Surrey’s going round in circles over captaincy at The Oval

JASON COURT wraps up the county cricket season by posing the question: who will be Surrey captain in 2015?

At the start of the season, I suggested a good run in the T20 would be possible, but promotion first year to the first division of the County Championship was probably a stretch too far. And so it turned out.

Kevin Pietersen: could he take Surrey in a new direction in 2015?

Kevin Pietersen: could he take Surrey in a new direction in 2015?

If you look at the starting line-ups for the first game versus Glamorgan and the last championship game with Derbyshire, a demoralising eight-wicket defeat, they are remarkably similar.

So the season has been one primarily of consolidation, particularly after the blow of losing the club captain for the second consecutive year.

The permanent departure of Graeme Smith has at least meant Surrey will start 2015 with a captain who, for the first time in since 2012, should be at the club the whole year. But who?

It was interesting to see Jason Gillespie interviewed after Yorkshire won the County Championship. The Australian lives full time in Yorkshire and cannot see how a coach can spend only part of a year at the county and still bring them success. Surely this is even truer of a captain?

Gary Wilson: captained Surrey for most of 2014, but may not be even the county's second-choice 'keeper in 2015

Gary Wilson: captained Surrey for most of 2014, but may not be even the county’s second-choice ‘keeper in 2015

There’s no shortage of candidates at The Oval. Gary Wilson has done admirably. His form has improved with the responsibility as captain after Smith’s sudden departure through injury. So is he a shoo-in?

The signing of Essex’s young wicket-keeper Ben Foakes suggests not. Given that the experiment in allowing Steve Davies to concentrate on his batting this summer may not have been wholly successful, Wilson may find himself as only the third-choice ‘keeper next season.

As captain, while Wilson’s effort and influence has been excellent, he still needs to learn more of the tactical aspects of captaincy. Always opting to bat second in T20s, regardless of the pitch and weather conditions or opposition, may have worked up to a point this year, but Surrey were well beaten by Warwickshire in the semi-final to show that policy’s short-comings.

Kevin Pietersen would be a candidate, but only if he committed to the county in all forms of the game, which seems unlikely given his likely absence to the Indian Premier League. Hashim Amla, if retained as an overseas player, is ruled out of contention on similar grounds, due to his likely Test commitments.

Yorkshire, who seem to be a good model for Alec Stewart and the Surrey board to study, place great store in playing home-grown cricketers, so maybe a former academy boy like Jade Dernbach could be considered? In any event, with Graham Ford being hired solely as a coach, it is vital the new Surrey skipper appointment is the correct one.

The T20 campaign showed again that spending relatively large sums of money on “specialist” T20 players is a strategy that probably doesn’t yield as much benefit to a county like Surrey as they might like. Any Surrey evening T20 match on a Thursday or Friday at The Oval in the summer is likely to sell well, regardless of who is playing. Most of the T20 public are interested in having a drink and watching an entertaining match. Few come solely because of KP, Azhar Mahmood, Kevin O’Brian or Tillakaratne Dilshan.

In any case, given his breakthrough form this summer, next year’s star draw will probably be Jason Roy anyway. So perhaps it is time to save the cash and back the home-grown squad players, bolstered with one top-draw overseas player who can play the whole season in all forms of the game.

Old Whitgiftians Roy and Rory Burns have just been awarded their full Surrey caps, along with Zafar Ansari. All three scored 1,000 first-class runs in the season for the first time.

It was a good year for the Old Boys. Roy has taken a great leap forward in all forms of the game. Burns was given a run as opener in the county side and showed some nice form. With Tom Curran to come back and two more Whitgift Old Boys, Freddie van den Berg and Dominic Sibley in the wings, Graham Ford has a lot of young talent to work with.

The guv'nor: Alec Stewart has been left with much to ponder

The guv’nor: Alec Stewart has been left with much to ponder ahead of the 2015 county season

But after finishing only fifth in the second division of the championship in 2014, with a challenge that petered away in the final month, if the intention is to win promotion and then be a force in the County Championship, then the defeats in Surrey’s last two matches of their four-day campaign will have left Ford and Stewart with much to ponder.

At Worcester in their penultimate match, and with promotion still an outside possibility, they had the hosts 133-6 in the first innings and 164-6 in the second, yet they failed to finish them off and saw tail-enders salvage the innings – in the case of Jack Shantry, with an historic first of scoring a century when batting at No9 in a match in which he also took 10 wickets.

The difficulties Surrey have had in finishing off defensive batting sides have been acknowledged with the re-signing of fast bowler David Balcombe from Hampshire on a two-year contract. Balcombe is another Surrey academy product who was allowed to drift away from the club.

He was the leading wicket-taker in the County Championship in 2012, but is returning to The Oval in his 30th year, and due to a knee injury he had little cricket with Hampshire as they won the second division title this summer.

Tall and blessed with the ability to swing the ball from a good height, Balcombe made his biggest impact when on loan to Kent three years ago, when he claimed 33 wickets at an average of 17. His career-best figures also came that summer, when he took 8-71 for Hants against Gloucestershire.

“He is a bowler who came through the Surrey system and he will add both depth and experience to our squad,” Stewart said today. Where this all leaves Tim Linley, Chris Tremlett, Meaker, Dernbach, Matthew Dunn and Curran, only Stewart and Ford will know, but at least three of those players won’t be in the XI for the first championship game next April.

Stewart has been busy in tying up players’ contracts, with Ansari, Burns, Dunn, Curran and Sibley all agreeing three-year deals while Wilson, Stuart Meaker and 36-year-old Gareth Batty extended their stays by another two. Fast bowler George Edwards and all-rounders Tom Jewell and Jack Winslade have been released.

We shall have to see what decisions Alec Stewart and his board take in the closed season. Will we start to see the re-emergence of a brash, confident Surrey in the mould of their last great skipper Adam Hollioake? Or will be looking back in a years’ time and be asking the same questions again?

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2 Responses to Surrey’s going round in circles over captaincy at The Oval

  1. Did you really suggest Dernbach as a possible skipper?

    That has to be the most ludicrous thing I’ve ever heard. The whole credibility of your column is shot to bits by that.

    Not one Surrey supporter would consider Dernbach as captaincy material. He is lucky to still be at the club given his revolting attitude and even worse form.

    • The words “disappointment” and “Dernbach” go together for more than just alliterative purposes.

      In fairness to Jason, he was arguing for a home-grown captain. But good captains are hard to find, and rarely from among those who have worked their way through the academy. No one, I reckon, would argue that Arnold Long was a better captain, for instance, than Roger Knight.

      And having invested so much hope, as well as money, in the Smith appointment, it is clear the club wanted to have a strong and influential figure on the field, in the dressing room and in the Long Room. That need has not gone away.

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