It’s April 2015. New Lancashire captain Tom Smith is leading the club he loves into the County Championship season. He is doing so off the back of the best year of his life, in 2014, which culminated in the all-rounder dominating at the club’s end of season awards, shining on his first tour with the England Lions and marrying his fiancé Holly. He was on the crest of a wave until a potentially career-ending back injury struck after just one game as captain, sending Smith on a personal and professional journey as he faced the very real possibility of never again being able to play the sport he loved.
Fast-forward 12 months and Smith’s smile is lighting up the room at the club’s pre-season media day. Back in training, and a matter of weeks away from a first-team return, the 30-year-old is only too happy to admit the dark times he went through on his comeback trail and to offer an insight into the struggles of a professional sportsman sidelined from action.
“There were obviously some dark days but that one driver of getting back out at Old Trafford was always there,” Smith said.
“I was doing some fitness work yesterday and six months ago if you’d told me I’d be doing that I’d have given you a hug. There were a few dark times and there were times where I really thought I don’t know if I’m going to come back.
Smith keeps a personal diary of every season, and ahead of the 2015 campaign the club asked him if he’d like to publish a book documenting the year. As it so happened, Smith’s account, entitled ‘Boulder Rolling’, came from entirely within the dressing room as he watched his teammates clinch promotion from Division Two and become Natwest T20 Blast champions.
It also provides an honest look at his battle with injury and the effect it had on his life and the life of those around him – featuring a foreword from wife Holly.
“It’s about how rehab was and how it is for me,” he explained. “It gives a perspective of what it was like for me and my family.
“It was quite easy to write in the fact that it wasn’t tough to explain what I was doing a few days. It was a blessing that the Ashes was on, put it that way!
“I would wake up each day and Holly would have to look after me for a long time to make sure I got fed and watered, because I literally couldn’t walk down the stairs so she had to wait hand on foot for me. I owe a lot to her of course.
“Holly’s foreword, she didn’t know what to write. She never showed how she was feeling, she was always strong for me so to actually read how she felt and what she was going through makes me realise how lucky I am.
“Jotting down how I felt helped to get my feelings out there, rather than lashing out at a close one or a friend, it helped get it off my chest.
“I’ve tried to be as honest as possible, there were little bits I missed out to make it politically correct!”
Cricket has, perhaps more than other sports, had its well-documented battles with the mental side of professional sport. Smith acknowledged how difficult a time it had been for him and thanked the club’s psychologist – encouraging others who are struggling to go and seek guidance.
“Cricketers have been at the forefront of psychology in sport for a number of years,” Smith said.
“You think of people; Freddie for one, Trescothick, who’ve had a few you don’t want to say issues, but have come out and talked openly about the issues they had.
“The game is a very simple game that we overcomplicate. The more you can simplify it the better and you do that with a psychologist or whoever you trust.
“We have a psychologist here that we use. He helped me to explore other options because obviously cricket doesn’t last forever. We have to explore the other side and find what I might enjoy doing. I’ve not found anything as yet!”
Smith is unlikely to feature in Lancashire’s first Championship game against Nottinghamshire, having suffered a setback with a hamstring injury.
But he is targeting a return to action soon, having relinquished the captaincy to focus on his own game, and believes he can still perform all three roles in the side as Lancashire’s main all-rounder. In 2014 he took 54 Division One wickets and racked up 773 runs as well.
Smith says that having been through his injury nightmare and come out the other side, his love for the game has been refreshed and he believes he can come back even stronger.
“It’s a stark reminder of how lucky we are to play this game and it opens yours eyes about how lucky you are to do it for a job,” Smith explained.
“A year out of the game gives you that platform, the first time I netted it was like I was an under-15 again. I was just so happy to be playing cricket so it certainly refreshes your spark for the game.
“I think you have that passion to come back, you realise how lucky you are to do this and I just want to go out there and make the most of every time I go out and play for Lancashire.”