County previews 2014 March 30, 2014

Smith faces his final challenge


Last year
9th, CC Div 1 (relegated); Final, FLt20; 5th in Group B, YB40.

2013 in a nutshell
Gruesome. Despite investing heavily in a host of experienced players, Surrey were relegated in the Championship having finished bottom of Division One with just a single victory and their director of cricket, Chris Adams, was sacked in mid-June. At the time of Adams' sacking, they were not in the relegation positions, but that there were few signs of progress. Instead of Surrey bringing through players from their youth system, the team was disproportionally filled with ageing players brought in as short-term fixes or role-model professionals.

To find the reasons for that, you have to go back another 12 months and to the accident that killed Tom Maynard and ended the rebuilding process that had been progressing well enough. Adams, over-compensating for the perception that the dressing room required more experience, stuffed the side with older players leaving Surrey lacking both identity and direction. The departure of Graeme Smith with a leg injury was another piece of wretched luck.

The other issue was the pitches at the Kia Oval. Slow, low and painfully dull, they did nothing to help Surrey's crop of impressive fast bowlers and when they did experiment with turning surfaces under Alec Stewart - Adams' interim replacement - they were spun to defeat on a poor pitch by Ollie Rayner. There were some bright moments: they reached the final of the FLt20; Rory Burns progressed; Steven Davies rediscovered some of the form that had made him such a fine prospect and Vikram Solanki batted, at times, beautifully.

Results in the Championship actually worsened under Stewart: Surrey lost four out of five games in the season's run-in and only right at the end of the season did he place his trust in the club's younger players. Dominic Sibley responded by becoming, at 18 years of age, the youngest man to score a double-century in the County Championship with a fine innings against Yorkshire. It was telling that several senior players - Jon Lewis, Gary Keedy and Zander de Bruyn - left the club at the end of the season, freeing up not only space in the side for younger players, but money in the budget should new signings be required.

2014 prospects
Expectation is always an issue at The Kia Oval. Even now, after relegation, there are presumptions about an immediate return to the top division. But as Hampshire and Essex have shown, clambering out of Division Two can prove desperately difficult. While there are some big names in the Surrey batting line-up, there is also a great deal of inexperience. Smith was underwhelming as a batsman in 2013 and the availability of Kevin Pietersen is likely to be limited to several T20 games and a few championship appearances. As a result, a batting line-up that looks so strong on paper - a line-up including Smith and Solanki and Pietersen and Davies - might look a little thinner in reality, with plenty required from the likes of Rory Burns, Jason Roy and even Sibley. The new coaching team also have to strike a balance between immediate on-field success and the long-term development of their younger players. The plan, they insist, is not necessarily to win promotion immediately, but to build the foundations for lasting success. Still, there are some real strengths in the squad and a seam attack that includes Jade Dernbach, Chris Tremlett and Stuart Meaker is one that can, given more helpful surfaces, prove potent. With Matt Dunn and George Edwards - two of the more promising fast bowlers in England - in support, it is an attack to rival most in the country and surpass any in Division Two. But, after accepting that success achieved by a team stuffed with imports, from abroad or other counties, counts for little, it will take time to turn things around at Surrey.

Key player
Graeme Smith has not opted for an easy life by choosing to spend much of his later career with Surrey. He will need not just to score heavily at the top of the order, but to lift and unite a side that, by the end of the 2013 season, appeared low in confidence. He is hardly one to shirk a challenge and entered into this relationship with Surrey knowing he was involved in a long-term process, but there are doubts how his body - and, perhaps, his desire - will survive the rigours of a long county season and some less than glamorous venues. Smith's challenge may be as much in sustaining his own enthusiasm as that of his team.

Bright young thing
Part of the criticism of Surrey under Adams was the lack of progress of the younger players. While it is true that the likes of Jason Roy have not progressed quite as quickly as might have been expected, partially due to a lack of opportunity in the first-class team, the club still possesses some of the brightest talents in the English game. Matt Dunn and George Edwards are strong fast bowlers of immense potential, while Sibley and Tom Curran offer further hope for the future. But it may prove to be Edwards, a 21-year-old from London, who goes on to achieve the most. He has only played four first-class games so far but should win more opportunity and has the raw attributes to make rapid progress.

Graham Ford has joined as head coach and Graeme Smith should be available throughout the season as captain. Alec Stewart remains as director of cricket.

ESPNcricinfo verdict
Promotion may not be the forgone conclusion some expect. So low was confidence at the club by the end of 2013, that it will take time for Ford and Smith to instil a new spirit at Surrey. Great expectations may continue to be the enemy of progress at The Kia Oval.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Paul on April 4, 2014, 12:11 GMT

    Have to agree with Basingrad. At a county where being a star is deemed more important than performance Tim Linley is the forgotten man. He's performed well over the past 3 or 4 years and can do one of two rules (good swing bowler in helpful conditions, workhorse in unhelpful ones). I think his combination with Stuart Meaker could be an excellent opening pairing - the different styles complement each other well. I hope one of the younger bowlers will fill the third seamer role and not Tremlett who seems to be living off the 2010/11 Ashes.

    On the batting side although the line up seems relatively predictable the output isn't. Huge season for Jason Roy, if he doesn't perform (and is given a fair crack of the whip) that could be it. I expect Zafar Ansari to progress and be an England Lions contender by the end of the season.

  • Graham on April 2, 2014, 10:20 GMT

    George, a bit harsh to not mention Tim Linley. He virtually single-handedly, with some help from Ojha, got Surrey promoted in 2011 as his stamina really told at the end of the season and he remains too clever, subtle and accurate for Division two batsmen. A bit of extra zip at the Oval will help him too. He and a fully fit Meaker can get Surrey promoted; the batting will not. If they go up it will be because they bowl people out cheaply regularly rather than piling on the runs.

  • ian on April 2, 2014, 9:22 GMT

    @sjw2k on (April 2, 2014, 8:36 GMT). Your answer: "He is contracted for all the T20 fixtures," Gould [Surrey CEO] said. "His contract allows him to play championship cricket and 50-overs cricket subject to his availability and we will see how that goes during the season." As reported by David Hopps a few days ago. One thing's for sure, if KP gives notice of playing in the CC on a specific occasion or two, the gate will go up. My bet is that we will see him in 1st class cricket later in the season. And if Surrey are in the running for promotion...

  • Simon on April 2, 2014, 8:36 GMT

    Please correct me if I'm wrong but I think that KP has only signed a contract with Surrey just for the 20/20 this year so he wont be playing in any county matches, unless he signs a longer contract with Surrey. Also the IPL is starting in two weeks time so I'm sure he will be focused on this.

  • Dummy4 on April 2, 2014, 6:54 GMT

    Noticed that the good "team man" that is KP isn't playing for Surrey in their opening friendly. Too good for it I suppose....

  • Dummy4 on April 2, 2014, 4:12 GMT

    Best man to do the revival !

  • Mark on April 1, 2014, 17:32 GMT

    Surrey are in interesting one. I tipped them for relegation last season and was proved right. Strange as it may sound to say it, last season's problems were probably caused by just avoiding relegation in 2012. They had gone up in 2011 thanks to a late charge, winning 6 of their last 8 games and to Northant's implosion and were not really ready for the top division. Had they gone straight back down (or not even been promoted) the talent would have had a chance to mature with less pressure on them and there would not have been a need for a later excursion into chequebook lunacy that led to playing six over-35s in the same side at one point.

    As has been pointed out, Surrey do develop talent but look at Chris Jordan: he leaves The Oval under a cloud and almost immediately becomes a successful international. He is not the only case. Something has been fundamentally wrong around the dressing room. Probably the best thing that Graeme Smith can do is *NOT* to win immediate promotion yet.

  • Russell on April 1, 2014, 11:30 GMT

    4 pitches have been relaid (so won't available this year) and 10mm was taken off the rest and repaired...don't think we'll see the pitches of the 90s vintage but should be an improvement on last season's dustbowl...yes George ironic that in that Durham game Batty and Keedy were massively outbowled by the Durham youngsters...we can only hope that our 'battery' of fast bowlers and don't forget Tim Linley who along with Ojha got us promotion last time...can take the requisite wickets for a repeat...took 3 years last time though...

  • Ray on April 1, 2014, 10:44 GMT

    Nice article, Mr. Dobell. I agree with @WilliamFranklin, Surrey produces as many, if not more, good young cricketers than most other counties. What has changed since the halcyon days of the mid-90s/ early 2000s is that they have had to move away to fulfil their promise. The recent Oval wickets haven't helped, but the blame for this lack of progression must be laid at the door of the committee and the coaches, as the philosophy of the club appears to have changed with far too many seasoned pros ending up at the club. Hopefully, this season the balance will be better with Smith, KP, Batty & Tremlett able to get the best out of the youngsters. You never know: If handled right, Meaker might fulfil his potential, which would be great news for England.

  • X on April 1, 2014, 10:09 GMT

    Luckily Biff comes with a giant sized appetite if anyone is going to turn this around it's the big guy. Best of luck champ.

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