BY MARCUS HOOK
Alec Stewart sees the two-month bloc of exclusively four-day championship fixtures as a perfect opportunity for county cricketers – including the likes of Surrey’s Rory Burns, Ben Foakes and Mark Stoneman – to make a case for inclusion in England’s Ashes Test series against Australia, which begins on August 1.
Surrey’s director of cricket also admits that Surrey’s championship title defence is almost certain to depend on how they play between now and the end of July.
“If you’re a top-three batsman, in particular, the next couple of months means the chance to score four or five hundreds and therefore demand you get selected for the Ashes,” said Stewart.
“For every individual, there’s a lot to play for as well as trying to be successful with your team.
“There will be only four more matches left once we have got through this block of games, so we can really put ourselves into a good position to try to win the title again if we do well in this part of the season.
“Even when I played we never had to play such a long run of championship matches – there was always the Sunday League or the other one-day competitions dotted around the schedule.
“It’s going to be a real challenge for everyone, players and management, and also for the strength and conditioning staff and the physios. First and foremost, whether you have a large squad or a small one, you have to perform well – but we will also be looking to manage our squad so players do not get fatigued.
“That’s especially the case in terms of our faster bowlers. We have deliberately built a squad with the number of quicker bowlers in case we need to deal with injuries, drop-offs in form or England calls.
“If, for instance, someone like Morne Morkel needs to miss a game in order to rest and ensure he is fully fit when he does play, then that will happen. That’s the downside of playing so many four-day matches in succession like this – the lack of rest days in-between.
Surrey have two more Division One matches starting before the end of this month. They go to Beckenham to face local rivals Kent on Monday and follow up by taking on Warwickshire at Edgbaston on May 27.
The Vitality Blast does not start until July 19.
“We play nine matches in the next 10 weeks, with a break in the third week of June after the first five games, so it’s going to be very important to monitor the players,” said Stewart.
“Ideally, of course, you always want to play your very best side in every championship fixture – that’s what the competition should be. But you have to deal with what is in front of you.
“We’re not crying about it – let’s get that straight. In many ways, being able to concentrate on red-ball cricket for the next 10 weeks is a very good thing.
“Our job as management is precisely to manage situations and to make sure we perform as strongly as possible as a team throughout this period.”