HE is the world’s best Test batsman, and Steve Smith is also the greatest signing Grappenhall Cricket Club never had.

The Australian has spent the summer torturing England but 12 years ago, England proved torture for him.

Long before his rapid rise to, acrimonious fall from and remarkable return to the top of world cricket, Smith had been due to spend a summer furthering his cricketing education at Broad Lane.

Grappers thought they had secured the services of a then-17-year-old Smith, who back then plied his trade as a promising leg-spinner and lower-order batsman, for the 2007 season.

However, after a night in a Stockton Heath pub, he returned home without hitting a ball in anger.

Club secretary Paul Tyerman picks up the story.

“Steve came over and stayed with our then first XI captain Will Sharp.

“I was still club secretary back then and had a copy of his passport and everything having registered him with the league.

“As is tradition with overseas players, a couple of the players took him to the Mulberry Tree in Stockton Heath to meet some of our lads and begin to feel welcome.

“Unfortunately, Steve ended up being rather overwhelmed by this as a young lad and ended up going back home feeling ‘under the weather.’

“The next day, Steve didn’t come out of his room, and that remained the case for a couple of days."

Neil Fairbrother – the former England international who was a patron at Broad Lane – was dispatched to try and convince Smith to give life in Warrington a fair crack of the whip.

However, it was no good and less than a week after touching down on British soil, the future star was on a plane back Down Under and Grappenhall were on the lookout for a new overseas player.

At the time, club chairman David Nicholson described Smith’s hasty exit as “a major blow.”

While life continued at Grappenhall, Smith eventually made his Test debut for Australia in 2010.

He was still operating as a bowling all-rounder until a move up the batting order changed his fortunes completely.

A rise to the top of the ICC Test batting rankings and the Australian captaincy followed until a shambolic fall from grace.

For his role in the ball-tampering scandal in South Africa last year, Smith lost the captaincy and was banned for 12 months.

Time served, he is back in the team as if he has never been away – as England are currently finding out in the Ashes series.

For all at Grappenhall, they can only wonder what might have been.

“We kept an eye on his career back with Sutherland in Australia and then saw him playing state cricket, still as a leg spinner,” Tyerman said.

“He was clearly a promising player back then, but as a leggie and lower-order bat.

“I don’t think anyone could have predicted him going on to become Australia captain and arguably the best batsman in the world.

“Obviously his short stint with Grappers hasn’t held his career back, but it’s disappointing that he wasn’t willing to give it a go in the North West.”