Wednesday, 28 March 2007

2007 Season Preview: Surrey

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

2007 Prospects

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.

Key Man:
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.

Rising Star:
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.

2007 county previews home


Richard Lake said...

That's a batting line up long on experience. It'll be interesting to see if Ramps can take his form on into Div 1. Certainly from a Yorks perspective last year, there does seem to be a growing difference in standard between the leagues.

From the players perspective, I'd like to see Benning given a go in the England One Day set up. I'd also like to see Chris Schofield given a run in your firsts.

Good luck - hope you finish 2nd!

Chrispy said...

The batting looks pretty fantastic, not so sure on the bowling. Surrey are the antithesis of Hampshire, great batting, doubts over bowling. Like you say a lot depends on Jimmy Ormond, prehaps too much. Spinners will give you a chance though in the second half. Bearing that in mind, more limited overs success I reckon!

Dave said...

I'd expect Schofield to play more than Sally this season, giving us a ridiculously short tale

Rikki Clarke
Jimmy O
Mo Akram/Doshi

Hopefully Benning gets some more game time - I'd like to see him opening in first class cricket as well, he doesn't haven't to be exactly like Ali Brown in the future. Not sure where Walters would fit in tho. Compared to last season we are heavy on seamers, I hope Azhar keeps the new ball, but I doubt Rikki will bowl much. So glad Jimmy is back, think we have a real chance of topping the table!

Tim said...

Thanks for the comments guys.

Dave, you may be right, although surely Salisbury will start as the man in possession. (Also look out for a piece on Schofield which I'll post soon).

The problem for Clarke, as I alluded to, is to get into the England side he needs to be bowling a reasonble amount, but he is Surrey's sixth bowler.

Also, I think that's a perfectly fine tail. Schofield averages 30 in first-class cricket; Salisbury is always good for a few runs as, to a lesser extent, is Ormond; and Nicholson averaged 28 for Nortants last season.

Benning opening in first-class cricket is an interesting idea, although who would he replace?

Dave said...

benning in for batty at the top i guess

anyone know if sally is 2nd XI captain again this year? i'm not expecting the same performance from him unfortunately, but you are probably right and he will start the year in the team

rikki's bowling seems to be getting worse and worse, with his batting improving. seems like he needs some serious work; last year was embarrasing at times, and when he was captain he barely bowled himself

i don't doubt our ability to bowl sides out - big jimmy in top form is one of the best out there

Tim said...

Real shame about Clarke's bowling; he has some potential but, as you said, seems to be regressing. His batting is going the right direction though.