Johnny Morton (News Letter)
On a warm Saturday afternoon at Belmont, Nathan Smith strides around the boundary rope taking in the action as his Instonians team mates face CIYMS.
Normally he would be in the thick of it, with the seam bowler a key part of the side that won the league back in 2016, and he has gone from strength to strength since, shown by his inclusion in Ireland’s inaugural Test squad against Pakistan last month.
It was during one of the final training sessions before the game that Smith felt it. The pain shot through his body and he knew that his childhood dream of playing Test cricket would have to be put on hold.
“It was two days out from the Test match and I was just going through the motions and getting a session in, and eight overs in I felt it just snap and totally tear off me,” said Smith. “
It was pretty painful at the time and it was an emotional time because it went from the highest of highs to the absolute lowest of the low.”
The side strain is going to keep him out of action for roughly 10 more weeks, and adapting to a spectator role isn’t coming easy to him, but he tries to look on the bright side.
“It is very hard watching,” he added. “I am in a weird situation where my life revolves around cricket, and I want to get away at the same time but I just can’t. It’s hard but I can’t leave it.
“I have mentally refreshed after having a couple of weeks off and trying to let it start to heal. At the same time I am desperate to get back because I felt fresh at the start of the year.
“At least when I do come back I am going to be refreshed physically and mentally, but getting to that stage is going to be very tough.”
Cricket has always been a part of Smith’s life, with his dad introducing him to the game back in Australia from the age of three, and he has found himself hooked ever since.
Almost two decades later, he arrived in Belfast on a permanent basis in February last year having watched an Instonians game on a family visit, and from that moment he decided there is where he wanted to play.
“The original time I came over I was playing in Birmingham and came over to visit some family that were linked with Instonians and I came to watch a game and I just wanted to be apart of it.
“I really enjoyed it and came back the following year and it was a very successful year for us winning the league,” he said. Test cricket has been his dream ever since he can remember, but it came round even faster than he could have wished.
“At the start we didn’t have First Class status or anything like that,” he added. “I got that in my second season with the Knights and since then things really accelerated.
“The Ireland Wolves programme kicked off and we went to Bangladesh and I got a lot of opportunities in red ball cricket and took my opportunity when it came around.”
It can’t be easy for a 22-year-old to adapt and transition to life thousands of miles away from his original home, but Smith is taking it all in his stride.
“It’s been a challenge because sometimes I find that I need an outlet from cricket, but cricket is my life here and all my friends are involved in cricket,” he said.
“It’s been quite difficult to find what I need to do to make it the most effective time for me.
“The guys are great and as I’ve got to them more and more we have found that outlet.
“Everyone has been very welcoming and made the transition easy.
“As for leaving, it doesn’t bother me. I don’t have a home feel or get homesick, so in that regard Belfast has been easy to transition to.
“The only difference, other than the weather, is that Belfast is a much smaller city. Coming from the hustle and bustle of Sydney to Belfast where you can get anywhere in 20 minutes was awesome because it’s so relaxed.”
Smith is surrounded by positive influences, with captain Andrew White, who is now the Chairman of Selectors for Cricket Ireland, helping him out and providing advice along the way.
“Whitey and I talk often about cricket plans and what I should do, and he has been a very good mentor to me since coming over,” he said. “
He runs a tight ship and makes sure standards are kept high, and I just want to strive and prove everything he sees in me to him.
“We get along really well and it’s really nice to be able to share in some success with him too.”
You can tell there is a sense of unfinished business for Smith at international level, and that he wants to show those who have believed in him, and the world, how good he can be. For now though, there is a lot of rehabilitation work that needs to be done and he will spend the majority of his time inside a gym trying to recover, so what will motivate him during those tough times?
“I find it to be the pure want to succeed,” he added. “I am very self-driven and I’ve always wanted to do better and be the best in what I do. I am very competitive in that way and if something is in my way I want to knock it down and beat it.
“I’ve been lucky to not get injured in the past but this has struck me down now. “Once I’m back, the drive to succeed will be just as strong as before.
“I have accomplished something by getting in the squad, but I still haven’t reached the pinnacle of playing Test cricket and at the international level.”