Surrey, seemingly drifting from one ignominious low to the next in recent seasons, managed to hit a new nadir. They won just one Championship game all season - and indeed over the last two campaigns. Mark Butcher’s sad mid-season retirement led to Stewart Walters, who had a first-class batting average of under 20, being awarded the captaincy, and he responded with two centuries. But the batting remained far too dependent upon Usman Afzaal and the imperious Mark Ramprakash, though Michael Brown and Chris Schofield averaged in the mid-30s in the Championship. The less said about the bowling, utterly toothless once Andre Nel was injured, the better. In limited-overs, Surrey were equally dire, winning just seven of their 26 games. As Chris Adams recognised, things had to change.
90.00 - Mark Ramprakash’s average in 2009
22.92 - The average cost of Chris Schofield’s 25 one-day wickets in 2009
1 - Number of times Surrey’s bowling attack has taken twenty wickets in a game in the last 31
No county has been busier than Surrey as Chris Adams sought to rebuild his squad after the wreckage of the last campaign. Incredibly, he identified Rory Hamilton-Brown, 22 and with just experience of just eight first-class games, to be the new permanent skipper. Hamilton-Brown is a brilliantly clean striker of the ball and useful off-spinner who has spent the winter on tour with the England Lions, and impressed Adams sufficiently when both were at Sussex for him to label Hamilton-Brown a future England captain. He was joined from Sussex by Piyush Chawla, who will be the overseas player, providing the BCCI do not rescind their No Objection Certificate. Given the autocratic manner in which they are prone to behave, who knows?
Highly-regarded wicket-keeper Steven Davies replaced outgoing club stalwart Jon Batty, while namesake Gareth returned to Surrey, somewhat bafflingly. James Benning, after years of failing to live up to his biling as Ali Brown’s heir, departed to try and fulfill his promise at Leicestershire, one of nine players to depart in an overdue mass-clearout.
Perhaps the best signing was the most recent, Chris Tremlett, whose height and bounce are well-suited to The Oval. Like so many of his team-mates, he has a big point to prove.
Runs from Ramps are rather taken as a given, and the key to getting promoted will be to take twenty wickets. Much will therefore be expected of Indian all-rounder Piyush Chawla. Just 21, the leg-spinner has already taken 247 first-class wickets. When he was 17, he famously snared Sachin Tendulkar with his devilish googly - one which helped to account for 36 batsmen in just six games for Sussex last season. If Surrey get promoted, fans will have a lot to thank the Chawla googly for.
The star may have been stalling more than rising last campaign, but Chris Jordan remains an immensely exciting prospect. Boasting a correct batting technique and hitting the high 80s with his bowling, the 21-year-old Jordan has all the attributes to play international cricket, if he can only find consistency.
Chawla will occupy the overseas duties after he has finished playing for Kings XI Punjab in the IPL, with Pakistan quick Rao Iftikhar Anjum looking to exploit the early-season pitches beforehand. As yet, no second overseas man has been signed for the Twenty20 Cup.
Captain and coach
Chris Adams’ official title is manager, rather than coach. His first season was disastrous, but he always said he needed time, so time he must be given. In local boy Hamilton-Brown, who returned to the county he left in 2007, Adams identified the man he believes will make Surrey the “team of the decade”. Hamilton-Brown faces extraordinary responsibility - not since the days of the amateur-player divide has a man with so little experience led the county. And he wasn’t even born when his best player, Ramprakash, made his first-class debut.
Surrey undoubtedly begin this season in much better strength than they ended the last. In Ramprakash, Afzaal, Davies, Chawla, Tremlett and Nel, they have a series of proven performers who must feel they belong in the first division. A worry is the opening batting, where it is unclear who will partner Brown, but the real question marks concern the bowling attack.
If Chawla can reproduce the form he showed for Sussex and Nel and Tremlett remain fully fit, then promotion appears eminently attainable. With Davies a formidable limited-overs opener at county level, their performances in the short versions of the game should also see improvement, though real progress looks unlikely. Most fundamentally of all, Hamilton-Brown must justify the enormous faith shown in him by taking care of his own performances. If he does so, 2010 could mark the beginning of a Surrey resurgence.