Match from the Day

Surridge's Surrey claim the hat-trick during dominant 1950s

Surrey's insatiable drive to win was never more apparent than in the wet summer of 1954

Paul Edwards
Paul Edwards
Stuart Surridge and Peter May pose with the 1952 Championship pennant  •  Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Stuart Surridge and Peter May pose with the 1952 Championship pennant  •  Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Kettering, August 4, 1954
Surrey 121 (Broderick 7-38) and 139 for 9 (Laker 33*, Tribe 4-30) beat Northamptonshire 125 (Laker 6-38, Lock 3-31) and 133 (Laker 5-36, Lock 3-62) by one wicket
The Oval, August 26, 1954
Surrey 92-3 dec beat Worcestershire 25 (Lock 5-2,) and 40 (Laker 4-27, A Bedser 3-7) by an innings and 27 runs
Retaining the County Championship is proof of sustained excellence and achieving a hat-trick of titles is an Everest few sides approach. Beyond that, though, history suggests things get even trickier, particularly since in any year there have usually been at least three or four fine teams and winning the toss in certain games is frequently vital. So what might we make of Surrey's seven successive championships in the 1950s, a decade in which the season was complicated by an asymmetric fixture-list and enriched by uncovered pitches? Test matches deprived the side of seven players during 1955 yet the pennant flew over The Oval in late August, just as it did in the three following years. Ability does not quite explain the matter; Surrey's cricketers were driven to win, and win again.
The county's veterans will assure you the desire for victory was inculcated by Stuart Surridge, an amateur captain who successfully transcended the gulf between himself and the professionals on the staff by travelling with the players to away games, staying at the same hotels and treating them like the skilled craftsmen they were. It mattered, too, that quite apart from his tactical nous Surridge was worth his place in the team, often for his medium-pace bowling but always for his close catching where he would crouch as close to the batsman as the laws permitted, uttering all manner of dark threats. The obvious parallel is with a general leading his men into battle and it is interesting that three skippers cut from similarly coarse cloth - Surridge, Wilf Wooller and Brian Close - often chose to field in positions which endangered their safety. In wartime such bravery wins medals, often posthumously. The more cerebral skippers stay at slip.
It is useful, if a shade harsh, to compare Surridge to two of his predecessors. In 1946 Nigel Bennett had accepted the Surrey captaincy but the folk tale persists at The Oval that the appointment was a delicious case of mistaken identity, one typical of the chaotic post-war era: the man the committee really wanted was another Major Bennett, Leo, who had played three games for the 2nd XI before the war. Nigel was a decent club batsman who managed 605 runs in 1946, but as Wisden said: "want of knowledge of county cricket on the field presented an unconquerable hindrance to the satisfactory accomplishment of arduous duties." Very well put, minister, yet the divide to be crossed was not entirely cleaved by Bennett's own tactical ignorance and general naivety. That was revealed by Jerry Lodge in his post-war history of the county: "On match days Bennett wanted to meet the players on the steps as they left their respective dressing rooms but was told that under no circumstances was this acceptable. He was informed that he must walk out on to the field of play and that the professionals must join him there."
Surridge was immediately preceded by Michael Barton, a quiet, dignified skipper, who led Surrey to a share of the Championship with Lancashire in 1950. All the same he scarcely coaxed the best out of a side which included Alec Bedser, Tony Lock and Jim Laker.
"At one time Surrey seemed to have eleven captains but this all ended abruptly when Stuart Surridge took over," wrote Dickie Dodds of Essex. "Stuart was a large man in every way. He had a large frame, a large heart, he bowled large swingers and he cracked the whip. Without question he was the boss. He led from the front and gave his orders, reprimands, encouragement and praise in language as spoken in the Borough Market.
"This is not to say that the Surrey players stopped chuntering as they batted, bowled and especially fielded; it was now that they had a skipper who understood their chuntering and could orchestrate it and blend it into a harmonious, constructive whole."
The location of Surridge's marbles was probably keenly debated on a few occasions during those five memorable years
Few of their opponents liked Surridge's Surrey very much but not everyone can be Roger Federer. The captain bound his team to him and was loyal to them. Outsiders could think what they liked. Like Wooller, Surridge was a bollockings and brotherhood skipper, and when, at the end of 1956, he returned to his business of making bats instead of using them, the core of the side he had made won two more titles under Peter May. It was easy for the sceptics to say that anyone would have done well with an attack of Bedser, Laker, Lock and Peter Loader at their disposal; reports suggest Yorkshire and Lancashire's sides were comparably talented. However, Lancashire's skipper, Cyril Washbrook, could not have been more distant from many of his younger players had he been an old-style amateur. Surridge was never remote from the men he led, even if, on the bad days, they might have wished it so.
The results were an impressive reflection of Surrey's approach. In the seven Championship seasons they played 195 games, winning 121, losing 28 and drawing 46. The latter were more galling to Surridge - he could see little point in them - but in wet seasons like 1954 even Surrey's captain had to accept that he could not command the weather. No doubt it irked him. Yet that season's matches offered two excellent examples of his team's capabilities.
In the first game, against Northamptonshire at Kettering, Surridge did not even play. In his stead, May skippered the side and had few tactical decisions to make on the first morning apart from allowing Laker and Lock to bowl out the home side for 125 on a spinners' pitch. By the close, though, slow left-armer Vince Broderick had taken 7 for 38 and his team had extended their four-run first innings lead to 77 for the loss of four wickets. (No one thought to complain about the surface: two-day finishes were hardly unusual on the Town Ground.) On the second morning Laker completed match figures of 11 for 94 and Surrey needed 138 to win.
It became a day for infantrymen rather than cavalry. The broad-shouldered opener, Tom Clark, who was to finish that filthy wet season with 1347 runs, made 32 and the 23-year-old, as yet uncapped Ken Barrington added another 22. The visitors required 38 when Laker came to the wicket and still wanted 19 when he was joined by the No. 10 Lock. The pair added 12 before Lock became the fourth victim of George Tribe's legspin. Surrey's last man was Loader, for whom quick bowling was something of a laxative. Given that Frank Tyson was in the Northamptonshire team - he had so far bowled nine overs in the match - this hardly engendered much confidence in the visiting changing room. What happened next is splendidly retold by Stephen Chalke:
"As Loader emerged from the pavilion his path was blocked by an animated Bernie Constable, who had earlier taken a few body blows from Tyson and was now waving his bat about and gesticulating repeatedly. 'What was all that about?' the others asked when Constable returned to the dressing room. 'I told him if he takes one step to leg, he'll have this bloody bat round his head when he gets back. And it will hurt a lot more than a cricket ball.'"
Mindful of Constable's gentle sanction, Loader hit two runs before Laker biffed an offspinner from Syd Starkie to the boundary to finish the match. The whole affair had been something of a minor classic but it also makes another point about Surridge's team. If their Test players were essential to Surrey's glory years, so were cricketers like Clark and Constable and so were the second team players who deputised during the Tests. Constable was the only other batsman to reach 1000 runs in 1954 yet he predicted posterity's indifference with some accuracy.
"In years to come, when they talk about this Surrey team, it will be all about the bowlers and about Peter May," he said. "There won't be one mention of the rest of us poor buggers who've had to bat on these bloody pitches."
In fact Constable was also worth his place both as a close fielder and as one of the sharpest analysts of a batsman's technique in the English game. "Bernie used to watch like a hawk when new players came in," Micky Stewart says. "Even the way they were holding their bat when they came out of the pavilion. They'd take guard and he'd come in from cover, till he was only three or four yards away, looking at the way they were holding the bat. Staring."
Rather like Worcestershire eleven years later, Surrey were well back in the chasing pack of counties at the end of July 1954. They then won nine of their final ten games, all of which were played between July 28 and the end of August. Five of those victories were achieved inside two days before it bucketed it down on the last, frequently preventing either Yorkshire or Derbyshire, their closest pursuers, completing their matches. Some people called it luck but they would say the same about Colin Ingleby-MacKenzie's 1961 Hampshire team. Most professionals knew differently.
Perhaps, therefore, it was appropriate that the title should be secured with another two-day win that showed Surrey's attack at its most ruthless and Surridge at his most daring. Worcestershire were moored securely in mid-table when they arrived at The Oval in late August and their spinners hardly compared to Lock and Laker. The game began at 2pm on the first day and the visitors were bowled out for 25 in 28.3 overs, Lock taking 5 for 2 on a pitch perfectly suited to his slow-medium left-arm. It remains Worcestershire's second-lowest total in first-class cricket. Surrey had then progressed fairly serenely to 92 for 3 when Barrington and May noticed Surridge waving to them from the balcony outside the upstairs dressing room still used by the amateurs. He had declared. "Downstairs among the rest of the side the general verdict was that the captain must have lost his senses," wrote May. "His explanation as he led us out was that it was going to rain, which did not entirely clear up the misgivings."
The location of Surridge's marbles was probably keenly debated on a few occasions during those five memorable years. All the same, an hour into the second morning Worcestershire had been dismissed for 40, Bedser taking 3 for 7. One batsman had retired with a broken finger, another had hit his wicket and a third had been sconed by a Laker offbreak. The whole match had lasted a little more than five hours and its 157 runs were the lowest aggregate in a completed game since 1878. One doubts Surridge made any mention of these statistics when he addressed the three thousand spectators from the balcony. "Then the Oval was left deserted, ironically in glorious late summer sunshine," wrote Michael Melford in the Daily Telegraph.
To understand Surrey's achievement 60 and more years ago we need to look behind the gold leaf at The Oval and the records in the books. It is more revealing to think of Constable and Clark or of Surridge's close fielders crouched like paparazzi around a film star. But that simile is the nearest those players will ever get to stardom; it is probably much more useful to think of them battling it out on those "bloody pitches", the sort that would get counties docked points today. And in any case, mere fame is transitory and cheap; 20 years after his retirement Richie Benaud was asked by a young autograph-hunter whether he had ever actually played cricket.
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Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications