange livery of Birmingham Phoenix, Smeed made himself a future pub quiz answer by pummelling Southern Brave’s bowlers for an unbeaten 101 off 50 balls for the first hundred in the short history of the Hundred.
Though the tournament statistically counts as Twenty20 cricket, its shorter innings – just 16.4 overs in old money – in part explain why it took a season and a bit to see a batter breach three-figures; Smeed’s teammate Liam Livingstone’s 40-ball 92 against Northern Superchargers last year was the previous highest score among the men.
Suffice to say, Smeed didn’t muck about when setting up his side’s 53-run victory, muscling his half-century from 25 balls and his next 50 runs from one fewer. Eight fours and six sixes sent roars from Edgbaston echoing around the leafy suburbs of south Birmingham and Moeen Ali, his captain, thinks higher honours are inevitable. “There’s just something about him,” he said. “He’s got a really good hitting technique – very simple – and is strong. I watched him in the nets the other day and he just looked like an international player. You don’t come across those guys too often – Harry Brook at Yorkshire is another – where you think that.”
Smeed’s two Lions outings this summer – the second of which is his only List A match to date – suggest he is very much on England’s radar. And with Jason Roy testing their loyalty in a low-key 2022, further scores in the Hundred may yet force a spot in the squad for the T20 tour of Pakistan this September and the T20 World Cup that follows.
Were an international debut to come so soon, it would probably be before Smeed’s first-class debut, much like when David Warner first turned out for Australia’s T20 side in 2009. The right-hander’s journey may be typical of the English system – private school, Bunbury cricket and a rise through Somerset’s pathway – but this would be quite the thing.
“It’s a big line in the sand for English cricket,” said Eoin Morgan, the former England captain. “He doesn’t play first-class cricket, he is predominantly a T20 cricketer and clearly exceptional in what he does, so potentially [it is] a new avenue for him into international cricket.
“We’ve seen in other competitions around the world where domestic franchise tournaments, which attract big-name players, create domestic heroes. Will Smeed has become one of them.”
We may be getting ahead of ourselves but, clearly, Smeed’s star is on the rise in a landscape that is shifting rapidly. As well as his PSL deal at Quetta, secured off the back of his Blast and Hundred performances last year, the 20-year-old has been signed by MI Emirates in the new ILT20 that takes place in the United Arab Emirates next January. Owned by Reliance, parent company of the Mumbai Indians, from here a plethora of franchise opportunities could follow.
Smeed has said he has ambitions to play all three formats for England – but launching the white-ball, rather than wearing whites, is very much his current direction of travel.