Smith can only dream of national call-up to cap his incredible run

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The Independent Online

So what's in a name? A great amount of runs if your name is Smith, by all accounts. South Africa's Graeme Smith has just left the England cricket team bobbing about in his slipstream after leaving a contrail of records on the Test stage at Edgbaston and Lord's.

Rather more quietly, on the side stage of the County Championship, another Smith - this time an Englishman - has also been setting statisticians' pulses racing. Edward (Ed to his team-mates) Smith is in the middle of a run of form that is reminiscent of Brian Lara's glorious summer of 1994 with the West Indies and Warwickshire, and, more recently, of 2001 when Smith's captain at Kent, David Fulton, hammered his way into the record books with an impressive collection of hundreds. To date, the Old Cantabrian Smith has scored five centuries in six Championship innings.

The odds of the England selectors deciding to give Smith a chance at the top level to try to counter the South African Smith are long, but there is little doubt that the cerebral Kent batsman, who is the author of a book on baseball and is presently working on another book (different and top secret topic) for Penguin, would have a dart at carrying that form into Test cricket.

At 26, Smith (the English one) definitely wants an opportunity to play for his country, but he has taken his time to reveal the extent of his prodigious talents. That Smith has not entered the consciousness of the England selectors thus far he puts squarely down to himself.

"I have been mad at myself for not having made my case more strongly and a little bit of that anger is now manifesting itself," he said. "This season I have been batting with those five years of frustration in me. I know I could have been better, freer, more positive."

His beginnings were promising. He scored a hundred on his first-class debut for Cambridge University against Glamorgan in 1996 - the youngest to do so for the Light Blues - and went on to score 50 or more in each of his first six first-class games, another first.

"When I came into the game in 1996 I was a more fluent player," explains Smith. But in those days he was an opening batsman and he says: "I found the demands of opening the batting curbed my natural inclination to hit the ball and I was more inhibited in my strokeplay."

There were some thin seasons for the county before Smith moved down the order. And he puts his change in fortune down partly to that move. "It is exactly three years since the switch from opening to batting at three or four, and although the process has been a gradual one, I have been playing more freely, the way I used to in 1996 and 1997.

"But I have not started playing differently, even if perhaps I am now more prepared to play bigger shots, which is helping me to convert fifties into hundreds. Last year I had a string of fifties. I was in great nick, but there were only two hundreds. But now I am definitely playing more freely."

So freely, in fact, that Smith has also been strutting his stuff and punishing bowling in limited-overs cricket. It was possibly a perception that fielding was not exactly his forte as much as his "inhibited strokeplay" which saw him more often on the sidelines for Kent's limited-overs cricket, restricted to a handful of games each season, until now.

"My team-mates used to tease me when I hit big shots in the nets, then didn't do it in the middle. But the chief reason I had not hit many sixes in matches was because I preferred to hit the ball along the ground."

This season all that has changed, shockingly so. His 99 against Surrey in the National League at The Oval contained two sixes.

When he finally made it to three figures in limited-overs cricket seven weeks later, his maiden hundred, hammered off the Glamorgan attack, contained four sixes. The inhibitions have been banished.

As for his fielding, "It has improved," he says proudly. "OK, so I am not going to be an Andrew Symonds [Kent's athletic Australian all-rounder, who is feline in the field, pulling off some remarkable catches and stops] but I think my fielding has definitely improved."

Another Australian has also provided Smith with more insight into his game, and helped his mental approach to batting.

"I think watching Steve Waugh from the other end last season has also helped me. We batted together and although he was out of nick until the last innings, when he scored a hundred which led to him having an amazing spell back in Australia in the Pura Cup after that, what he taught me - through me watching rather than listening to him - was bringing a positive mental attitude to every ball."

Smith, like his South African counterpart, also has a seemingly insatiable appetite for runs, a key factor for any batsman. "When I scored a hundred in each innings against Nottinghamshire at Maidstone, the test for me was going out after the first one and finding that extra bit of hunger to get the second. The important thing for me is keeping that hunger."

As long as Smith's appetite remains undiminished then there is every chance of England countering South Africa's Smith with one of their own. It can only be a matter of time.

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