Continuing our county previews, here is an assesment of Surrey's chances in 2008.
2007 in a Nutshell:
Surrey initially looked out of their depth, losing four and winning none of their first seven Championship games - and it would have been even worse had Mark Butcher and Matt Nicholson not batted over 20 overs together to scrape a draw against Worcestershire. Their bowling attack was totally bereft of penetration, but the mid-term additions of Harbhajan Singh and Chris Jordan gave them the tools to bowl sides out. Mark Ramprakash was phenomenal yet again, culminating in twin hundreds as they secured a flattering fourth-placed finish on the final day. The limited-overs competitions were all deeply frustrating, as Surrey thrice crumbled when on the verge of advancing.
Full season review
Surrey were busier than most over the winter and much will depend on how their new recruits fare. They have totally revamped their bowling line-up and will almost certainly begin the season with a completely different attack to 12 months ago. Nayan Doshi left mid-way last season, joined by veteran Ian Salisbury. Rikki Clarke finally accepted he would not realise his potential at The Oval, and it will be intriguing to see how he fares as Derby skipper. Pakistani star Mohammad Asif was signed to spearhead their Championship push, but his deal has now been cancelled and Surrey will have to make do with steady Matt Nicholson instead. West Indian Pedro Collins should prove a shrewd recruit too, while club legend Saqlain Mushtaq faces the onerous task of replacing Harbhajan. With the mercurial Usman Afzaal signed to shore up the middle-order, and a series of promising youngsters, Surrey will begin the season with a better squad then they ended the last campaign given the limit on overseas players.
As such, they will expect to finish in mid-table, while making a renewed tilt at the limited-overs competitions. Promotion from the Pro40 is expected; progress beyond the quarter-finals of the Twenty20 and Friends Provident Trophy less so.
Surrey's batting was top-heavy to say the least last campaign. There are few more startling statistics than the fact there was just a solitary score over 70 made by any member of the side outside the top four over the 15 games.
The peerless Mark Ramprakash broke history in averaging 100 for the second consecutive season, but his team-mates must do more in support of him and the dependable pair of Butcher and Jon Batty. It is a big season for Scott Newman, who disappointed in the Championship but broke through, belatedly and spectacularly, in the one-day game. Afzaal's flamboyant strokeplay will surely improve the middle-order, as well as the one-day side. But Ali Brown must prove he is not being retained out of mere sentiment after struggling even in Twenty20 last season; James Benning must bounce back from his poor campaign; and youngsters Stewart Walters (who is nearly 25) and Laurie Evans will be given opportunities to establish themselves.
With no star overseas bowler, it will require a real team effort to collect 20 wickets. Expect the admirable Nicholson to perform similarly to last campaign when he snared 44 wickets at 29. Collins is a canny left-arm swing bowler and could prove surprisingly effective, while much - possibly too much - is expected of the exciting Jordan in his first full campaign. Keeping the unfit and injury-prone James Ormond may well prove a flagrant waste of club funds, while Jade Dernbach will look to build on a fine end to last season and Neil Saker admirably rejected offers to go out on loan. Both the main spinners are something of an unknown quantity, having played very little first-class cricket in the last few years; there is also Pakistani off-spinner Murtaza Hussain, who has an outstanding first-class record and did well at the end of last season. Only one member of the potential first-choice attack - Nicholson - has played more than ten championship games in the past three campaigns, indicative of how difficult the attack's strength is to gauge.
Aside from whether Ramps can average 100 yet again, the big questions lie in the bowling. Can Chris Schofield maintain his one-day form while building on match figures of 8/139 in his last Championship game? And can Saqlain Mushtaq rediscover his brilliance of the turn of the century? If both answers are resoundingly positive, Surrey could find themselves with one of the most varied and exciting attacks in the division, possessing a left-arm swinger (Collins), a tall 'hit-the-deck' bowler (Nicholson), a young and quick rising star (Jordan), a leg-spinner (Schofield) and an off-spinner (Saqlain). Otherwise getting 20 wickets consistently will prove beyond them.
One-day and Twenty20
Expect Surrey to continue with their policy of rotating Ramprakash and Butcher in limited-overs games. If they are truly serious about the Twenty20 then Butcher, who averaged only 8 in the competition last season, should not play in it. Dernbach, after claiming 5/43 in a Pro40 game, will get plenty of one-day chances.
The astonishing Mark Ramprakash is obviously essential, but Surrey need to pose more of a wicket-taking threat to avoid last season's relegation worries: without Harbhajan's intervention, even Ramps's runs would not have saved them. On the spin-friendly Oval track, another off-spinner, Saqlain Mushtaq, will not match the exploits of '99 and 2000, when he took a total of 125 wickets at less than 14. But, rejuvenated by a year with Mustaq Ahmed, during which he took 18 wickets at under 20, he needs to win Surrey some matches to ensure they do not slip into the bottom two. Amazingly, he is just 31 and, with the doosra heading his box of tricks, a Mushie-esque resurrection is not beyond the realms of possibility.
The choice will win no prizes for originality, but the then 18-year-old Chris Jordan made a spectacular impact in helping revive Surrey's fortunes. With 20 Championship wickets at 24 and 13 Pro40 wickets at 20, it was hard not to be impressed by his pace, accuracy, cricketing maturity and raw enthusiasm. Though he did not always show it, he can bat too. The second season is notoriously difficult for bright young things, however, and it is crucial Jordan is well-managed.
Captain and Coach:
The two Butchers did not always convince last season, and there is a feeling that certain senior players - Ormond and possibly Brown - are very fortunate to remain at the club for the 2008 season. Butcher junior, aided by vice-skipper Ramprakash, is undoubtedly tactically astute. But fundamental questions remain, especially over why youngsters often shine briefly only to falter. Surrey need Chris Jordan to end this trend and help them towards a season of upwardly mobile consolidation.