Early return for the prodigal son
The parable of the prodigal son tells of a boy who squandered what he was given. It might not quite be the parallel of the Rory Hamilton-Brown story but he certainly gave up what could have been a glittering future at Surrey.
I doubt that either party will be satisfied with the way the Surrey-Hamilton-Brown relationship ended. The club had to wave goodbye to a young man in whom they had invested a tremendous amount of faith, time and of course cash. Hamilton-Brown had to up sticks and return to the club he had left just three years before.
Without being a fly on the wall inside the club it's hard to get a handle on how the respective parties feel about what went on. Outwardly at least the club seem to have come to terms with the split a little better. The parting of the ways seemed cordial and public statements regarding the situation at the time were sensitive. Though Chris Adams was moved to state that he had "noticed behavioural changes in Rory that suggested he was losing his way" in a Sunday Times article, his 2012 write-up in the club yearbook was full of praise for his former protégé (incidentally while not mentioning actual Surrey legend Mark Ramprakash at all). Perhaps he felt he had to heap the praise on - Adams was the driving force in the appointment of Hamilton-Brown as captain for the 2010 season.
Hamilton-Brown has recently been rather less effusive in his assessment of Surrey. In an article a few weeks ago he spoke of a need to feel cared about, and of how he had been treated poorly in the aftermath of last June's tragic events.
We will likely never know the full story. What we do know is that Hamilton-Brown made some mistakes. He was one of a small group of players who became, in the words of Chris Adams, "entrapped by the pitfalls of London life". He was guilty of behaviour unbecoming of the captain of a major sports team when he went out on the town in the middle of last year's clash with Sussex at Horsham. But it would be wrong to regard his captaincy through that prism only.
He wasn't a great captain by any stretch of the imagination. He was neither especially tactically astute or a great leader on the field. Even before he assumed the captaincy I always felt that it was Batty rather than Hamilton-Brown who was the heartbeat of the team, buzzing around irritating the opposition and keeping heads up. To his credit, Hamilton-Brown was a better one day captain, recognising the value in shuffling the bowling pack and heaping the pressure on by getting through overs quickly. That made his passivity in the four day game all the more confusing, too often he would let games drift when the opposition established a partnership, rather than trying something unusual to force the issue.
Nonetheless he was a fine player, and remains so. The most infuriating thing, from a Surrey fan's perspective, is that in the early part of 2012 he looked to have turned a corner with his batting. He was still a powerful batsman but seemed to have learned to rein himself in when the situation demanded, it looked like the final piece of the puzzle had fallen into place. He was also a very good limited overs batsman, it's easy to forget now that it was his innings of 78 that won us the CB40 in 2011.
I've been asked a couple of times in recent days if I think Hamilton-Brown will get a good reception on his return to the Oval. The short answer is, I don't know, but I hope he does. Or at least I hope he doesn't get a bad reception. Yes I'm disappointed he left the club and yes I think he let the club down, badly, but above all he's a young man who's been through a tough time. He was thrust into a position of enormous pressure by an inexperienced coach at a club undergoing significant change. The experiment didn't turn out as either party would've liked, but maybe both are better off where they stand today.