Marcus Hook’s Surrey CCC column: Overseas signing is key next season with England taking so many of club’s star men away from Oval

BY MARCUS HOOK

Surrey didn’t just owe it to Somerset to keep alive the title race in the championship, they also owed it to themselves to bounce back against Essex this week.

It was interesting, at Chelmsford, to see the players’ response to yet another broadside from their head coach Michael Di Venuto, who labelled last week’s 272-run defeat to Hampshire as “embarrassing”.

The Australian issued the threat: “If they keep performing like that they can’t come whinging if they find themselves playing second team cricket next season.”

The reaction amongst the Surrey faithful I spoke to at Chelmsford was that those were either the words of a man who feels secure in his job or the words of someone who won’t be around next summer.

Given the strength of the squad, even allowing for injuries and England calls, it says it all that only two sides – Glamorgan and Leicestershire – have recorded fewer victories than Surrey in all competitions this season.

Not so long ago, there was hardly any cricket left to watch in September. Due to the evenings getting darker earlier, the season was generally done and dusted by the first week of September.

But a year from now, the ECB, in its wisdom, will be squeezing five rounds of County Championship matches into September if you count the one that’s due to start on August 31.

With just four of the 11 preceding rounds scheduled to be played in June, July and August, it seems like an ideal sponsorship opportunity for purveyours of warm clothing and hot drinks.

Quite what playing the majority of red-ball matches at the beginning and the end of the season will do in terms of developing England players is questionable.

Surrey’s dilemma, now that they are producing England cricketers again, is whether they have a squad capable of challenging for county honours on all fronts when you strip away their internationals.

Essex and Somerset – one of whom will lift the County Championship trophy next week – have the advantage of possessing a nucleus of players who aren’t quite good enough to be picked for England.

As a result, there’s always a blend of youth and experience, not to mention consistency of selection.
It makes Surrey’s choice as overseas player next season absolutely crucial. I feared they would miss the runs that Kumar Sangakkara brought to the table. With Rory Burns and Ollie Pope filling the void last year, the absence as Sangakkara wasn’t apparent.

But, this season, the loss of Burns to England and Pope to injury has left a gaping hole.

At the halfway stage, Surrey somehow had more batting points than any team in the country. They haven’t now. But, interestingly, they’ve notched up more batting points and bowling points than the two title contenders. The biggest difference, as I say, is the wins column.

The ability to bowl sides out twice is what gets you silverware, but a bowler’s best friend is scoreboard pressure – pressure that is exerted with the bat.

In 2018, Surrey posted 10 totals in excess of 350 in the championship. This year, they have managed just five.

Given Steve Smith’s connection with Surrey, it would be great if the modern day Bradman could be persuaded to do a Sangakkara.

A little known fact is that, in 2007, Smith made five appearances for Surrey’s second eleven. There was even talk that he was considering – as a dual national – joining Surrey full-time and qualifying to play for England.

He opted for Australia and the rest, as they say, was history.

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