One of the brightest prospects in UAE age-group cricket will get to play at Lord’s next month – having also called England fast-bowler Chris Woakes a teammate this week.
Kai Smith has been selected for the English Schools Cricket Association (ESCA) side to face MCC at the home of cricket on September 7.
The 16-year-old wicketkeeper was born and raised in Dubai, and represented the UAE in the U19 World Cup last year.
He is set to attend boarding school in Kent for his A-levels, having completed his GCSEs at Nord Anglia International School in Dubai last term.
He is already set for representative honours in the schools game in the UK, after being picked for ESCA.
“It is really exciting because playing at Lord’s, you only dream of something like that,” Smith said.
“You hope one day that you might play for England, and that one day you could play at such an historic ground.
“To get the chance to do it at the age of 16, there are not many people who are able to say that. It is truly very exciting.
“I can’t wait. It is a very proud moment for me and my family.”
Smith, the son of South African parents who run a dental practice in Dubai, aspires to play cricket professionally in England once he has completed his education.
He has already had a taste of the elite game in the UK, having been recommended to Warwickshire by Dougie Brown, the former UAE coach who played for the county for many years.
He trains with the county’s Under 18 side three times a week – which involves a lengthy commute from his new home in Kent in the south to Birmingham in the Midlands.
And this week he featured for the Warwickshire second XI, which meant keeping wicket to Woakes, the England fast bowler who is stepping up his rehabilitation from injury.
If Smith was star struck, he did a good job of hiding it. He took two catches off Woakes’ bowling – and four in all - in the first innings of the match.
Although it is quite the step up, Smith has long been used to playing up in both age and standard.
He was just 15 when he played for the UAE at the U19 World Cup last year. That tournament involved the likes of Jayden Seales, who is already establishing himself in the West Indies side, as well as IPL stars like Kartik Tyagi, Ravi Bishnoi and Priyam Garg.
“No matter how young I am, even if I am up there playing with the best, I know that if I work hard and keep on believing in myself, I can be as good as them,” Smith said.
“I just try to trust the process that has been put in place, and just go out there and play, without thinking about age or size.
“That is what I try to do when I step on the cricket field.”
While Smith will be settling into his new surroundings at boarding school next month, the IPL will be back in the UAE.
The second half of the IPL season has been rescheduled for the Emirates because of Covid issues back at home.
It means Smith will miss getting to see his hero, AB de Villiers, in the flesh again. But it will be a reminder of just how far he has come since he first fell for the sport when the IPL came to town in 2014.
“I first got into cricket mainly because my parents got me a bat and a ball, and took me to my first cricket game,” Smith said.
“It was really interesting, and I fell in love with it from there. We went to an IPL game at the Dubai International Stadium, and it was packed full of people.
“I started my own cricket journey at the ICC Academy when I was eight years old. I fell in love with it, and went on from there.”