Tuesday, 23 September 2008

2008 Season Review: Surrey

Final placings:
Championship Division One - 9th;
FP Trophy - 4th, South-eastern Conference;
Twenty20 Cup – 6th, South Division;
Pro40 Division Two - 5th

Amidst the fallout following one of the worst seasons in Surrey’s history and all the psychobabble, the fairest summation of the club’s state came, perhaps surprisingly, from skipper Mark Butcher. He said simply “it is probably a year overdue for us”.

Surrey finished fourth last year – and, given that they were as good as anyone in the second half of the season, notions of a title challenge did not seem so fanciful. But of course they were. For their resurgent end to the 2007 season owed an extraordinary amount to the brilliance of Mark Ramprakash and Harbhajan Singh. Patently, gaping problems remained within the side. Just no one seemed willing to recognise them. Surrey had this awful season coming to them, with the lessons of last season and their ’05 relegation unlearnt. Essentially, the side who won eight trophies between 1996 and 2003 have just kept getting older, with young players lacking in ability, attitude, or both.

Taking 20 wickets: mission impossible
The most fundamental problem with this side was their hopelessly ineffective bowling attack. Failing to take twenty wickets in any of their 15 games is the most damning of statistics. New signing Pedro Collins was too inconsistent; Chris Jordan likewise as he suffered from second-season syndrome. James Ormond began the season leaner and with renewed nip. But the awarding of a new contract on the back of a few encouraging weeks is a further indictment of the whole Surrey set-up: what sort of message does it send that 13 first-class wickets at 43 are sufficient for a new deal?

Hopelessly bereft of penetration, Surrey succeeded in embarrassing themselves further with the disastrous locum recruit of Shoaib Akhtar. But they were doomed when he arrived. A bigger reason for their relegation was the utter ineffectuality of overseas bowler Matt Nicholson. Though he has retired from Australian state cricket, Surrey, in their desperation, signed him up. But 11 wickets at 57 from nine championship games is an appalling return for an ‘overseas star’, for all his admirable batting.

Star winter signing Saqlain Mushtaq began encouragingly; but, like so many of the ‘golden generation’, his best years have gone. In truth, he did better than expected to finish with 38 championship wickets (11 more than the next best) but failed to provide the late-season inspiration Harbhajan had delivered a year previously. Unfortunately, Chris Schofield’s season was decimated through injury, one mitigating circumstance in the atrocious Twenty20 Cup campaign. Once masters of the game, Surrey lacked regular six-hitters and canny bowlers alike. Their near-complete reliance on locum Abdul Razzaq for inspiration was embarrassing.

A lack of leadership
Butcher’s injury woes, coming just after a return to the opening position and a superlative run of form, evoked ‘Four More Weeks’, Ramprakash’s 2005 diary named after Butcher’s pronouncements whenever asked about the date of his comeback.

Surrey had made a reasonable enough start to the campaign, drawing their first five games, with their batting unit looking better than for several seasons. Butcher’s injury severely weakened that, while Ramprakash struggled as captain – immersed in his quest to reach his 100th century, and frustrated with such an impotent bowling attack. Alan Butcher has correctly been removed as coach; his son will probably lose his job likewise, provided that a satisfactory replacement can be found. Indicative of the lack of forward thinking at The Oval, any new skipper would have to be recruited externally.

Batting buckling under pressure
Surrey actually claimed more batting points than at least five sides in Division One – although this is a somewhat deceptive statistic, given their penchant for collapsing brainlessly under pressure. The most pathetic such instance was in the crucial game against Kent. Cruising at 53/0 in their second innings, with an overall lead of 177, they somehow conspired to lose their last ten wickets on a sunny day and a docile track for 80, with the very occasional spin of Martin van Jaarsveld claiming his first ever five-wicket haul.

There seems a collective failure to score runs under pressure, Ramprakash excepted. Scott Newman at least managed two hundreds, while Usman Afzaal’s average of 45 was hard to argue with, but Jon Batty had his worst season for several years and had to be moved down from opener. The collective efforts of the next generation – Stewart Walters, Chris Murtagh and James Benning – were woeful, though at least Matt Spriegel showed a certain amount of resilience.

Any signs of hope?
Surrey’s one-day exploits were slightly more encouraging than their County Championship and Twenty20 efforts, thanks largely to Jade Dernbach. A true wicket-taker, the seamer claimed 23 scalps in the eight Pro40 games thanks to movement and aggression. Add in a Championship six-wicket haul and he was the nearest to a ‘positive’ from the calamitous season.

It is axiomatic that Surrey are a club in need of big changes, with the appointment of Graham Thorpe as batting coach appearing a shrewd start. But years of muddled thinking and short-termism will not be easy to rectify, especially with so many serial under-performers still contracted.

Player of the season:
Ask a stupid question. The gap between his 99th and 100th first-class centuries – the result of age-old mental frailties, say his critics; a broken bat, says the man himself – may have been agonising, but either side Mark Ramprakash was as good as the ’06 and ’07 player who averaged 100. Six hundreds in Division One, in the weakest side, by far: tremendous by any criteria.

Most disappointing player:
Where to start? Shoaib Akhtar would be an obvious candidate, but it would be unfair to scapegoat a man who played only two games. While a plethora of ‘promising youngsters’ flattered to deceive, the experienced West Indian left-armer Pedro Collins singularly failed to impress. Too wayward, too often.

Highlight: Off-field finances have never been better; the story was rather less satisfactory on the pitch. The Butcher-Nicholson double-century stand against Yorkshire was perhaps as good as it got. Butcher’s stroke-play was spectacular, better than at any point since his England days – but he was injured almost immediately afterwards.

Lowlight: No shortage of options, clearly. But two consecutive home innings defeat constituted an aptly pathetic end to a season in which Surrey were perhaps the worst county in the country.

How can Surrey end their slump? Share your views by leaving a comment below.

If you're interested in writing a season review for your county (whether or not you contributed to our season prevuews), or writing on anything cricket-related please leave a comment or email it to cricketingworld@hotmail.com.


Richard Lake said...

In my pre-season preview I wrote:

8 Surrey
Or Ramprakashire as they ought to be called. It’s a measure of Surrey’s reliance on him, that if Ramps had “only” scored a thousand runs and averaged 50, Surrey would have been comfortably relegated.

As it happens he got 1200 and averaged over 60, but it's no good scoring lots of runs if you can't bowl teams out.

Surrey don't appear to have a strategy. Notts have been highly successful on the back of developing talent discarded by other counties. Yorks, Sussex, Durham have looked to a long term youth policy to back up their established stars. Surrey haven't brought through a young talent in years, resulting in an ageing team which shows in the bowling and fielding.

A major clear out is required and 2-3 years in Division 2 will do the county no harm at all.

River Taff End said...

Great piece Tim.

It may be a time for some cleaning out. Any chance that Mark Butcher can be persuaded down the M4?

Althoug you don't want to be in Div 2, do let me know if you come down to Wales. I'm hoping that the gamje at the Oval will be at time of year that I can make it.

Tim said...

Cheers for the comments.

Yes it's clear and undeniably Surrey have had this season coming to them. There's a danger Ramps may leave now - and one could hardly begrudge him one final shot at the title. He's unlikely to get that at The Oval even if he stays 3 seasons.

Re: Butch - I think he's still got a year left but I guess it's not inconceivable he could leave. I think he'll stay though.

Taff - well perhaps that'll be one perk of relegation!

Chrispy said...

Bad season Tim and hard to see it getting better soon. Lots of old guys on the wane or on the move and a lot of youngsters who have not got much experience under their belts. Surrey definitely missed Butcher and could have done with Saqlain playing more often and Schofield being fit. The seam bowling looked pretty weak though.

Good honest review.

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