Jamie Smith outshines the rest of Surrey’s star line-up to press England claim

Jamie Smith batting against Warwickshire
Smith will resume on day three within touching distance of his century - Shutterstock/Paul Dennis

A batsman of the very highest calibre is on the verge of giving Surrey a first-innings lead over Warwickshire.

Surrey have five England Test batsmen in their line-up, yet it was none of them who played the innings of astonishing brilliance. It was not Rory Burns or Dominic Sibley, who have opened for England and scored Test hundreds in their time; it was not Ollie Pope, or their new acquisition from Essex Dan Lawrence, or even Ben Foakes. The batsman who was a cut above in scoring an unbeaten 98, who was on a different plane, was 23-year-old Jamie Smith.

Smith is taller than Pope and shorter than Zak Crawley but bats like some combination of the two. He has Crawley’s power in the front-foot drive but without any of his angles, replacing them instead with Pope’s smooth compactness and balance.

The first and second new balls moved a bit on what is not an old-fashioned Oval belter, but that seemed to concern Smith not a jot. It certainly did not stop him plundering Warwickshire’s steady seamers and spinners during the phase in between, when his strokeplay touched the heights of imperiousness.

Smith’s stance, in contrast, begins as a thing of ugliness, as he crouches almost like the Australian Peter Handscomb and looks at the bat behind his legs, before rising into his stance. Within a second the ugly duckling grows into a swan and he unfolds his strokes: in three consecutive overs of medium-pace he unleashed a back-foot drive, then ran down the pitch to cover-drive, then unfurled a straight-drive, all for four and – at least for aesthetic effect – grander than anything that his five England team-mates rustled up between them.

As Smith, who can also keep wicket, has scored a double-hundred in the championship and hit the fastest ever century for the England Lions, he is a pioneer of the new breed of batsman who can flick a switch from stroking the red ball along the grass all day to whacking white balls out of the ground. The question is in which format he would be most valuable to England, and in what position; on this evidence he has everything that could be wished in a Test No 4.

His one fallibility came as the shadows crossed the square. It might have stemmed from Warwickshire taking the second ball, or from Smith’s getting giddy, or from his keenness to seal his ninth first-class century before the close of day two. Whatever the cause he played a couple of drives and, for once, missed.

Discretion returned at the start of the day’s last over. Smith was on 97 but instead of going for broke – “playing my natural game” is often code for self-indulgence – he took a single off the second ball and waited for tomorrow. Burns was typically Burns, Sibley more fluent in the drive than in his England days, Pope steadily reached 40 for the first time since his masterpiece of 196 in India, Foakes was neat if not powerful and Lawrence was pinned by the second new ball. Smith was something else.

Elsehwere, the former England pace bowler Saqib Mahmood took his first wicket of what he hopes will be a comeback season playing for Lancashire against Nottinghamshire. Another candidate to be James Anderson’s successor Dillon Pennington took three wickets for Notts.

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