Deep Extra Cover speaks to Surrey captain Gareth Batty ahead of another busy season at the Kia Oval.
Deep Extra Cover: Over the winter, you signed a new contract here until the end of next season. Are you happy to be here?
Gareth Batty: 100%. I said to Alec [Stewart] when I came back for the second time that I won’t be playing for another club. Deep down this has always been my club and certainly now with everything that’s going on… no, I will not play for another club ever again. [That’s] pretty definitive, I think.
DEC: Next season will be your 20th season in county cricket. Has it felt that long?
GB: It’s weird, I think if you’re not careful, it passes you by very quickly and certainly this winter has so, does it feel that way? The odd time when I get out of bed but I’m still pretty lucky. I still beat the youngsters in the football every morning, [Tom Curran] and his [brother Sam], so no, no. If anything, it’s feeling more like it’s my first one or two seasons. I think just as you get older, you appreciate what you do a bit more.
DEC: Has that been the case over the past few seasons as well?
GB: Quite a while, to be honest. I think everybody has points in their career where it ebbs and flows and ups, downs, all the things that go with it and I’m enjoying everything about what I do at the minute and have done for quite a long time, so hopefully that’s showing with everybody out on the field.
DEC: This is another full season for you as captain, though you’ve had the role on and off since 2012. Does it feel like second nature to you now?
GB: It’s anything but. I think the art of county captaincy is trying, trying your absolute best to get around all the players so that people know where they’re at, trying to have conversations the whole time: players that are playing, players that are not playing, so that people are informed and people know where they’re at.
It’s as much as a happy group is generally a successful group and it takes a lot of time. The actual on-field stuff, let’s be honest, if you all of a sudden put a short leg in when he’s been at square leg, how often does it go to him? Not very. So all that sort of stuff is pie in the sky to an extent.
There is an amount obviously you need to plan for but no, it’s the trying to keep the harmony within the group, people positive and moving forward that you just strive for the whole time, you never nail it down. The day that you think that you have, there will be a few guys upset.
DEC: The fact that the club has developed this tight-knit group within the squad these past few years, has that made it easier?
GB: 100%. This group does everything together. It wins together, on the very odd occasion it loses together, socialises together, works hard together and it is moving forwards. Not one person is outside of that group, everybody is doing it together so that’s the one thing we keep encouraging. We keep the message that it’s about the whole group, not just individuals moving forward.
DEC: Does that make your job a little easier as captain too?
GB: Yeah, I think so. I think consistency is a massive thing, continuity is a massive thing because people know where they’re at. Things are not changing on a regular basis. We very much set the standards at the start of the season: “your role is this, your role is this”. Now you can evolve it in this way and you can evolve it in that way, 100%, we want you to evolve it.
Fundamentally this is your role, that’s what the basic level of expectation is. The rest of it, that’s yours to make it your own and make it that you’re the best in the business at it and we encourage that. There will be mistakes along the way but you learn a lot from mistakes and if you don’t make them it means that you’re not pushing your game and you’re not trying to move forward.
DEC: How do you feel coming into this year, looking back at last season?
GB: I think we played some good cricket. I think we evolved, certainly in white ball cricket. I think Rory Burns coming in and playing so well in 50-over cricket was a revelation, I thought he was magnificent. The reason we lost that final is still my fault.
I changed our formula, there’s nobody else to look at, there’s no fingers pointed anywhere, that’s me, and I think the progression we made in the way we play our red-ball cricket was brilliant as well so everything was very, very good apart from one mistake from me and the rest of it, we build on that. That’s just a building block that we need to be doing it bigger and better this year.
DEC: How well positioned do you feel the squad is coming into the season?
GB: Very, very, but 17 other counties will be thinking exactly the same. You’ve not won or lost a game at this point so that’s the beauty of where we’ve been going with it all. We’re not looking too far ahead, we’re not looking too far behind, it’s just the here and now and we do that well and we do it properly.
DEC: You’re 38 now, have you given any thought at all to retirement?
GB: I’ve not given it any thought. I think when the day comes that Alec no longer wants me I shall take him out for dinner and be very grateful of a wonderful time I’ve had during cricket. When that day comes it’ll just come. At this moment in time I’m very excited, I’m still fit and I still feel like I can do my job and if I walk in the changing room one day and there’s a few young lads looking at me going “what are you doing in here?” then I’ll know it’s my time to walk away and I’ll walk away.
I’ll have no qualms about that in any way, shape or form. Whilst I can still do my job and help us win some games of cricket I very much enjoy it and I love it. It’s in my blood.