Winless in the County Championship and just 2 victories in 7 games in the YB40, Surrey’s season is unravelling at pace. Analysing the reasons for Surrey’s slump, fingers point towards the club’s recruitment policy in recent times and raises questions about the quality of the youth.
It was hoped that a change of setting in front of a large crowd at Guildford would be the catalyst needed to kick start Surrey’s inauspicious opening to the 2013 season. However, 7 games in to the County Championship and still awaiting their first win, Chris Adams hopes at the beginning of the season for a title challenge now appear way far off the mark. Moreover, after their defeat to Lancashire in the YB40, there is a feeling that they virtually need to win all remaining games to stand a chance of reclaiming the title they won back in 2011.
Back in April, team director Chris Adams claimed that he felt this was the strongest squad he had at his disposal as he headed into his fifth full season at the club. Whether this was merely fighting talk or Adams speaking his mind is unclear, however the reality is that Surrey are now staring down the barrel of a relegation dog fight. It was hoped that by bringing in an experienced, successful and iconic leader in the form of Graeme Smith, a side made up of well-seasoned professionals and exciting youngsters could combine to formulate a dominant unit in all forms of cricket. However, whilst it is perhaps too early to draw conclusions, as the midpoint of the season has yet to be reached, the signs are worrying for the supporters.
At the end of the 2011 season, as Surrey saw off Somerset on a late summer’s afternoon it was finally agreed that Chris Adams was beginning to deliver what he had promised upon his appointment in 2008. The weather that day varied from bright sunshine to torrential downpour, as Surrey picked up their first piece of silverware since their County Championship Division 2 crown in 2006. The team were playing an exciting and aggressive brand of cricket, promoting potential England internationals, who were complemented by the experience of past internationals in the form of Gareth Batty, Zander De Bruyn and Mark Ramprakash.
However, despite staving off relegation from Division 1 in 2012, almost single-handedly thanks to the bravery, tenacity and dogged ‘never say die’ attitude of stand-in skipper Gareth Batty, the nucleus of the squad had been ripped out. Tom Maynard was a man with a huge personality and extraordinary ability who was the embodiment of arguably the most energised and exciting side in county cricket. Moreover, Rory Hamilton-Brown was putting two fingers up to those critics who suggested he was too young, and simply not good enough to lead a club with such a rich heritage. Both played the game in a manner that exuded confidence, backing their attacking instincts even in game situations where a cautious and cagey approach seemed most appropriate.
Whilst hindsight is always 20/20, I believe Chris Adams may rue his decision, to in my opinion, overcompensate with experience. There is a line that must be drawn between players that are experienced and players that are past their peak. Arguably Jon Lewis, Gary Keedy and Vikram Solanki fit into the latter bracket. Zander De Bruyn’s form so far this season (averaging 21.72 with the bat and 49.60 with the ball in FC games) suggests that at 37 he perhaps fits into this undesirable group. A sprinkling of experience can be advantageous in the development of young players and in improving the tactical nous and all around match play of a team. However, the side that Chris Adams selected to play Essex on 3rd June was arguably an embarrassment to County Cricket. Michael Atherton wrote words to that effect in his recent article for ‘The Times’.
Surrey’s side that day featured Vikram Solanki, Ricky Ponting, Azhar Mahmood, Zander De Bruyn, Jon Lewis and Gary Keedy; all players deep into the autumn of their careers. It could be argued that on that particular evening, where Surrey were hammered by 178 runs, only 3 of the players that took the field could plausibly now or in the future be considered for English international honours (Steven Davies, Jason Roy and Tom Jewell).
Regardless of whether you believe County Cricket is merely just a breeding ground for producing England players or not, Surrey’s selection that day raised serious questions. In particular, it highlighted the fact that Chris Adams lacks confidence in the young players that have been brought through the academy. Are these youngsters good enough? Has Adams resorted to recruiting players with vast experience, in a bid to paper over the cracks of an academy that is underperforming and not producing serious county cricketers?
They key for Surrey’s Team Director is to reach the end of September with Surrey’s place in Division 1 intact, before readdressing the direction and make up of his squad. Perhaps the launch of the FLT20 at the end of this month will provide the platform required to improve the atmosphere at the Kia Oval this summer and a stimulant to revive their fortunes in the County Championship. On paper, Surrey’s squad look like they have the potential to be extremely competitive in this form of the game, with international stars in the form of Ricky Ponting, Azhar Mahmood, Glen Maxwell and potentially Kevin Pietersen, combining with the exuberance and aggression of the likes of Jade Dernbach and Jason Roy.
Perhaps I have wrongly painted the picture that Surrey is a club in crisis. However, the warning signs are there for all to see. If Surrey are to avoid a return to the dark days of the 2000s where the management and ever changing playing staff were unable to deliver the success that the history and mass expenditure of the club deserved, then serious action needs to be taken at the end of this season. Questions over the make-up of the management team and of the playing squad will need to be addressed, yet Chris Adams must put these to the back of his mind in what is yet another particularly trying chapter of his tenure.
In the meantime let us hope that the supporters get behind the side in this particularly sticky period. Whilst the squad has a particularly thrown together feel about it, the quality that the players possess individually is undoubted. As a Surrey fan, you just hope that that in itself will be enough to steer the ship to safety.