HOOK SHOT: Surrey’s struggles in the County Championship continue, but their skipper tells MARCUS HOOK that a win over Nottinghamshire shows a change in form
With the cricket season now at its halfway stage, Gareth Batty is the first to admit that Surrey have not adjusted to life back in Division One of the County Championship as swiftly as they had hoped. Injuries have played their part, as has the weather.
But following his side’s resounding 228-run victory over Nottinghamshire, the veteran off-spinner has reminded the other teams that Surrey generally come into their own at the back end of the campaign.
“Traditionally, we’re a better second half of the season team than the first half,” said the Surrey skipper. “That’s something we’ve tried to address, but we still haven’t got it right. Hopefully, we’ll revert to type now and we’ll play good cricket for the rest of the season and get a few more championship wins under our belts.
“The step back up to Division One hasn’t taken us by surprise. There are some very skilful players in Division Two as there are in Division One, but the difference is people don’t give you anything in Division One. You have to work for every run and you have to work for every wicket, you don’t get too many freebies.
“The skill levels in English cricket are very high at this moment in time and I think we should be championing what we have rather than trying to pull it apart and copy things from around the world because we have a wonderful standard of cricket in this country.
“Division One is very tough. We’ve been guilty of giving people too many easy runs and too many easy wickets. In the Notts game I didn’t feel we did as much, which meant we were on the right end of a result.
“We’ve missed key moments in games at times and we didn’t miss them in that game, which is credit to all 11 who played. Everybody contributed and it ended up being a very good win against a very good Notts team.
“The first key moment in the game was Steven Davies and Tom Curran getting that partnership on day one, because it allowed us to get enough runs on the board to put them under some sort of pressure.
“The stand between Arun Harinath and Kumar Sangakkara in the second innings was also pretty good, in tough conditions at times, but it would be wrong to single out individuals. As captain, I’m proud of all of them.
“Of the bowlers, everybody, to a man, performed their role and your role, sometimes, is to do the hard yards and hold it for somebody else who is taking the wickets. If we do that over a season everybody will take their wickets at some point and our bowling unit will be a force to be reckoned with.”
With just three championship centuries in eight games, it doesn’t take much working out where further improvement is required. Six Surrey batsman are averaging more than 30 in the championship, but only one – Kumar Sangakkara – is currently operating at more than 40.
The Sri Lankan has now jetted off to play in the Caribbean Premier League for the next five weeks, as has Surrey’s most consistent seamer this season, Ravi Rampaul.
Since being signed as cover for Jade Dernbach, who remains sidelined with a stress fracture of the back, Rampaul has averaged 24.28 runs per wicket in four-day cricket. Not bad for someone who, prior to April, hadn’t played a first-class game in three years.
On the plus side, Stuart Meaker now looks back to his best while Sam Curran’s availability to play has improved as the teenager has completed his A-Level exams.
Australia’s Aaron Finch will deputise for Sangakkara, but with Jason Roy making an overwhelming case for being called-up for England’s upcoming Test series against Pakistan, the batting remains Surrey’s biggest concern going forward, not just in the championship, but also in the T20 Blast.
In the space of 24 hours, Surrey suffered back-to-back defeats in the Blast in Roy’s absence. Skittled out for 110 by Glamorgan and restricted to just 117-9 in 20 overs by Essex, Surrey’s hopes of progressing to the T20 quarter-finals all hinge on rediscovering their winning touch against Gloucestershire at Bristol next Wednesday and Somerset at The Oval two days later.
How they can have done without Dominic Sibley joining the list of walking wounded, particularly as the 20-year-old batsman had just become the first Surrey batsman to hit half-centuries in each of his first two appearances in Twenty20 cricket.
In the County Championship, Notts, like Surrey, have now lost four, but if Surrey are to remain in the top flight they must ensure bottom-placed Hampshire also continue to struggle – and it’s very much in their own hands given that the two sides are yet to meet each other in four-day cricket.
Surrey’s trump card is that they’re the only team in Division One, if not the country, with two in-form spinners.
Batty has taken 25 wickets at 24.64 runs apiece in the County Championship, and Zafar Ansari’s 6-36 on the final day against Notts sees him averaging 25.46.
“We’re very lucky that at Surrey we’ve boasted good spinners for a very long time,” said Batty.
“Zafar is and is going to be a very good spinner for a very long time and he’s got an old geezer at the other end who turns up every now and again. But I don’t want to put too much pressure on Zaf because he bowled quite magnificently against Notts. We just need to give him space to go out and play his cricket.
“I’ve said it before, but I think he is the best young spinner in the country, but we need to allow him to develop and go about his business.
“Sometimes people come to The Oval and are unsure of how to go about playing at times, thinking that it’ll turn square. I don’t think the pitch for the Notts game spun a huge amount. It offered a little bit – there were some footholds. But it showed how well Zafar bowled.
“He produced some beautiful balls to get wickets on the final day there. Samit Patel, one of their players, is supposedly England’s third spinner. Well I think that tag should now belong to Zafar. If I was England, I’d be investing a huge amount in Zafar Ansari, that’s for sure.
Batty admits that the win over Nottinghamshire could not have come soon enough, with morale in the dressing room needing a lift and the new county coach, Michael Di Venuto, deserving better results for his efforts. “Confidence has been low. We have been close and it’s no coincidence we’ve won some white ball games which has put a bit of confidence into our red ball cricket. Relief is a fair word.
“The new coach has been brilliant through some tough times. He’s stuck by people. It’s not his fault we’ve been losing. He’s been brilliant with the boys, the boys have kept trying to get better and it’s there for everybody to see how the players are getting better.
“Our structure, the structure at the club, is very good. We’ve just missed a few key points in games. The players take the responsibility for that and now we take the responsibility of winning a game of cricket.
“We’ve just beaten a team, in Notts, who have been one of the best teams in the first division for a long time and we’ve beaten them nicely. We’re not going to get carried away. We’ve got a lot of cricket ahead of us and a lot of hard work.”
Surrey’s upcoming fixtures are:
July 2-5: v Warwickshire at Guildford (County Championship)
July 6: v Gloucestershire at Bristol (T20 Blast)
July 8: v Somerset at The Oval (T20 Blast)
- Marcus Hook has reported on Surrey county cricket since 2000. Last year, his column for the South London Press was commended in the ECB’s County Cricket Journalism Awards
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