Surrey starting to come together as storm clouds clear

The death of a promising young batsman, the departure of his friend and club captain, the sacking of the county coach, and the arrival of two legends of Test cricket… It has been a year of trauma for Surrey cricket.

Ahead of Surrey’s appearance in this Saturday’s T20 finals day, JASON COURT says that the transition period may be coming to an end

Ricky Ponting: the former Australian captain's signing helped galvinise Surrey's younger players

Ricky Ponting: the former Australian captain’s signing helped galvinise Surrey’s younger players

As summer arrived, so too did the dark clouds finally start to lift from Surrey cricket’s home at The Oval following the death last year of Tom Maynard.

Everyone, players and supporters, have been galvanised under Alec Stewart, and we seem to have got our direction and focus back. In the Twenty20 this year, Surrey have been reminiscent of that 40-over winning team from 2011 that showed such potential, and which was perhaps the side to define Chris Adam’s tenure as the county coach.

In recent years, Surrey has been partly an England facility club, bringing players such as Kevin Pietersen and Chris Tremlett back into the international fold, and part a stage for the swansong of some county legends. This further defines Adam’s philosophy – a pragmatic approach to the problem of rebuilding the side after the retirement of greats such as Mark Ramprakash.

Whilst not universally popular, I don’t think there is a single member who wouldn’t view the signing of 35-year-old Gareth Batty as anything but inspirational, which is why his ban from the T20 finals day may prove to be such a blow. Pietersen, meanwhile, when he was England’s Test public enemy No1 last season, impressed everyone at The Oval with his attitude and commitment to the cause in last year’s County Championship relegation battle, as did Murali Kartik – a fantastic example of an overseas player.

This year’s campaign was initially dominated by the appointment as county captain of South Africa’s Graeme Smith, with expectation enhanced by the allure of Ricky Ponting’s arrival later in the season. The influence of Stewart, it was said, was paramount in Smith’s signing. But given Smith international reputation, it was an exciting signing, particularly with the current dearth of English opening batting talent in the longer form of the game.

The full impact of Smith at The Oval is going to be seen in the next few years, not only in his performances but also in the development of Rory Burns and Aran Harinath, which could be the salvation in the longer term of not only Surrey, but also providing needed depth to the England Test side.

The ridiculous scheduling of the season, with limited overs competition being played at the expense of the Championship during the height of the summer, has meant Harinath hasn’t had a competitive opening knock for a while. However, Surrey’s focusing on the longer form of the game, and bringing in Smith, can only bode well for the future.

Jason Roy: one of Surrey's emerging young home-grown talents

Jason Roy: one of Surrey’s emerging young home-grown talents

The 40-over match against Hampshire earlier this year goes to show how Surrey may well dominate that competition in the future, should a fit Smith and Davies kick off in similar form, and provides an opening batting transition between limited overs and Championship games.

In the short form of the game, Jason Roy has been spectacular in the Alistair Brown opening mould. Despite his “Spice Boy” nickname, Roy seems to have seen that hard work is still required by those blessed with talent, and he has been excellent this season in his batting, fielding and general attitude.

For a while, the fans have probably been sick to the teeth of Old Whitgiftians at The Oval, Matt Spriegel excepted, and yearned for some Old Mid-Whitgiftians, like Mark Butcher, or the odd Old Wilsonian to balance things up. Roy is challenging that perception.

Replacing Ramps at No3 in the batting order has been harder, but again, perhaps Harinath is being primed for that role.

From a bowling perspective, Surrey since Adam Hollioake’s all-conquering side have struggled at times to bowl out the opposition twice in the Championship. This year, the limited overs bowling has been very good, but there is a slight fear that 20 wickets in a four-day game remains a struggle. The potential of Tim Linley, George Edwards and Freddie van de Bergh – another former Whitgift School pupil – has offset the initial disquiet when Chris Jordan and Spreigel were released. But Oval members are anticipating the return to the Championship schedule, with more optimism than for some time.

Stuart Meaker and Jade Dernbach as “home grown” (albeit via South Africa) talent, are of course a boon. England’s loss is definitely Surrey’s gain, and they are real county players, having represented Surrey CAG – the county’s age group development sides.

My memory of the year so far was probably turning up at Ricky Ponting’s last competitive game. I waited afterwards and got him to sign the scorecard. I said, “Thanks Ricky.” He replied, “No worries”, which was perfect.

Going into this Saturday’s T20 final, even without Batty, as Surrey come to the end of their  transition period, we will be a hard team to beat.

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