Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Signs of a Surrey resurgence

2006 Season Review: Surrey

Last season, Surrey subsided pathetically in the County Championship, and suffered the embarrassing fate of relegation. The 2006 season, therefore, was fundamentally about being one of the two sides promoted from Division Two. In that task, Surrey succeeded magnificently.

The chief reason for this, clearly, was Mark Ramprakash. The 37-year-old enjoyed the season of his career; his textbook technique and ever eye-catching fluency earned 2278 runs at a superlative average of 103. Eight hundreds were amassed with ever-increasing inevitability. Despite falling eight runs short of a maiden triple century against Gloucestershire, Ramprakash soon ended his wait with 301* against Northants. The only shame was that his phenomenal season was not rewarded with a place on the Ashes tour.

Though Ramprakash’s sensational run of scores rightly stole the media attention, the father-son pair of Alan and Mark Butcher were crucial in righting the wrongs of the Steve Rixon era and setting the county back onto the right path. Butcher senior was a calm and supportive presence in the dressing room; Mark averaged almost 60 while skippering the side shrewdly.

Surrey’s fantastic batting talent was always likely to overwhelm Division Two bowling attacks. Rikki Clarke had by far his best campaign with the bat, averaging 64; but his bowling continues to infuriate and his meagre haul of 18 wickets in 11 games showed he is not even a genuine fourth seamer.

Alistair Brown was dropped early on in the season but, happily, turned his fortunes around to finish with five first-class centuries; Scott Newman was extremely consistent opening the batting. James Benning, meanwhile, enjoyed a highly encouraging season. His rampaging 189* in a C & G Trophy game even had pundits considering him a viable candidate to open the batting for England in one-day cricket. And the ever-reliable John Batty had another fine season.

Surrey’s batting was expected to prove decisive in their hunt for promotion; their band of spinners was certainly not. Nayan Doshi and Ian Salisbury took 113 wickets at 28 between them; the rehabilitation of Salisbury, seemingly in irreversible decline, was particularly gratifying. Anil Kumble came for only three games, but his 8-100 on a docile Oval pitch against Northants virtually secured promotion. The trio formed Surrey’s first spin triumvirate for nearly 50 years; they were such a success that, when Kumble left, Chris Schofield was recruited on a short-term deal. Though his control is in need of much work, the former England bowler deserved his new contract, especially given his innings of 95 in a thrilling draw at Bristol.

However, pace bowling remains a cause of much concern at the county. Evergreen Martin Bicknell played in just four games before retiring through injury; his 1000+ wickets at 23 make him one of Surrey’s finest ever players. Replacing him will certainly prove problematic, however. With Jimmy Ormond, the club’s best seamer, also hampered by injury, the pace-bowling attack was carried by Mohammad Akram and enigmatic all-rounder Azhar Mahmood.

Even more than usual, the County Championship was the key for Surrey in 2006. Predictably, results in the game’s shorter formats were disappointing. Their C & G campaign seemed doomed from the outset; an inexcusable batting collapse at Taunton cost them promotion in the Pro40 competition. Things were a little better in the Twenty20 Cup, but a woeful performance on Finals’ Day cost them the chance of claiming a second trophy. Surrey seem to lack a cohesive strategy in the shorter formats of the game; they are also let down by a lack of mobility in the field.

Despite their one-day disappointments, Surrey’s 2006 season hinted at a resurgence for the club; if they can sign a potent seamer, they certainly have a good chance of regaining the County Championship. With the Butchers at the helm, Surrey are a happier county and a stronger side.

Player of the season: Mark Ramprakash
Majestic strokeplay, unerring professionalism and new-found perspective saw Ramprakash become only the fifth man to complete a First Class English season averaging 100 or more. Throughout July and August he scored 150 runs or more in five consecutive Championship games – a unique achievement.

Successfully chasing 356, the highest score of the game, in the fourth innings at Somerset, despite being 129-4. A blistering 189-run stand between Clarke and Brown helped Surrey triumph in just the 72nd over.

Bizarrely conspiring to lose four wickets in the first four overs of the Twenty20 semi-final, when Surrey had been odds-on to win.

In the build-up to the 2007 county season, we will feature county reviews for last season, previews for this and other features. Do email if you would like to pen a piece on your county (or anything else).


Richard Lake said...

It'll be interesting to see whether Ramps can reproduce that form in Division 1. As a Yorkshire fan, it was plain last year that there is becoming a marked difference between the two divisions.

Tim said...

I would suggest that a batsman playing equally well would score around 3/4 in Division One. While I doubt he'll do that, I have faith that he'll have another very fine season and average somewhere around 60.

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