Surrey's Smith-shaped hole yawns wide
The tedious, not to mention erroneous, dubbing of Surrey as "the Manchester United of cricket" has never sat particularly well with me. But lately there's been one (albeit tenuous) parallel between these sporting institutions - both have lost a figurehead. Though one was rather more entrenched than the other - Sir Alex Ferguson was in post for 26 years, Graeme Smith barely 26 days - Surrey have nonetheless felt the loss of their new captain very keenly indeed.
Clearly we will miss Smith's runs. I know he didn't score many in the three Championship games he played but do you really think a player of his calibre would have continued to average 30? No, neither do I.
We do have a talented bunch of batsmen, the hundreds for Rory Burns, Steven Davies and Gary Wilson this season attest to that. But is there really "lots of competition for places" as the chief executive, Richard Gould, claimed recently? By my reckoning there are only seven batsmen at the club right now. We're one injury away from a bit of a pickle. With Gary Wilson absent on Ireland duty at the end of the month and Zafar Ansari and Dominic Sibley still in education, our batting reserves could be sorely tested before Ricky Ponting arrives in June.
It's a shame too that a batting line-up that was starting to look settled has had to rejig again. But it's not just Smith's runs we'll miss. In his few weeks at the club he'd already made an impact. It may sound like I've donned a pair of rose-tinted spectacles but there really was a discernible difference in the way we played our cricket in the early part of this year. There was already a sense of discipline that was notably absent in the past. I had my doubts as to whether one man could have an instant impact but it seems he really did.
The difference between the side with Smith at the helm and the one post-Smith are stark. In the three games we played with Smith the average runs per wicket was 40. Without Smith that has tumbled to 20. Under Smith our batsmen scored three hundreds and five fifties in five Championship innings. In the four Championship innings since he returned to South Africa we've mustered just four fifties and no hundreds.
In an interview during the Middlesex game Chris Adams said he'd "taken a step back" from the team when Smith arrived. Presumably he has now stepped forward again but with that in mind Championship totals of 237, 229, 207 and 144 will not make pretty reading for him. Factor in a 216 all out and a 169 all out in the YB40 and we haven't passed 250 in six Smith-less innings. Oh, and we've lost three games in a row.
The last thing we need, languishing winless in the bottom two of Division One as we are, is to drift back into the indiscipline we saw last season. Many at the club have spoken at various times over the last four years of the need to cut out "soft" dismissals. I can't be the only one worried that the same old problems come up time and again. Although Gareth Batty has manfully stepped into the captaincy breach he seems reluctant to do the job long-term. There was no explicit mention of the captaincy when he signed earlier this year, but I wonder if Ponting leading the side in June and July is now a whole lot more likely.
Surrey have lost a totemic leader and, probably, several hundred runs, though I doubt there will be a huge amount of sympathy from around the county circuit. Indeed since we signed Smith in the full knowledge he had a chronic ankle problem, there's no reason why anyone should feel sorry for Surrey at all. There's talent in the squad, of that there is no doubt, but question marks remain over the current set up being able to get the best out of them.