DURHAM batsman Will Smith has announced his retirement from first-class cricket with immediate effect.

The 36-year-old was a key part of Durham’s maiden Championship-winning side, and also helped the county retain their title 12 months later.

A former student at Durham University, Smith won his first County Championship winners’ medal with Nottinghamshire before joining Durham in 2007.

He spent seven years in the North-East, establishing himself as a popular figure amongst players and supporters alike before heading to Hampshire in 2013.

He averaged more than 50 as Hampshire won the Second Division of the County Championship in his first season with the club, but opted to re-join Durham at the start of last season.

However, he has struggled to hold down a place in Durham’s first team, and has opted to call time on his playing days three months before his 37th birthday.

“After consulting with my family and Durham Cricket, I have taken the decision to retire with immediate effect,” said Smith. “When people said that you know when the time is right, I never used to believe them.

“But due to a lack of opportunities and a willingness to see Durham’s young players have as many chances as possible, I can say that now is absolutely the time. I have given everything as a player that I can possibly give.”

Smith played a key role in Durham’s 2008 title triumph, scoring 925 County Championship runs, including a maiden double century against Surrey, at an average of more than 50.

His performances led to him being named Player of the Year, and the following season he was appointed as club captain. His first season as skipper was an extremely enjoyable one, with Durham successfully defending their County Championship crown.

“I have experienced some amazing moments in the game, and played with and against some outstanding players and people,” said Smith. “I want to thank everyone connected to the three counties I have played for – Nottinghamshire CCC, Hampshire CCC and of course Durham Cricket.

“It truly was a privilege and an honour to represent all three. Thank you to my family for all the support, and in particular my wife, Kat, who has been a pillar of strength through the highs and lows.

“I can’t wait to see what the future holds, and I hope to remain in the game in some capacity.”

Sir Ian Botham led the tributes to Smith, praising the batsman’s professionalism and considerable contribution to Durham.

“Will is a fantastic guy and someone who has been a model professional during his career,” said the Durham chairman. “I would like to thank him for his contribution to Durham Cricket and wish him well for the future.”