“I truly believe we can pick a team to win what’s put in front of us every single day,” said Gareth Batty before the season began. That seemed reasonable enough at the time but, come the season’s end, Surrey had won just two matches in the Specsavers County Championship, a far cry from captain Batty’s assessment.
A third-place finish is perhaps a touch kind on them, yet with no team bar Essex really finding a formula to win, their ten draws secured them the spot.
How did this happen? One need look no further than the table’s bowling points column: Surrey picked up 34, the second fewest in Division One, outperforming only relegated Warwickshire.
On paper, Surrey’s attack is strong, finding a useful blend of promising youth in the Curran brothers, experienced seamers in Jade Dernbach and Stuart Meaker, and wily spinner Batty. But results on the pitch proved few and far between.
Certainly, matters were not helped by Zafar Ansari opting for retirement in April and late 2015 signing Mark Footitt returning to Nottinghamshire in July for personal reasons. Footitt, especially, had shown plenty to be encouraged about in his half a season, with 23 wickets averaging just under 30.
It is telling, though, that both he and Rikki Clarke, re-signed in August in a swap deal for Dominic Sibley, possess the two best red-ball bowling averages at the club this season. Clarke took 22 wickets and needed four more scalps to be the outright leading wicket-taker.
There were times this season where it seemed as though The Oval’s only purpose was to break the souls of anyone who dared bowl a cricket ball on it. Both of Surrey’s wins came there, but one was Warwickshire – who capitulated spectacularly in the opening week – and the other Somerset, who were probably ten more overs of batting from saving that match.
Runs were, unsurprisingly, never too much of a problem, with Division One’s three leading scorers all applying their trade in South London. Kumar Sangakkara, Mark Stoneman, and Rory Burns surpassed a thousand runs – the only men to do so in Division One, with Stoneman earning a long-awaited Test call.
For the past two years, Surrey have found themselves in a Royal London One-day Cup final and emerged the losing side. 2017 saw it happen for a third time, though at least this year it was one of the season’s great innings from Alex Hales that took the trophy from their grasp, and not a downfall of their own making.
To come second for a third straight year suggests it is worth wondering what could spark them into making that final step successfully. The “why” of it all is mystifying.
2017 marked Surrey’s first quarterfinal exit in T20 cricket, succumbing to Birmingham in this year’s Natwest T20 Blast. It had proven a problematic campaign; their longest string of wins three and failing to pass 160 on six occasions batting first, though they did successfully defend three of those.
In truth, a Finals Day appearance would have been flattering, for they simply were not good enough in T20 regularly to earn it. It’s probably a fair assessment of their entire season, too. Runners-up, quarterfinalists, and third: Surrey are about as much the nearly men as any in 2017.
Specsavers County Championship: 3rd, Division One
Natwest T20 Blast: Quarterfinals (2nd, South Group)
Royal London One-Day Cup: Runners-up (3rd, South Group)
SSCC: Kumar Sangakkara (1491 runs)
T20 Blast: Aaron Finch (489 runs)
One-Day Cup: Kumar Sangakkara (545 runs)
SSCC: Gareth Batty and Sam Curran (25 wickets)
T20 Blast: Jade Dernbach (16 wickets)
One-Day Cup: Sam Curran (20 wickets)
Player of the season:
The only bad thing about Kumar Sangakkara in 2017 is that he has now retired from first-class cricket. At 39, it’s easy to understand the decision but, having dominated the county game this season, he could very easily carry on. His tally of over 2,000 runs in all forms has been a big factor in Surrey coming as close to success as they have, and he will be sorely missed. He is sure to come back to the club, though, having been given an honorary life membership that he described as better than the same gift from the MCC.
A half-century on his List A debut looked to set up Ollie Pope for a strong first season. That never fully came to fruition, but he played every Blast match and became a Championship regular across the final five matches, striking a match-saving century at Hampshire in his second red-ball appearance. At 19, that is nothing to be disappointed with, and it would seem Surrey can expect great things from him in the years to come.
Could have done better:
2017 was not the successful season Scott Borthwick would have wanted after leaving Durham at the end of last year, with both bat and ball. A century in the second week was as good as it got; his next highest score, in any competition, was 50 in the following match. Eight wickets from 23 innings did little to bolster his claim for a regular place, either, and he neither batted nor bowled in the Blast quarterfinal.
Need to work on:
Winning games. 85 points behind Essex is a big margin, but a few early season victories could have put the pressure on the title winners. Seventh place Middlesex were only 17 points behind Surrey, too, and drawing as much as they did puts relegation far too near.
Sangakkara is irreplaceable, but at number four that is exactly what Surrey must do this winter. Fail, and Division Two may well beckon. Tom Curran’s international future is bright and they need to work out how to cope without him.
All told, Surrey have ultimately had a good season – a Lord’s final, Blast quarter-final, and £115,000 from the Championship finish – despite little in the way of silverware. There are, however, cracks that will need addressing before next April.