THE BIGGEST question following Middlesex’s latest Twenty/20 defeat to Hampshire at Richmond must surely be what now for Tom Smith?
As the Royals successfully chased down 157 to win, effectively ending Middlesex’s interest in the competition for another year, all fans of the Panthers not to mention Smith himself could have been forgiven for thinking the young spinner had become ‘The Invisible Man.’
On a pitch confirmed by The Royals’ own Aussie off-spinning all-rounder Glenn Maxwell during his spell in the Panthers’ innings as doing plenty – Maxwell bowled a maiden in conceding just 18 runs in four overs – the Middlesex faithful waited expectantly for their No 11 in T20 to be given the chance to influence the outcome.
We waited ….. And waited ….. And waited – but while fellow spinners Ollie Rayner and Paul Stirling wheeled away with some success, still the slow left-arm spinner was not thrown the ball.
Was he off the field? After all 12th man Steven Crook was patrolling the deep square leg boundary? No, we understand Smith was 100 per cent fit and gagging for a bowl. It was young Adam Rossington who was in with the physio so Smith was out there in the deep somewhere.
And sadly that is where he stayed as another game Middlesex could and probably should have won slipped away.
Can we mount a credible defence for a man coming in last on the scorecard never turning his arm over in what became a losing cause?
Well the facts at least suggest this was an astonishing omission.
Let’s reiterate again this was a game Middlesex had to win – a night for gambling with your spin bowler, particularly given Angus Fraser’s men were probably 10-15 short with the bat.
In Smith’s case he should hardly have been viewed as a gamble. The 23-year-old remains Middlesex’s leading wicket taker in this format over the last three seasons with 34 victims.
Moreover, ‘Smudger’ as he is affectionately in the corridors of the ‘Home of Cricket’ has history with the wicket at Old Deer Park.
Two years ago in his first season with the tenants of Lord’s Smith took 4-23 to skittle out Glamorgan, out-shining a legend of the T20 art Shaun Udal in the process.
Speaking of legends, Adam Gilchrist was in charge that day in 2010. Clearly one of the best exponents of one day cricket the game has seen, albeit with a big target to bowl at, had no qualms about tossing the ball to his young spinner.
Yet two years on, on a wicket as close to a ‘bunson burner’ as you will probably see all season Smith was left redundant.
Udal, who watched the game between his two former counties was surely as bemused as anyone at the turn of events.
Admittedly, Smith has not set the world alight in the current campaign with just four wickets to date, but surely once you’ve picked a man for a job you have to give him a chance to carry it out.
If there were serious doubts about the former Sussex man’s form there were alternatives, last year’s leading T20 wicket taker Steven Crook for one.
He was left out too, restricted to his walk on part on the boundary edge, but that is a subject for another day.
Of course had Middlesex won, the decision to leave Smith confused in the outfield could have been hailed a masterstroke, but they did not.
So where does this leave Smith? Such a turn of events is akin to a talented young footballer being left on the bench in readiness for being told he is surplus to requirements or becoming so disillusioned he walks before he is pushed
In its way it is worse than Dan Housego being ousted in the wake of a century against the Sri Lankan tourists last year