By Dave Clark
Tom Smith admits it was an easy decision to make last season’s loan move to Gloucestershire permanent over the winter.
The left-arm spinner has had something of a nomadic career to date, with spells at Middlesex and Surrey after coming through the ranks at Sussex.
Although a proven performer in limited-overs cricket, the 26-year-old failed to secure a regular start in the LV= County Championship side at any of his three clubs, prompting a three-month loan to Gloucestershire at the end of 2013.
Under the tutelage of director of cricket John Bracewell – a former New Zealand spinner – and ex-England tweaker and then-Gloucestershire coach Richard Dawson, Smith made promising progress and is looking for a more settled period in his career after penning a three-year deal in the south west.
“It really was an easy decision to make,” Smith told ecb.co.uk.
“I fitted in really nicely for the back half of last year; I felt I really progressed with my own game when I was there. Richard Dawson and John Bracewell are two very good spin-bowling coaches, so at the end of the year when the opportunity came up to join the club for three years it was a very easy decision to make.
“It’s always hard to be my wife because she has had to travel round the country with me.
“It will be nice to be settled for three years, and it was a big thing having that opportunity to move down here and really feel settled for a long time rather than another short-term stay.”
Dawson has since returned to Yorkshire to become their Second XI coach but Smith believes he can continue to develop under Bracewell, who took 100 Test wickets with his off-breaks.
“He’s a fantastic character to have around, he’s full of energy and he’s a brilliant spin bowling coach,” Smith said of Dawson. “Even this winter we’ve had him around and it’s been great.
“It’s a huge shame that he’s gone but that’s cricket; people move around and you have to move on, and we still have John Bracewell who’s a fine spin bowler himself.
“So I still have the tools there to help me along which is great.”
The release of fellow left-arm spinner Ed Young leaves Smith as by far the most experienced slow bowler at the County Ground.
But rather than becoming burdened with expectation, Smith is determined to enjoy what he admits is a voyage into the unknown.
“I think it will be a great challenge for me,” he added. “I’ve never had that in my whole career; I’ve never really taken my opportunity in that regard with four-day cricket.
“I’ve done that in white-ball cricket and I think now is the time when I really need to step-up and give it a good crack.
“It is kind of the unknown at the moment because I’ve never really been in this position before. I’ve never really gone in to pre-season thinking I’ve got a really good chance of starting and playing a lot of cricket.
“I’ve not really set myself too many goals – I’ll just try and improve on what I did last year and contribute as much as I can with ball and bat.
“I think I need experience and consistency. I’ve never really played a lot of four-day cricket; last year was the first time I’ve played more than two games consecutively. I think when you get more experience it gives you a bit more confidence and then that gives you a bit more consistency.
“After last year playing 10 championship matches, it’s really a block that I need to build on and then grow from there.
“In four-day cricket you don’t bowl as much now as a spinner. It’s more seam-bowling orientated.
“The pitches and the weather conditions generally suit seam bowlers, so as a spin bowler you can go two or three games without bowling a big spell and suddenly you get a dry period and you’re expected to bowl 50 overs in the match and get 10 wickets.
“It can be tough as a young spinner – I still consider myself young because I haven’t really played that much – it’s still got a bit of a youthful excitement about it at the moment.”
Since winning seven limited-overs competitions between 1999 and 2004, Gloucestershire have gone through something of a lean spell.
However, Smith believes they have every chance of success in the Royal London One-Day Cup, and is also targeting promotion to Division One as the club prepare for a ninth consecutive year in the second tier of the County Championship.
“We definitely want to aim to get promoted, but we’ve also targeted the 50-over competition,” Smith continued.
“We really believe that we can go on and have some success with that. There has been a lot of red-ball focus, and it’s not that we’re neglecting the 20-over, but we’re putting more focus on the 50-over than the 20.
“William Gidman had a fantastic year last year and he’s a real quality bowler.
“He’ll lead the seam bowlers but there are some youngsters in there that are promising as well – Craig Miles was on the EPP program and seems to have come back really strong from that. He’ll be looking to progress from where he was last year.
“And James Fuller, Liam Norwell and Matt Taylor, who played the last few games at the end of last season and showed some real promise, so I think it’s exciting times with that group of young bowlers.
“Although they’re young in age, they’re probably now at the stage where they have played two or three years and therefore they are more experienced than their age would suggest.”
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