2006 in a Nutshell:
Surrey’s chief objective in 2006 was to return to Division One of the County Championship. In that, they succeeded magnificently. Led by the Butcher father-son coaching side, Surrey were a united side once more and, in Mark Ramprakash, had a fantastic batsman in the form of his life. Though Surrey’s first-class form was peerless, their one-day side showed few signs of improvement, subsiding meekly on Twenty20 finals day and doing little of note in the other two competitions. Overall, 2006 was a big step in the right direction.
See the Surrey 2006 Season Review
Surrey have perhaps the finest first-class batting unit in county cricket; although the bowling in Division One will be more challenging this campaign, they should regularly post scores in excess of 400 in the first innings.
Scott Newman is a fine, burly left-handed stroke maker, but has rather trodden water in the last few campaigns. Last season, he hit 10 Championship scores of 50 but reached only one century. Opening alongside him will be the ever-dependable Jon Batty, mentioned in dispatches as the next England wicket keeper. Surrey’s real strength, though, is at numbers three and four; where former England batsmen Ramprakash and Mark Butcher hit 13 first-class hundreds last campaign. Ramprakash, with his unerring professionalism, exemplary technique and aesthetically pleasing stroke-play, remains the most sought-after wicket on the circuit.
Alistair Brown will continue to attack tiring bowling line-ups in his fearless style, while his heir apparent James Benning will seek to transfer his exhilarating one-day form into the Championship arena, though opportunities will be limited. Rikki Clarke is becoming a very fine batsman, particularly in the four-day game – he averaged 64 last season – while Azhar Mahmood can transform games from number seven. Also look out for the exciting young batting all-rounder Stewart Walters, particularly in the shorter versions of the game. Stolid opener Richard Clinton may feature in first-class cricket.
Spin emerged unexpectedly to the fore last campaign, with Surrey even fielding three spinners at times. Ian Salisbury and Nayan Doshi, bowling leg-spin and left-arm spin, both took at least 50 Championship wickets at 28, benefiting from the spin- conducive Oval rack. Chris Schofield was also awarded a late-season contract and, though his leg-spin remains inconsistent, he did enough to secure a new deal, aided by his useful, if idiosyncratic, batting.
However, seam bowling remains a huge worry, especially with the brilliant Martin Bicknell having retired. Much depends on the returning James Ormond, injured for almost all of last season. He is joined by the Australian Matt Nicholson, who has much experience but averaged only 32 for Northants last season. Surrey fans would have hoped for a more penetrating opening bowler. Pakistani duo Mohammad Akram and all-rounder Mahmood remain horribly unreliable, while Rikki Clarke’s bowling has potential – he can hit 85mph – but only accounted for 18 Championship wickets last campaign. Unless he can improve his bowling significantly, it is hard to envisage him returning to the England side; and, at 25, the time has come for performance to replace potential. With young quick Neil Saker also yet to convince, the fast bowling is patently a major Surrey weakness; if the spinners are unable to match their exploits of ’06, Surrey may have real difficulty collecting 20 wickets.
Probable Championship side:
which leaves Clinton, Benning, Schofield and Akram - who may replace one of the spinners in seaming conditions - in reserve. Benning will replace Newman, or one of the senior batsmen, in the shorter versions of the game.
Overall the side looks good enough to achieve a comfortable Championship position. It perhaps lacks the necessary penetration to mount a genuine title push, unless Ormond, Nicholson and one of the spinners really catch fire, but the batting looks sufficiently strong and deep to allay relegation concerns.
Runs from Ramps are rather taken as a given so, with Surrey’s seam attack such a worry, the onus will fall on the returning Jimmy Ormond. Ormond has had near-constant injury worries of late but he is a tall swing bowler of proven class with over 400 first-class wickets, and two Test caps, to his name. At 29, he is far from over the hill; a reinvigorated Ormond would provide the fast bowling attack with much-needed penetration.
Alistair Brown’s career is coming to an end but, in 23-year-old James Benning, Surrey have a ready-made replacement. As England’s one-day side stumbled from one humiliation to the next last summer, Benning, on the back of his exhilarating 189* in the C & G Trophy, was mentioned as a potential opener. In the shorter versions of the game, he is rapidly gaining in consistency and reputation. Despite an average of 37, however, he has yet to become a regular in the first-class game.
Captain and Coach:
Having moved away from the disastrous Steve Rixon era, Surrey entrusted their fortunes in the Butchers. They have succeeded in lifting spirits at The Oval, establishing an atmosphere more conducive to success. Thoughts now turn to Championship consolidation, a renewed tilt at the Twenty20 and some sort of improvement in their one-day fortunes.
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