Tom Smith believes playing a trio of second-team fixtures at Headingley this summer will be significant in the development of some of the Yorkshire’s up and coming stars.
The county’s twos will play a four-day Championship match against Nottinghamshire at headquarters, starting on Tuesday April 25, before hosting Leicestershire in a pair of T20 fixtures on Wednesday May 17.
The Notts game will be the first time a Yorkshire second team has played at Headingley since May 2018, with other fixtures since then scheduled but called off, including during the Covid summer of 2020.
“It’s something that we have spoken about as a coaching staff,” said second-team and title-winning coach Smith.
“It’s a great opportunity for our younger players to play at Headingley and get a feel for what the place is like. It’s their home ground, and they need to experience that.
“They could, at the drop of the hat, be in the first team. You never know what might happen in a summer.
“If they’ve not experienced playing at Headingley and all of a sudden they’re thrown in, it could be a very different proposition for them.
“To have that opportunity will be brilliant for them.
“The club have been great with it given the amount of games played at Headingley. The ground staff have worked incredibly hard to help us out.”
Smith’s second begin 2023 as the defending four-day champions, them winning the title in his first season in charge.
In an ideal world, that title would be retained, but Smith and the rest of the county’s management have not laid that down as a goal to chase.
“For me, I don’t really set aims and it’s not really been discussed,” said the former England Lions all-rounder.
“We’ve said it before, it’s not just about winning games of cricket.
“Yes, we want to win games and trophies – everyone does. But making sure the needs of our players are met is the most important thing.
“Can you move Will Luxton and Ben Cliff further on in their careers? Can you integrate three Academy lads into the seconds throughout the year? Can you help get Ben Coad back firing after a long injury lay-off?
“The second team goes week by week, and you never really know what’s coming next.
“It’s such a brilliant job and learning curve in that respect.
“I did the job at Leicestershire so had an idea what to expect. But doing it here is different to Leicester. Both jobs have given me a really good grounding.”
Smith, the 37-year-old ex-Lancashire captain, is a year into his role at Headingley having moved from Leicestershire: “I’ve loved it, absolutely loved it,” he said.
“Everybody at the club has been brilliant, really helpful, and the lads have been open to change. I started out at quite a turbulent time, but I’ve been given everything that I need to try and make a success of it.”
Last summer, Yorkshire’s senior squad had to deal with some significant availability issues. But Smith looked at it with a glass half full approach.
“Ahead of this season, we noted the need to really strengthen the bowling area because of quite a few injuries,” he continued. “But that did provide some great opportunities for lads to play in the first team and Academy lads and guys within the club system in Yorkshire to play in the second team.
“I think we’ve strengthened our squad quite a bit, which is going to create competition for places and headaches around selection.
“Come the start of the season, hoping everyone’s fit and firing, there are going to be some disgruntled players. And rightly so, because everyone wants to play in the first team.”
In many ways, results were the complete opposite in Yorkshire’s second-team and Academy to what they were in the first team in 2022.
While the firsts were relegated in the Championship but reached Vitality Blast Finals Day, the seconds won the Championship and struggled in the T20s. Only a couple of weeks ago, Academy batter Noah Kelly spoke about the desire to improve on their own disappointing 20-over performances.
“We have targeted that this winter and done a lot of white ball training and improving skills,” said Smith, who will this summer be supported by James Lowe, who has moved from Academy head coach to work with the senior squad.
Smith travelled to Mumbai earlier this year on a batting specific camp for six batters; Fin Bean, Harry Duke, George Hill, Will Luxton, Yash Vagadia and James Wharton.
“Other than my back playing up – a flair up of an old injury – it was really good,” laughed Smith.
“It was a great trip. It gave us an opportunity to spend some really good time with the batters and have some good conversations around batting and cricket in general.”
But he hasn’t travelled to Cape Town for the ongoing pre-season tour, instead working more closely with the Academy and helping Jonny Bairstow in his recovery from a broken leg and dislocated ankle. Smith and Bairstow played England Lions cricket together in 2014.
“With my role, working with a lot of Academy players during the summer, it’s been very beneficial to spend some quality time with that group and get to know where they’re at with their cricket,” said Smith.
“Jonny has been brilliant. To be able to pick his brains around international cricket and the stuff he does has been really helpful, and it’s been good to help him out on his road to recovery.
“He’s looking fit and strong and making good progress. The science and medicine team have been working hard with him, and he looks in a good space at the moment.”
Alongside winning the title, another standout moment in the second team last summer was Fin Bean’s record-breaking 441 in the Championship draw at Nottinghamshire – the highest score in the history of that competition.
Does Smith want a repeat this summer?
He added: “I certainly hope so, but hopefully it’s from someone else!”