Batty leads Surrey out of the darkness

The death of Tom Maynard in 2012 cast a shadow over Surrey but now a side full of young talent is looking forward to a Lord's final. Captain Gareth Batty wants them to enjoy day

George Dobell
George Dobell
Gareth Batty remains a valuable player in all formats for Surrey, even at the age of 37  •  Getty Images

Gareth Batty remains a valuable player in all formats for Surrey, even at the age of 37  •  Getty Images

It's four years - almost to the day - since Surrey reached a Lord's final.
That time, too, they were assured of Championship promotion and had a team bursting with young talent that it was hoped would help club and country to success for years to come. It should have been a new dawn.
Instead it was dusk. A few months later, Tom Maynard was killed in an accident that was to send shockwaves through county cricket and rip the heart out of Surrey's resurgence.
As well as losing Maynard, as popular as he was talented, they lost a distraught Rory Hamilton-Brown, the team's captain, who drifted away from the club and then the sport, and their director of cricket, Chris Adams, and his assistant, Ian Salisbury. Several of the team, struggling for equilibrium in the months that followed, spoke of suffering from depression. The last thing they wanted to do was play cricket.
It would be crass to suggest the club or the individuals have "got over" such a tragedy. The pain of those days will live with them forever. Many of those involved will never be the same.
But they have found a way to live again. To progress. And now, four years after the club appeared to be on the brink of great things, they can once again peek into the future with cautious optimism.
One man who lived through it all is Gareth Batty. As a senior player at the time of Maynard's death in June 2012, it feel to Batty to shepherd his shocked and mourning colleagues through one of the darkest chapters in the club's history. It was Batty, appointed in an interim capacity with the club in chaos, who captained the side the in the weeks and months that followed and Batty who will captain them again at Lord's.
"You try to look forward. You understand that the grieving process isn't quick and you don't forget - you don't want to forget - but you find a way to go on"
"There are a lot of direct comparisons with 2011," Batty admits. "We were building a team around Rory, Tom, Jason Roy, Jade Dernbach and Steven Davies. We had a couple of older statesmen - the likes of me and Zander de Bruyn - and we were playing a brand of cricket that suited us. We'd go hard with the bat at the top of the order, had good players who could rebuild or kick on in the middle-order and we would play three or even four spinners at times. We were going very well."
Then disaster struck. And, ridiculous though it sounds, within four days, Surrey were playing again. Batty, signed as a spin bowler, suddenly found himself as captain, grief counsellor and public face of a side
"It was the darkest place you could find yourself," he says now. "And things like that they don't... go away. They never go away. There was never any way that we as a club or as individuals were going to move on from that quickly. It's changed all of us.
"But you try to look forward. You understand that the grieving process isn't quick and you don't forget - you don't want to forget - but you find a way to go on without looking back over your shoulder all the time.
"I didn't really think of myself as the captain. I was just doing the job as an interim. Either Rory was coming back or Graeme Smith was coming back.
"It was about putting one foot in front of another at the time. It was horrible. Cricket was the last thing on our minds, but staying in Division One that season was an incredible feat.
"I don't think it would be right to focus on that now. We have to live in the here and now and these young players - this new generation - deserve the chance to enjoy their big day without us making it about what happened before. There will no attempt at Churchillian speeches from me. We'll be trying to keep things as normal as possible before the game: we'll play football - the young guys against the old - and we'll try our best to win.
"Those of us who were there back then, we'll know. We'll never forget. There is a bond between us. We've been through a lot. And yes, when there's a quiet moment at the end, I'll lift a glass in memory of Tom. But there's a game to play first. Let's think about that."
Batty is full of praise for the talent and the spirit of his team. It is not just the Currans or Kumar Sangakkara; he refers to Dernbach as "the most complete seamer in England in one-day cricket" and suggests the team have achieved "a rare commodity in cricket: they are genuinely pleased for one another when it is someone else's turn to have a good day".
With Zafar Ansari almost certain to be ruled out of the UAE tour with his thumb injury, it is possible that eyes will turn to Batty. If England decided they want an experienced spinner for a one-off job, Batty would certainly not let them down. Shaun Udal made his Test debut at 36.
"No, no," Batty says. "That's not going to happen and I'm not thinking about it. My time has gone and when it came, I didn't get it right."
When pressed, however, he admits the selectors contacted him ahead of the Caribbean tour at the start of the year and suggests that now, a few weeks short of his 38th birthday, he is a better bowler than when he last played Test cricket more than a decade ago.
"Oh, yes, I'm absolutely better now," he says. "And there's no reason why I wouldn't be, really. I've come across few spinners who really know their game, who understand their actions and their bodies, until they are about 30. As long as you stay fit - and at the start of this season I was as fit as I've ever been - there's no reason you won't improve.
"We seem to keep expecting 25-year-olds to be brilliant. And that's ridiculous. The modern world wants everything yesterday and, if we keep thinking like that, we'll miss out on developing spinners.
"But look, my focus is all on Surrey. I'm very satisfied playing for them. You hear talk from time to time, but I'm an old fellow now and I've been around the game a long time. I don't take any notice until things are concrete. I don't need to play for England again to feel satisfied."
He remains a strong supporter of Moeen Ali, a man he worked with at Worcester, and who Moeen acknowledges was a considerable help in his the early years of his professional career.
"Mo always had a natural way of bowling," Batty says. "And, yes, he picked my brain a bit. As far as I'm concerned he's going from strength to strength. He is quite young in cricket terms and he works hard. I wouldn't be surprised if he played for another 10 years and developed into a really wonderful bowler. You know what, I think he could go past Graeme Swann's Test wicket total."
That is for the future. This is Batty's fifth visit to Lord's as a finalist - though once, in 2001, he was relegated to the role of 12th man - and he knows it may well be his last. He is out of contract this time next year and with Ansari and others breaking through, he knows his race is almost run.
"When my time is up," he says, "when Alec Stewart taps me on the shoulder, I'll be happy to have a beer with him and look back on a wonderful life in cricket.
"I'm very grateful to many people, not least Chris Adams and Ian Salisbury, who is a man I have a huge amount of respect for, who gave my career another lease of life by bringing me to Surrey. I've had a long, enjoyable career. It's never been a chore. It's never been hard to pull myself out of bed in the morning. And while that time was... it was a terrible, horrible experience, it sort of makes you realise how fortunate we are. I've been very lucky. And I'm going to enjoy every second of being back on the big stage at Lord's."

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo