Right direction for Surrey transition
Surrey 474 for 8 dec (Roy 114, Wilson 82, Dilshan 69, Solanki 57) and 13 for 0 dec drew with Hampshire 354 (Smith 82, Ervine 80, Batty 3-74)
Transition. Corporate speak for "not as good as we should be". The word is enough to make any sports fan glum.
Surrey fans have heard it a lot in the past decade. When Chris Adams was appointed coach, he declared that it was "Year Zero". Five years on and Surrey supporters might feel like little had changed.
Despite financial resources unrivaled not just in Division Two but in the whole county game, allowing them to go further than others in developing separate sides for Championship and Twenty20 cricket, Surrey are very likely to spend next season in Division Two, for the fifth time in seven years. It should be the cause of huge embarrassment.
For all that, however, optimism is pervading The Oval. And it feels like more than just glib talk.
Hampshire are a fine Championship side. They arrived at The Oval top of Division Two, with the depth of batting and bowling talent to suggest that, should they return to the top tier, it need not be fleeting.
Yet Surrey had their measure. True, they did not come close to winning: the weather, costing over a day's play; the pitch, turgid and slow; and the resilience of Hampshire's batsmen, including Sean Ervine on the final day, amounted to formidable obstacles.
But this was another performance to add to the sense that Surrey may have relocated their strut. A dire Championship start - two losses and two draws from their first four game - has given way to a heartening run: four draws and three victories from their last seven matches, which has been allied to vibrant Twenty20 form.
Most pleasing for Surrey is the prominence of players nurtured through the club's youth system. Their penchant for ageing but expensive recruits has at times resembled that of pop-up T20 franchises. Yet much of county cricket's relevance lies in identifying and nurturing local talent.
That may sound quaint, but the reliance on signing players from other counties has lent the club a slightly hollow feel in recent years. It has felt increasingly detached from the area it is meant to represent. A particular nadir was reached in a thrashing in a 40-over game at Chelmsford last year. Surrey used six players aged 37 or above, none of whom were homegrown.
This year feels different. Surrey's leading wicket-taker, Matt Dunn, is a product of their youth set-up, as are Tom Curran, Jade Dernbach and Stuart Meaker. The same is true of their three highest-scoring batsmen - Zafar Ansari, Rory Burns and Jason Roy.
Roy enjoyed a spectacular few days against Hampshire, following up a 25-ball 63 in the T20 game on Friday night with a run-a-ball 114 in the Championship: it seemed positively restrained by comparison.
"I stand up every week and say it's the best I've seen him play. I've been saying to everyone listening that England need to be keeping an eye on him," Surrey's captain Gary Wilson said. "We've seem glimpses of it in the past but now he's doing it almost every time he comes out to bat."
There is evidently a togetherness about this Surrey side, who Wilson described as "a real pleasure to captain".
"It's a feather in the cap of the people who've brought them through. We've got a great youth set-up here and great academy director in Gareth Townsend. It's great credit to the club and what they've done over the last ten years."
But no amount of youthful - or even more middle-aged - vigour could inject life into the pitch. Forty-one overs of skill, meriting more than three wickets, led to Gareth Batty becoming increasingly frustrated by the docile pitch, a feeling that would hardly have been tempered seeing Tillakaratne Dilshan and Vikram Solanki share four lower-order wickets with their offspin. Wilson said "Batty's going to about two foot shorter at the end of the season".
Ervine also professed himself mystified by the surface, especially given Surrey's need to win to close the gap on Hampshire and Worcestershire. "They weren't too happy with the wicket," Ervine said. "I was very surprised at how flat it was and they were as well, especially with how little it turned."
The upshot is that promotion may prove beyond Surrey this season. But as seasons of transition go, this could be among the more heartening.