April 26, 2012

'Surrey is the bubble I'm involved in'

Rory Hamilton-Brown would love to get a chance to play for England. But for the time being nothing can distract him from his club's fortunes

Controlling the controllables is one of the mantras of the modern sportsman. In this respect, Rory Hamilton-Brown is very much like his peers - he would love to play for England but is happy for his form to do the talking; winning the Championship would be "a dream come true", though he will make sure his Surrey side takes things one game at a time. But there is one aspect that is more difficult to govern, even for a talented young cricketer, and that is what people think about you.

Having been brought back to Surrey, where he came through the youth system, after a high-profile pursuit by the coach, Chris Adams, to become club captain at just 22 years of age - the youngest in 138 years - Hamilton-Brown, perhaps naturally, made headlines. Not all of them were favourable, with questions raised about his age and inexperience, as well as assumptions about his background. He hasn't been seen with a newspaper since; he jokes that if he had read everything that was written about him, he might have "ended up on Beachy Head or something".

"I made a promise to myself," he says of his decision to ignore the write-ups. "To start with, there was a lot of negative stuff. It hurts you a bit because I hadn't really done anything; I hadn't shown to be good enough, I hadn't shown not to be good enough. Obviously with a double-barrelled surname, the media were very interested in that... Because there was a lot of negative, I just felt if I confide with people that care about me within the dressing room - Adams, Ian Salisbury, my father, my mother - and those people are telling me whether I'm doing well or not, I think that's all you can ask for."

Two years on, Hamilton-Brown is still the youngest captain on the county circuit, though his credentials are no longer in doubt. Leading Surrey back into Division One and securing the county's first trophy since 2003 has seen to that, and it is for his batting that he now wishes to spark discussion. Following a first season of what he calls "survival", balancing the captaincy with his role in the side as a batsman, in 2011, Hamilton-Brown scored more than 1000 Championship runs, the first time he had passed the batting benchmark. As the likes of James Taylor, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler entered the reckoning for England, Hamilton-Brown admits to disappointment at being overlooked by the selectors.

"As the captaincy's gone on, a lot of the stuff has become a little bit easier, you can do a few things on autopilot," he says. "I knew that I wouldn't reap initial rewards. I thought that it might put my England ambitions back a year or so, but it was a dream of mine to captain the club I've grown up playing for, and it's always been a dream to play for England. I felt that with having the pressures of captaincy, if I could come through that and turn into the cricketer I wanted to be, coupled with being a good leader, that would help me ultimately.

"I was disappointed not to be involved at the end of last year. The first year, quite rightly, I had a very good one-day year but my four-day cricket wasn't quite up to scratch, but then last year I felt, on top of being captain, gaining promotion, winning a trophy and my performances with the bat, I thought it may have been recognised - but it wasn't. That's when I go back to keeping my performances on the board for Surrey, and hopefully at some point it'll get picked up.

"Last year I felt, on top of being captain, gaining promotion, winning a trophy and my performances with the bat, I thought it may have been recognised - but it wasn't. That's when I go back to keeping my performances on the board for Surrey"
Hamilton-Brown on being ignored by England's selectors

"I have a belief that if I get my game right, I'll be good enough. I want to play when I'm ready, if and when I'm good enough. There's no rush. The rush for me is to put in performances so that people start talking about it."

With his broad shoulders and quasi-mullet of blond hair, as well as the beginnings of a fair beard, there is something leonine about Hamilton-Brown, even beyond his first name. Far from roaring into the room, however, his first words are to apologise for being late, having caught the train in from his mum's, where he had been to see his younger brother and sister.

The sense of family is not far away at The Oval, either, with Hamilton-Brown praising the influence of first-team coach Salisbury, and describing Adams as being "like a father figure". They were team-mates at Sussex, where Hamilton-Brown spent two seasons rebuilding his career after asking to be released by Surrey in 2007. And Adams was dogged in his pursuit of a player he described at the time as having a "super tactical brain".

Hamilton-Brown says he thinks "very deeply" about the game, to the point where some of his decisions catch even Adams by surprise. He has also shown a willingness to put the team before his own cause, with his move to open the batting - in only his second full season in four-day cricket - prompted by a lack of a natural alternative in the squad.

Though he has now returned to the middle order, he believes the experiment did him good in the long run. "I just feel more adept at either situation now, coming in at 120 for 3 or 20 for 3. I feel comfortable, that's where I've done it for a long period of time and had success doing it. It's just that inner belief that you can do it. But also, it's nice to walk in at 120 for 3 and the shine's gone off."

In three Championship matches so far, Hamilton-Brown has 284 runs at 47.33, despite the early season difficulties bemoaned by his team-mate Mark Ramprakash (Hamilton-Brown, for his part, says he prefers results pitches to dead tracks). With questions over the make-up of England's middle order, his time may not be long in coming, five years after he captained his country at Under-19 level. His response, however, is immediate when asked if he would prefer an England call-up or a Championship winner's medal with Surrey.

"Championship title, no doubt. It would be a dream come true to have a Championship title, but that's a long way off. It means so much. There's been so much put in by everyone in this group, Chris Adams, Ian Salisbury, those sorts of guys to start with. There's been a lot of time and effort. There's also been a lot of heartache for the last few years at the club, a lot of tough days - so it would be absolutely unbelievable if something like that happened."

Hamilton-Brown spent the winter playing cricket in Zimbabwe and New Zealand, where he worked on his offspin - he is keen to maintain his reputation as an allrounder, particularly in one-day cricket, to enhance his international prospects - but he currently has no desire to broaden his horizons further by seeking involvement in the IPL.

"It's not an ambition of mine at the minute because I want to be playing for England and I feel that the runs you score in the first six or seven weeks of the season can sometimes be the most important, because it's the toughest time," he says. "For me the ambition is to play for England. I got asked to go into the auction the last couple of years but I've not got any interest in it."

Despite being born just down the road from Lord's, for the time being it is England's other London ground that is his focus. "Surrey is the bubble I'm involved in. I'm not involved in an England bubble. This club is something that's very close to my heart and I feel like we've been given the opportunity to take a top club from the bottom and potentially make it a successful side for a long period of time. And that's very exciting."

Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Michael on April 26, 2012, 21:21 GMT

    Well, however some observers disparage county cricket, there is certainly plenty of evidence in this conversation of people being very loyal to particular counties and regions. I've no way of knowing if Hamilton-Brown would make an impact on the international scene, but he's certainly ready with the Duncan-Fletcherspeak. I hope he is happy in his "bubble". As for winning the championship or playing for England, I am sure either would be "a big ask", but doubtless Hamilton-Brown would hope to "step up to the plate" and "come to the party".

  • Alan on April 26, 2012, 18:08 GMT

    @Harvey @Optic - The piece is by no means an attempt to cheerlead for Hamilton-Brown, rather to paint a picture of a promising young player. Surrey may or may not do well this year; RHB may or may not play for England - I'm not claiming either will definitely happen. Also, we have plenty of writers in the north too and carried an interview with Jimmy Anderson a few days ago. So no need to get chippy about a feature put together from London ...

  • GARY on April 26, 2012, 13:41 GMT

    A England call up? how is this even been mentioned even a future one, he isn't even in the best 20 batsmen in the country and that's been generous. This London centric media knows no bounds for trying to push average Surrey players into England teams, thy did with Dernbach and Meaker. Every time some average player has a a decent knock or takes some wickets, the journos down there, will get themselves all worked up about it and start making silly statements.

  • Harvey on April 26, 2012, 12:38 GMT

    @WilliamFranklin - where did I say (or even imply) that Middlesex were likely title contenders this year? I was simply asking why the team that finished as runners up in the 2nd Division last year are being talked about as potential Division 1 Champions this year. I'm sure Middlesex will be quite happy just to stay up this season. Unless last year's Division 2 was exceptionally strong, I don't see any reason or evidence why either Middlesex or Surrey should finish higher than about mid table at best. As for RHB, it wasn't me who made the comparison with Neil Dexter, but despite having had a disastrous year in terms of form with the bat, Dexter still has a significantly better first class batting average than RHB. He is also a much better bowler. Put it this way, I don't think Middlesex would want to swap!

  • Adrian on April 26, 2012, 11:32 GMT

    Obviously as a Surrey fan I'm really pleased with Rory's progress (and that of the team under his leadership) over the last 2 years. Long may it continue, although we won't win the title this year - we're not there yet. From a batting perspective; whilst I think there are several batsmen ahead of him in the pecking order for the England test team I would love to see him picked to open for England in limited overs cricket. He's the perfect batsman to take advantage of the power play overs - generally plays proper cricket shots all around the wicket rather than hoicking, not afraid to hit over the top, hits boundaries, good strike rate etc. I'm sure his time will come for the England ODI side. For tests though I still think his batting needs a bit more improvement.

  • Adam on April 26, 2012, 10:08 GMT

    Harvey - Middlesex fan perhaps? It's simple, no one is talking about Middlesex because they do not have the batting talent to win the championship. Can you list me the scores Middlesex have made in their second innings' so far this season? They may have got lucky in the past two matches but those kind of second innings scores will relegate sides.

    Middlesex's captain has just thrown in the towel to concentrate on his batting. RHB's batting is getting better and better. 'Kitchen sink'? He's way ahead of what Dexter has been producing for the past season now.

    Middlesex actually took longer to gain promotion than Surrey. They were also abysmal in the one day formats, frankly a joke in T20, thrashed by Surrey in both outings. Surrey competed in all formats and won a major trophy. Surrey got promoted because they won their last four matches, Northants beaten by 333 runs in the process. So yes it was all about Northants form - deary me.

  • Harvey on April 26, 2012, 7:15 GMT

    Why are so many journalists talking about Surrey as if they're County Champions elect? They didn't even finish as Division 2 champions last season. I haven't heard anyone talking in those terms about Middlesex, who not only finished as Division 2 Champions last season, but comprehensively thrashed Surrey both home and away. In fact Surrey only just scraped promotion because of the abysmal late season form of Northants. As for RHB, there are countless batsmen in county cricket with a stronger claim for England selection. His first class average is less than 35, and pretty much every time I've seen him bat, his "thinking" tactic has been to throw the kitchen sink at every ball.

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