Surrey’s members ready to go nuts for Ford-inspired KP

JASON COURT says that there’s more optimism in the members’ pavilion at The Oval ahead of the County Championship, which begins on Sunday

On Sunday I will be joining the masses of cabbies, retirees, students, the unemployed and other 40- and 50-somethings, filled with huge anticipation.

Kevin Pietersen: more time with Surrey this summer

Kevin Pietersen: more time with Surrey this summer

I will drag two of my kids with me and will sit in the sun (we are all optimists at the start of every county cricket season), beer in hand, and await the toss. I should be in good company in the Pavilion at The Oval. Attendance figures from last year show that Surrey members preferred to attend the four-day version of the game, while the general public preferred the T20s.

Sunday starts to county championship games are one of a few changes this season. The T20 Blast will interrupt the season a little less, as most of those matches will be played on a Friday evening. Both of these should be seen as positive changes. Richard Thompson in his 2013 chairman’s statement in Surrey CCC’s annual report welcomed them both. He is hopeful that attendances will rise. On the downside, gone is the excellent 40-over version of the game to be replaced by the more staid 50-over one-day competition, and the changes made it impossible for the return of the Croydon Festival at Whitgift School.

So what of the Surrey team? Some older players, like Gareth Batty and Tim Linley, have been retained. If you took a straw poll of members you would find that a popular decision.
But the main closed-season talking points revolved around Graham Ford and Kevin Pieterson. In the same chairman’s statement, Thompson was very keen to stress that Ford is a coach. Not a manager, but a coach, working alongside Alex Stewart as “Director of Cricket”.

Pieterson, on SurreyTV this week, has said how pleased he is that Ford, a former coach at South Africa, Kent and Sri Lanka, is here. “He gets me,” the England Test exile said of the man who has known him since primary school in South Africa.

KP himself seems at ease at The Oval. Unlike the England set-up, it seems he feels he can rely on the support of the dressing room.

Surrey's new coach: Graham Ford

Surrey’s new coach: Graham Ford

So has Surrey become the cricketing version of Saracens? Ford, club captain Graeme Smith, Pieterson, Tom Curran, Stuart Meaker, Jade Dernbach and Jason Roy were all born in South Africa. But scratch at that veneer and you reveal something much closer to home. Roy is an Old Whitgiftian (along with other young rising talents Freddie Van den Bergh and the star turn at the end of last season, Dom Sibley). Meaker and Dernbach came through the Surrey junior ranks, too.

Age is definitely on Surrey’s side. Sibley and Curran are two of four teenagers in the Surrey first team squad this season. Zafar Ansari (touted as a future captain), Rory Burns, Matthew Dunn and Tom Jewell are all in their early 20s. Even established players Arun Harinath and Steve Davies are just 26 and 28 respectively. So Ford, a coach with a reputation for nurturing young talent, seems the perfect choice. If he makes KP tick as well, then Surrey should be on course to repeat a T20 final appearance.

Surrey’s members will judge Ford as much on retaining talent (think of Chris Jordan’s departure in particular) and developing it to its full potential as winning a one-day trophy or gaining immediate promotion back to Division One of the County Championship.

Thompson has played down the expectations this year. He feels that this is the start of a re-building process. When Surrey were promoted in 2011 as runners-up to Middlesex, Surrey amassed 227 points. That total would have guaranteed promotion last year and would have won the division the year before that.

The problem is that they will have to win 50 per cent of their games and lose no more than 25 per cent to guarantee promotion. So perhaps he is right, this year is too soon to pile on the weight of expectation. They have the bowling options to take 20 wickets each match, which is the key to winning a four-day game. The trickier part of the equation for Surrey is the batting, particularly the openers. The timeframe before the influence of Graeme Smith, also now an ex-Test player, starts to yield results is more difficult to judge.

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