County previews April 5, 2016

Youth and experience key to Surrey blend

Rory Burns' runs at the top of the order could be important for Surrey's survival © Getty Images

Director of cricket: Alec Stewart. Head coach: Michael Di Venuto

Captain: Gareth Batty

Last season

Specsavers Championship: 1st Div 2; NatWest Blast: 7th, South Group; Royal London Cup: Final

In: Mark Footitt (Derbyshire), Mathew Pillans (ancestral visa), Conor McKerr (UK passport), Ravi Rampaul (Kolpak)

Out: Kevin Pietersen (released), Vikram Solanki, Tim Linley, David Balcombe, Chris Tremlett (all retired)

Overseas: Kumar Sangakkara, Dwayne Bravo (T20), Chris Morris (T20), Aaron Finch (July-August)

2015 in a nutshell

Encouraging. In winning promotion from Division Two and reaching the final of the Royal London Cup, Surrey took significant strides of progress. To make that achievement all the more promising, it was achieved largely through the performances of a group of young players - the Curran brothers, Zafar Ansari, Matt Dunn, Ben Foakes and Rory Burns - while senior players such as Kumar Sangakkara, Steven Davies, Gareth Batty and Jade Dernbach provided the example. The departure of the coach, Graham Ford, appeared to take the club by surprise, with Michael Di Venuto - previously Australia's batting coach - brought in as his replacement.

2016 prospects

It has become notoriously difficult for promoted clubs to find their feet in Division One, but Surrey have the depth and quality to buck that trend. It is possible the loss of Ford could destabilise them, but they look to have a nice mix of youth and experience and - unlike Worcestershire last year, for example - the resources to sustain a challenge throughout the season. How many other clubs could entertain the idea of using a bowler of the quality of Dernbach (who misses the start of the season with a potentially serious back injury) as a limited-overs specialist? They have attracted criticism - much of it fair - for signing two South African-born seamers and Ravi Rampaul as well as their four overseas players, though they still have more homegrown players in their squad than some and a few injury issues (Dernbach and Stuart Meaker, who has a groin injury, among them) at the start of the season. They are, like many big clubs, desperate to improve their T20 form and, with the prospect of a two-division split still real, have again invested heavily in overseas players. There is no reason they cannot improve.

Key player

Rory Burns is not the most glamorous player at the club but he offers solidity and consistency at the top of the order. If he can convert his Division Two form to the higher level, it will go a long way to securing Surrey's status. Expect more from Meaker, too.

Bright young thing

It bodes well for Surrey that there are several contenders for this category, with Sam Curran an outstanding prospect. But while he is busy with his A levels, the progress of Ben Foakes will be intriguing. Tipped by some within the England set-up as the best young keeper in the county game, he has had little opportunity to keep at Surrey to date. While he averaged in excess of 50 with the bat in the Championship last year, he kept in only five innings as Gary Wilson was preferred. For Foakes' international aspirations - and arguably for the good of England - Surrey need to provide greater opportunity for him with the gloves this year.

ESPNcricinfo verdict

A season of consolidation in the Championship's top division seems a reasonable expectation, but they could well challenge in the limited-overs formats. With three seamers having retired, one out injured and Sam Curran sitting exams, perhaps the recruitment of Rampaul, Pillans and McKerr was justified for a promoted club - but it does seem an expression of a lack of confidence in an academy system that appeared to be working very well.

Bet365 odds: Specsavers Championship, Div 1: 17-1; NatWest Blast 17-2; Royal London Cup 12-1

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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