How far can Surrey's Currans go?

Right-arm quick Tom and skillful young allrounder Sam have what it takes to get to the highest level

Young and restless: Twenty-one-year-old Tom (left) Curran has played for Surrey for four seasons now, and his 18-year-old brother Sam (right) for two  •  Getty Images

Young and restless: Twenty-one-year-old Tom (left) Curran has played for Surrey for four seasons now, and his 18-year-old brother Sam (right) for two  •  Getty Images

It is put to 21-year-old Tom Curran and his 18-year-old brother Sam, sat side by side and dressed almost identically in England stash as two members of this winter's Lions programme, that the younger sibling is generally considered the most talented. The example offered is Michael Jackson - the youngest of the original Jackson 5, who left the troupe to become the undisputed King of Pop. Sam smirks. Tom responds: "Good thing we're not in the music industry then, pal!"
Brothers in cricket are no new thing. Even at Surrey, before Currans, there were Hollioakes. Both Adam and Ben left such a profound mark on the club that the mere mention of their names gets Brown Caps misty-eyed. As they talk about how Adam led and Ben thrilled, the conversation invariably turns to just how far Tom and Sam can go. The consensus is: far.
It was 2015 when Surrey fans got their first good look at both. Tom led the line as an assured and ridiculously skilful right-arm quick in a promotion charge that saw the club finish as Division Two champions, thanks to his 74 wickets. Sam, a genuine allrounder, whippy with his left-arm seam and enterprising with the bat, dropped by halfway through that summer to make his senior debut in a T20 Blast fixture against Kent in front of more than 20,000 people at the Kia Oval, two weeks after his 17th birthday.
From then, he was around to offer assistance to Tom, taking 11 Championship wickets and even registering a half-century in the final match of the season, at home to their father Kevin's former county Northamptonshire. It was in that fixture that the Currans became only the third pair of brothers to take all ten wickets in an innings, with Tom grabbing the big brother's share of seven and Sam making do with three.
"As three brothers, we've been competitive - whether it is golf or in the cricket field. I suppose as cricketers we are team-mates, but on the golf course there are no team-mates. And there are no free drops!"
Sam Curran
This year saw a more even share, as Surrey turned around relegation form to finish fifth in Division One. Tom took 33 wickets, Sam 27. Their advancements in white-ball cricket have also been clear to see. Sam's ability to swing the new ball at pace gets things going, while Tom works the older one with wide yorkers and a bit of reverse swing. Both have taken on more responsibility than most at their age, and it is only when they are together, poking the other in the ribs or trying to spy on each other's phone activity that you realise just how young they are.
"It's hard sometimes to take it all in," says Tom. "It's been an unbelievable journey and things have happened pretty quickly at Surrey." Particularly, he says, when he was the spearhead of Surrey's bowling attack at just 20. "As cricketers, you want to be given the ball at the tough times and you want to be leading your attack. I've been lucky enough to do that."
The career acceleration meant that, given the age gap, Sam's Surrey debut in July 2015 was the first time that the pair had played competitive cricket together. Sam, though, offers a caveat. "Well, other than the back garden. I think we had some very good encounters."
Tom interjects, pointing to Sam as he does so: "No, but that's different because in the back garden you can cheat! This one: geez!" It seems an odd twist, considering garden cricket's long, sketchy history of the oldest sibling opening the batting and being the sole arbiter of the laws. Not so in the Curran household.
If there is an older-brother dynamic that Tom has upheld, it is of leading the way and clearing a path for his younger brother. It was his performance during a school match in Durban for Hilton College in January 2012 that left such an impression on the former Surrey captain, Ian Greig, who was in charge of the opposition, that he alerted Gareth Townsend, Surrey's academy director, to Tom's talents.
Later that year, after the tragic passing of their father Kevin, a former Zimbabwe allrounder, Surrey used their partnership with Wellington College, where Tom was continuing his schooling thanks to a bursary, to bring both Ben - the middle brother and an organised left-hand batsman - and Sam to England to keep the family together.
Just as Tom did when he joined, Sam spent 2016 balancing cricket with his last year of A-Levels. And it was Tom's experiences that, essentially, scoped Sam's itinerary.
"It was quite tricky, actually. In April I played the first game of the season and then there was an agreement that I was going to play no games up until my exams were finished; maybe the odd T20. That was the same with Tom - the relationship between the school and the club was very good."
Did he have a say in how much or what form he could play? "Don't let him pretend to be Mr Bigshot - he didn't!" ribs Tom.
"Nah, I don't think I did have a say," admits Sam. "But the balance was good: we had a psychologist who did actually work well with me and made sure I did everything. There were a couple of four-day games where the lads went out for dinner but I had to stay put. The lads did take the mick out of me a little bit when I had to do a bit of school work. And when school thought I was behind, they would make sure I wouldn't play any cricket."
By way of thanks, Sam made sure he played a few games for the Wellington side, too. Commiserations to the poor saps who lined up against a player who would go on to average 27.85 with the ball and 39.33 with the bat in Division One. "It was fun," he beams, though presumably not for the opposition.
Refreshingly, the atmosphere of professional sport has merely strengthened their bond. While both are hard on each other in the field - "if he messes up off my bowling then it is a bit easier to spray him than the skipper," admits Tom - it is simply an extension of the competition that has featured in their family throughout. Fittingly, they can't decide who is the most competitive.
""As cricketers, you want to be given the ball at the tough times and you want to be leading your attack. I've been lucky enough to do that"
Tom Curran
"It's something that has been with us the whole way through," says Sam. "As three brothers, we've been competitive - whether it is golf or in the cricket field. I suppose as cricketers we are team-mates, but on the golf course there are no team-mates. And there are no free drops!"
As for the biggest sulker, Tom is happy to win that outright, prompted by Sam: "See, I've only just got my licence, so he sulks when he has to drive home after bowling 40 overs."
"It's an easy life for him!" bites Tom. "He just stands around in the field and then he's got his feet up on my dashboard!"
There are elements that give the other strength, too. For instance, Tom's sure footing in a young, sparky dressing room enabled Sam to lean on his older brother before making his own impression. The trick for Sam was in identifying the difference between the school set-up and that of a county: "At school you're looking to impress yourself. But in the Surrey side you're about enjoying team success and that is something that has really stuck out to me."
For Tom that older presence was provided by Jade Dernbach, who took him under his wing and advised him in matters on the field and off it. It is hard to think of a player more in tune with the fickle nature of the game than Dernbach. "He was my age once," says Tom, "and he put his arm around me. He made me feel a bit more relaxed within myself. When Sam came into the Surrey side, I tried to do the same for him. I'm sure Sam will do the same when he's an old man."
Sam's progress with the bat has also lit a fire under Tom, who has let this discipline slip, despite some recovery last season. As a youngster his batting and bowling progressed at an equal rate of knots, and Surrey's former captain Graeme Smith and former coach Graham Ford believed that he had the ability to be a world-class allrounder.
The lapse has been understandable: Tom's intense workload of 31 Championship matches and 44 limited-overs matches in the last two seasons has seen him opt for extra rest rather than practice, for fear of burnout (it is worth noting that the only Championship match he missed in this period - Hampshire away this summer - was down to a Lions call-up). It is a lapse he is keen to address over the winter.
The Lions tour presents an opportunity for both brothers to further broaden their horizons, with a training camp in Dubai, a short tour of Sri Lanka in February, and the experience of working with new, unfamiliar team-mates who are usually nine-to-five rivals.
It may also prepare them for the possibility that, eventually, one might leave the other behind. Having experienced the first throes of professional cricket together, both admit that will be a new sensation.
"I was actually thinking about that the other day," reflects Sam. "Obviously, coming into the Lions side, hopefully we both play. But there will be a stage when it comes down to the pitch or the opposition, where one of us gets left out. I guess we kind of have to take it on the chin. It'll be a dream to play for England and even when it's not you, if it's someone in your family, you're going to be really proud of them."
To allow a moment's speculation, Tom looks to possess the requisite skills to be a fine international bowler - perhaps even a long-term replacement for James Anderson - while Sam's precociousness suggests a role in the top six is not beyond him. As George Dobell reported last week, the England management was considering bringing Sam to India to have a closer look at him but decided against it.
Whichever one does take that first step to the next level, you can be certain of one thing: the other will be very proud. And not too far behind.

Vithushan Ehantharajah is a sportswriter for ESPNcricinfo, the Guardian, All Out Cricket and Yahoo Sport