May 1, 2014

County cricket

Want it quick or want it right?

Josh Green
Matthew Dunn removed Alastair Cook with a short ball, Surrey v Essex, County Championship, Division Two, The Oval, April 21, 2014
Matt Dunn has impressed early season and is the type of cricketer Surrey have to move forward with  © Getty Images
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I don't know whether Graham Ford is much of a classicist, but Aristotle's assertion that good habits formed at youth make all the difference will ring true with him and his players at the moment. Twenty one points after three games, no wins and seventh in the table might not seem like a terribly impressive return from Surrey thus far, but it's not as bad as it looks.

After the mess that was the 2013 season, 2014 was always going to be as much about Surrey re-learning the way to win cricket matches as it was about pushing for promotion. Laying some solid foundations for success in the four day game had to be Ford's priority and happily he seems to have taken that to heart.

Last season we began by fielding a side featuring just two players under the age of 25. That motley crew had an average age of over 30. In stark contrast, the side put out against Hampshire this week averaged just 24 years old, with a couple of teenagers chucked in for good measure and only one player, the captain, over 30. Aristotle would be proud.

And the youngsters have not disappointed either. Tom Curran and Matt Dunn, with all of 13 first-class games between them, have taken 11 wickets at 33 apiece. Jade Dernbach and Chris Tremlett meanwhile, with over 200 games behind them, have managed a paltry three wickets at a cost of over 115 runs each. In the bowling at least, the kids are putting the old guard to shame.

The batting has been generally disappointing this season but here, too, there have been some rays of sunlight. Zafar Ansari's gritty 74 against Glamorgan was an exercise in doggedness and while Dominic Sibley's average is far lower than he would like, the 18-year-old has equipped himself well and he batted impressively for 34 against a good and experienced Essex bowling attack.

And what of Old Man Graeme Smith, the gnarled old pro leading his merry band of youthful charges? Well, a bit like last season he's had one fifty among a collection of otherwise pretty disappointing scores. But there is more to it than that. The way he has used his less experienced bowlers has been impressive.

Against Glamorgan Curran, on Championship debut, bowled a spell of three overs for 26 runs. A lesser man might have withdrawn the young lad from the attack to protect him, but Smith knew Curran is made of sterner stuff. He stuck with him and in his next over Curran removed the dangerous Graham Wagg. In the second innings Smith threw the ball to Curran before considering giving Tremlett a bowl. That would not have happened under our erstwhile former captain Rory Hamilton-Brown. Once the runs start to flow for Smith I am sure we will start to dominate games here and there.

Hovering dangerously close to the very bottom of the County Championship is unfamiliar territory (although not as unfamiliar as it should be...) and the experience gained in the month of cricket we have had so far will not all have been positive, but there are reasons to be cheerful. I think if you asked most Surrey fans whether they would want promotion with a collection of worthy but ultimately ageing imports or a mid-table finish with a young and largely home-grown side I know what the response from the majority would be.

The temptation to expect immediate promotion is great. Division One cricket next year would be nice of course, but do we want this done quickly or do we want this done right? Those two are probably mutually exclusive, and I'd rather we did the latter.

Josh Green has been riding the Surrey cricket blogging rollercoaster since 2009. @SurreyCricBlog

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Josh Green
A relative latecomer to the Members entrance at Surrey CCC, Josh Green only managed to catch the end of the glory years. Since then there have been more crushing disappointments than glorious highs, but his fondness for the club continues unabated. It's best not to talk about his prowess as a cricketer, though one square drive struck for two in 2010 does stick in his mind. @SurreyCricBlog

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