Surrey end summer pot-less, despite Roy’s batting power

So near, yet so far.

Whitgift old boy Jason Roy is the most exciting batting prospect for many years

Whitgift old boy Jason Roy is the most exciting batting prospect in English cricket for many years

Surrey’s last, albeit outside, chance of success this summer – promotion back to the first division of the County Championship – somehow slipped through their batting-gloved fingers on Friday at New Road Worcester, when from a commanding first-innings position, they were spun out by Moeen Ali and the left-armers of Jack Shantry.

Needing 217 for victory, from 122 for 2 at lunch, Surrey were bowled out for 189.

The four-day game against Derby, which begins at The Oval tomorrow (10.30am September starts) is therefore a bit of a dead rubber, and might have offered a chance to experiment with the line-up, maybe give a bit of first XI playing time to the likes of young leg-spinner Freddie van den Bergh, fresh from his five-fer in the final second XI game of the season. That such an opportunity has been spurned with the naming of the same 13-player squad as lost at Worcester is just the latest example of the enigma that is Surrey cricket.

Nothing is ever straightforward with the county side, of course. Following the near disintegration of the team a couple of summers ago, the abortive captaincy of Graeme Smith left a big hole to fill when the South African suffered injury.

As skipper, Gary Wilson has certainly impressed this season, and he has had the mighty benefit of captaining a side which has had the most exciting batting prospect in English, if not world, cricket, in Jason Roy.

Comparisons in batting style and aggression with Kevin Pietersen, that other enigma which still prowls the Long Room at The Oval, are inevitable, given the Whitgift-educated Roy’s South African twang and his awesome batting power. But while Surrey splashed the cash on expensive overseas imports such as Amla and Dilshan to try to fill the void left by Smith, it was six-hitting Roy who starred.

Roy’s England T20 debut against India this month was inevitable after his batting almost single-handed powered Surrey into the finals day of the shortest form of the game – where disappointment came once more, this time with defeat in the semi-final.

In the four-day version of the game, albeit against second division county attacks, Roy amassed three centuries and four 50s, though he needs another 53 runs in the Derbyshire game to achieve the season milestone of 1,000 first-class runs.

The experiment with Steve Davies shedding his keeper’s gloves to focus on his batting looked as if it was beginning to work for Surrey, and Rory Burns was also improving with the bat.

But look at Surrey’s last eight first innings totals in first-class games, and you get a clear view of where the problem lies: 626-6d, 421, 522-9d, 474-8d, 589-8d, 398, 480 and 406.

It is not in the batting department.

Finding a set of bowlers who can take 20 wickets in a four-day game, and who can work their wonders in the one-dayers must be the task over the winter – that Dilshan was Surrey’s most effective T20 bowler showed when he was unavailable on finals day.

Of course, in 2015, the Australians will be back for another Ashes summer, so there’s unlikely to be much focus on the county game at The Oval, which will bank the proceeds of the Test match’s five days of full houses and ponder where to spend it. Digging up and re-laying some of former groundsman Harry Brind’s one-time hard and fast pitches to put some life back in them might be as helpful as signing a match-winning bowler.

After all, it’s not as if Roy & Co won’t score enough runs to give the bowlers something to play with.

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