New plans and a fresh start
With the turmoil of 2012 now behind them can Surrey's new-look squad grab 2013 by the scruff of the neck?
Last year, there was pre-season talk of Surrey challenging for the title. I always thought that was wide of the mark and considered a mid-table finish a more realistic achievement. No one could have foreseen how events would pan out and Chris Adams' "five-year plan" has now probably been set back a year at least. The winter recruitment plan was clear: experience. Vikram Solanki and Gary Keedy, with over 500 first-class games between them, were duly signed. Replacing Mark Ramprakash, cast aside mid-season, was always going to be difficult but Solanki and Keedy, 36 and 38 respectively, ought to bring an air of assured calm to the dressing room. It remains to be seen whether both can still deliver runs and wickets.
If the first phase of recruitment left you underwhelmed, the second couldn't possibly. Graeme Smith will arrive as captain. Smith will make his Surrey bow against Somerset at the Oval on April 17, assuming his dodgy ankle, which flared up in South Africa's ODI series with Pakistan, doesn't cause him too much grief. Adams said he hoped to have Smith available for ten Championship games, and boy do we need him. As if that wasn't enough, when Smith is not available former Australia captain Ricky Ponting will stand in for him.
Prior to the signing of Ponting the batting was looking a little thin, given that for some (perhaps all) of June and July, Smith will be absent with South Africa and to attend the birth of his second child. But Ponting's recruitment means that a world-class batsman will be ever-present in the top order more or less throughout the entire season.
Steven Davies will take the gloves and hopefully he has convincingly won his battle with depression. Rory Burns will continue at the top of the order after an impressive debut season but is unlikely to get a chance to further his skills with the gauntlets. Gary Wilson may see chances with bat and gloves limited despite showing serious mettle in the final fixtures of 2012.
While the batsmen aren't hard to pick, the order is not obvious. Smith and Burns will open, Arun Harinath will get a run at No. 3 but four through to seven are less clear. Zander de Bruyn has played most of his Surrey cricket at No. 5, so he'll probably stick there. Solanki, used to a No. 3 berth, may have to slot in at four. Davies and Jason Roy will have to fight out the six and seven positions, though intriguingly Wilson - who was in brilliant form on Ireland's tour of the UAE - does have a very solid record batting in either position. Where Ponting will bat is another interesting conundrum.
Where in previous years Surrey have had plenty of spinners, this year there are just two (to begin with). Keedy and Gareth Batty will battle it out for that slot, Batty's superior talents with the bat probably earning him the nod initially, although don't discount seam-bowling allrounder Tom Jewell instead of either spinner to take advantage of early season conditions.
There is certainly no shortage of seam bowling at the club. Three of Jade Dernbach, Stuart Meaker, Jon Lewis and Chris Tremlett seem likely to make the cut for the XI come April. Lewis' batting probably gives him the edge, despite a horrible second half of 2012. Tremlett's lack of bowling may also make the management reluctant to take a chance with him so early in the season. The 70-wicket hero of 2011, Tim Linley, and youngsters Matt Dunn and George Edwards may have to make do with bit-parts.
And what of Surrey's limited-overs prospects? In 2012, fresh from the CB40 triumph the previous year, success in that format and Twenty20 didn't seem far-fetched. This year, though, it does. The batting power embodied by Rory Hamilton-Brown and Tom Maynard is no more and spinners, so crucial in the shortest format, are now in short supply. If some of the consistent success from the CB40 could be translated into Championship wins I think members would happily make that trade.
Given the investment in the playing staff, senior management are unlikely to tolerate a season that doesn't deliver a County Championship challenge. There will need to be a period of bedding down and Smith's impact will be crucial - hopefully he will be allowed to make his mark on the squad. But if he does and is genuinely allowed to create a team in his own image, 2013 could be the start - but only the start - of something big.
Likely Championship side
What I love The view across London from the pavilion on a clear sunny day.
What I'd change We need a full-time batting coach. Young talent like Burns, Roy and Dominic Sibley would flourish with another set of hands on deck.