When Jason Roy, the Old Whitgiftian, returns from England duty in South Africa for pre-season training at The Oval, he’ll walk into a dressing room to discover a new Surrey club coach. Another one.
Michael Di Venuto’s arrival in south London to take charge of the newly promoted county side will make him, by some reckonings, the fifth person to coach Surrey’s team in less than three years.
There’s about five weeks until the start of the county season, but Di Venuto won’t be able to meet his players until after March 9, and the end of the forthcoming one-day series between South Africa and Australia, where he has been a highly rated batting coach. Ask the world’s No1 batsman, Steve Smith.
After Chris Adams and Ian Salisbury, and an Alec Stewart interregnum, Graham Ford’s two years in charge at The Oval achieved the objective of a return to first division county cricket, but the South African’s positive influence was never as strong as it might have been once the much-respected skipper Graham Smith broke down with injury and was forced to retire from the game.
And when Sri Lanka came calling for Ford’s services last month, Stewart – who, at least, remains one unchanging fixture at The Oval – was faced with finding a replacement, and fast.
“Losing our head coach at the start of the year was far from ideal,” Stewart said. “But I believe we have hired a coach with a similar approach and work ethic; one member of personnel leaving does not change the whole set-up.”
It’s not unreasonable to surmise that it has been Stewart, rather than Ford or Di Venuto, who has been busily upgrading the Surrey playing staff.
There has been the signing earlier this month of the impressive Australia T20 captain Aaron Finch, as cover for Kumar Sangakkara during the Caribbean Premier League and, announced this morning, Chris Morris, the South Africa all-rounder, who Stewart described as “an exciting three-dimensional cricketer with bat, ball and in the field”, and who has agreed to join Surrey for the T20 Blast in July as a replacement for the West Indies’ Dwayne Bravo, when he heads off for the CPL.
Morris has recently signed for the Delhi Daredevils for the Indian Premier League for more than $1million, so it seems likely that Surrey are also paying top dollar to get him to light up their Friday night entertainment at The Oval.
And as Roy develops as an England player, Surrey need to have back-up for him, too, when on international duty during the summer.
The whirr of a revolving door as inter-national stars come and go is becoming as familiar noise of the English summer as the sound of willow on leather. And the comings and goings is also a growing test for county sides’ management, including Di Venuto, who does at least have 13 years’ experience of English domestic cricket, having played for Sussex, Derbyshire and in Durham’s title-winning side in 2008 and 2009.
“I did my homework with Michael and he was highly regarded by everyone I spoke to, having just been offered a new deal by Australia. The size of the club saw the job attract a lot of interest around the world but what stood out was his deep knowledge of county cricket.
“Cricket Australia have been outstanding to deal with; they are happy for their people to better themselves elsewhere. Michael might one day go back and coach them but for the next three years at least, we will benefit from his knowledge at Surrey.”
Di Venuto will work alongside the captain Gareth Batty as the club look to establish themselves back in the top flight following promotion as second division champions.
Surrey begin their season at Nottinghamshire on April 10.
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