Obituary

Stuart Surridge

SURRIDGE, WALTER STUART, the famous Surrey captain of the 1950s, died suddenly on April 13, 1992 while visiting his company's factory at Glossop. He was 74. Stuart Surridge was the most successful leader in the history of the County Championship. In 1952 he took control of a side which was rich in talent but needed to feel the smack of firm government to do itself real justice. According to Alec Bedser, Surridge had the nerve to write in his diary after being confirmed as captain: "Surrey will win the Championship for the next five years." The correct figure was seven, the first five under Surridge.

The magnitude of Surridge's achievement can be appreciated by a glance at the county's record between 1952 and 1956. They won 86 games out of 140 and lost 20. Every year except 1953, when they slipped to 13 wins, they won more than half their 28 Championship fixtures. In 1955 they had a record which will probably never be approached - they won 23 games and lost the remaining five, drawing none. It was testament to his insistence on attack at all times, even to the point which cautious men might call recklessness.

Surridge possessed enormous enthusiasm and irrepressible energy, coupled with a strong streak of aggression. He combined something of the qualities of two of his predecessors as Surrey captain, the imaginative Percy Fender and the combative Douglas Jardine. As Sir Neville Cardus put it in a different context, "invisible arrows of antagonism darted across the field" when Surrey were playing and some opponents let it be known that they thought things had gone a bit far. It was significant that Surridge was never chosen to captain the Gentlemen against the Players. Indeed, Surridge fought to avoid losing his players for what he regarded as an irrelevant fixture.

Jardine himself, writing in the 1957 Wisden, pinpointed "inspiration" as Surridge's supreme gift. Above all, he insisted on a high standard of catching, setting a magnificent example himself in dangerous positions round the bat. With Peter May as his only high-class batsman, Surridge settled for the principle that bowlers and catches win matches. Collectively the batsmen gave May adequate support but it was the strength of an attack containing Bedser, Laker, Lock and later Loader, playing on helpful wickets at The Oval, that overpowered most teams.

One of the most significant of Surridge's successes was his ten-wicket win over Ian Johnson's team at The Oval in May 1956 - the first by a county over the Australians for 44 years. Laker took ten for 88 in the first innings to foreshadow his more famous triumph at Old Trafford later that summer. Two other extraordinary matches illustrated what a bold captain could do on uncovered pitches. Against Warwickshire at The Oval in 1953 play started 30 minutes late. Warwickshire were quickly hustled out for 45. Surrey raced to 146 with Surridge hitting three sixes himself. Then they routed the visitors in 70 minutes for 52. Surridge claimed the extra half-hour and won in a day by an innings and 49. A year later, on another wet pitch, Worcestershire were dismissed for 25 and 40, losing by an innings and 27 runs in only five hours' play after Surridge had declared at 92 for three. This declaration was apparently regarded as insane by many of the Surrey players but Surridge had rung up for a weather forecast and was determined to finish the game.

He was never an autocrat, preferring at all times to share his ideas with his players. Before he became captain he had established a long-standing and informal relationship with the younger professionals, some of whom he would pack into his father's substantial Buick when they set off to play in club and ground matches. When captain, he abolished the antiquated accommodation and travel distinctions which then prevailed between amateurs and professionals - in spite of rumblings from the committee.

The name Stuart Surridge was famous in cricket long before he began playing. Surridge's grandfather was a batmaker (he also made violins) who set up his own business in the 1870s; Stuart Surridge bats were used by such players as Herbert Sutcliffe and Duleepsinhji. Surridge captained Emanuel School in 1935, appeared regularly for the Surrey Amateurs and first played for the county Second XI in 1937. He became a very useful bustling type of fast-medium bowler, once Alf Gover had smoothed out an awkward action, and was a hard-hitting tail-end batsman. In 1948, when Alec Bedser was playing in the Tests, he was entrusted with the new ball and took 64 wickets at 28.60 apiece, good enough to make his place secure. In 1951 he achieved his best performances with both bat and ball, 87 against Glamorgan and seven for 49 against Lancashire. In 267 first-class matches Surridge took 506 wickets at 28.89. His batting brought him 3,882 runs, average 12.94, and he held 375 catches (58 in 1952), many of them brilliant. He was chosen as one of the Five Cricketers of the Year in the 1953 Wisden. He toured Rhodesia with Surrey in 1959-60 and took a team to Bermuda in 1961. When his playing days were over, Surridge served for many years on Surrey's cricket committee and was President in 1982. His familiar presence round The Oval and the family business will be greatly missed. The company is now in the hands of Surridge's son, also called Stuart.

© John Wisden & Co