Remember that white, cold stuff falling from the sky last week? Snow. So clearly, the time has come for the start of the cricket season.
The county season begins today – earlier in the year than usual, for a combination of the Ashes summer and more Twenty20 demands – with Surrey at a crossroads. And we don’t mean the Vauxhall Bridge roundabout.
The trauma of last year, with the tragic death of Tom Maynard, the exit of county captain Rory Hamilton-Brown and the abrupt retirement of senior pro Mark Ramprakash meant that the south London boys would be facing something of a transition.
And over the course of the winter, to add to the often-absent Kevin Pietersen, The Oval all-stars managed to add to their roster Graeme Smith, probably the world’s leading batsman of the moment, and (as if that were not enough), all-time great Ricky Ponting.
As ever with Surrey, we live in interesting times.
There’s more of a sense that Smith’s signing is similar to the time in the 1970s when the military bearing of Roger Knight was drafted in as skipper to bring some discipline and order to a leaderless dressing room. As the prescient Surrey cricket blog noted this week, “Rory Hamilton-Brown wasn’t a bad captain, he was given a massive job at a very young age, but he wasn’t especially good either”.
Even before Maynard’s death, the stories were circulating about a clique of younger players enjoying the long summer evenings somewhat too much for professional sportsmen with a match to continue in the morning.
Smith flew in to London yesterday, having already met the squad he is set to lead for the next three years in Cape Town during their pre-season tour. Will Smith, who will still have international duties with South Africa during the summer, and Ponting, who’s been hired as cover for those periods, and some Twenty20, manage to bring together a notorious disunited pavilion?
Here in Croydon, we’ll lack the popular Whitgift Festival again – indeed, we may never see the county side spend a week in the town again – but the expectations for an improvement on the field at The Oval are high.
Smith is an utter contrast to Hamilton-Brown. Having won 49 Test matches as South Africa’s captain – more than any other Test captain in history – his influence and experience in the 10 or so county championship games he is expected to play should be profound. Never mind his batting ability being let loose on some of the more mundane bowling talents on the county circuit.
Smith, and Ponting when the time comes, will bolster a batting order side that found runs hard to come by last season. The other veteran winter signing, Vikram Solanki, offers less expectation, and can only be viewed as a short-term stop-gap until a younger, and better middle order option emerges.
The batsmen will need to improve the scoring rate in order to give Surrey’s bowling attack, led by Stuart Meaker, occasionally Chris Tremlett when fit and not on England duty, and Gareth Batty, worthwhile targets to attack to secure more victories.
“We will never forget Tom Maynard,” Chris Adams, the county coach, told The Observer at the weekend. “But as a club there was a point when we had to draw a line and move forward into the season ahead of us. This is a new era.”
Adams, who arrived at The Oval with an impressive record, has to deliver this time round: in his four seasons in charge, Surrey have won just 16 four-day championship games.
“The level of resource he’s had at his disposal is unprecedented in the county game,” writes the Surrey blogster. “A season bumping along the lower reaches of the table shouldn’t be tolerated, we have the players to compete with the best of the division on our day.”
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- New era dawns for Chris Adams and Surrey after Tom Maynard tragedy (guardian.co.uk)