ROBIN SMITH has erased the recent past to look towards a brighter future.

The Hampshire captain's differences with the club over the appointment of new coach Jimmy Cook is now forgotten and 'Judge' Smith says: "I said my piece and the matter is now dead. I will rally the players round."

Smith returned from South Africa in a state of high dudgeon but, with the prospect of leading a county with Shane Warne and Alan Mullally to what he forecasts will be a championship challenge dangling before him, his appetite has been re-kindled.

"I have always been a great believer in letting water pass under the bridge. I have had a constructive meeting with the club. I felt it was important for me to raise certain issues I had been disappointed with during the winter.

"I have never been a confrontational person and it was never a case of not wanting Jimmy. I know Jimmy as a player - and as a man you couldn't meet a nicer guy. I just don't know him as a coach.

"I feel a great responsibility for my players and it was a case that we had experience with Paul Terry, we felt comfortable with him and we know what we're going to get.

"The club have always tended to use former Hampshire players in the past as coach and I think they were under pressure from the membership to make a break and look outside "But the club have made a decision and it's important that we all get behind it," says Smith who is rubbing his hands at the thought of the new campaign.

"Whenever I think about the new season I'm excited. I think it's going to be as exciting a season as I can ever remember at Hampshire.

"I have always said we needed to sign two class players to make us a force to be reckoned with and now we have got them.

"A lot will depend on how much Alan Mullally is going to be with us but if we all stay fit and the younger players continue to develop as they have done I think there's a serious chance of us challenging for the title this season."

Many of Hampshire's younger players, like Derek Kenway and will Kendall, came of age last season, and although Hampshire have captured two prizes in Warne and Mullally, the return to action of Alex Morris will virtually give Smith a third new signing after the pony-tailed all-rounder missed most of last season with a shin injury.

"I rate Alex highly. He knows which area of his game he needs to work on but I'm convinced that when he on the top of his game he's England material," said Smith.

"Similarly, Dimi Mascarenhas is a fine prospect who also knows now how to protect his body from some of the back injuries that have plagued him in the past.

"We have got a bit of depth which perhaps we didn't have before. We have got a squad of players and I don't differentiate between any of them.

"Every one of them has the opportunity to play in the first game of the season and I know there will be disappointed players early in the season and while that might be tough for me to explain it to them it can only be good for the club.

"We're getting a lot more respect from other clubs and the word going round is that we're a team to be respected, unlike two years ago where we were just the whipping boys."

Converted for the new archive on 25 January 2001. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.