An appearance in the Royal London One-Day Cup’s showpiece final along with promotion to Division One of the County Championship, a feat that saw Surrey lift the Division Two trophy, meant 2015 was a return to success in south London.
After narrowly missing out on promotion and exiting the white-ball competitions in the group stage in 2014, pressure mounted for achievement last season. A poor first two months seemed to indicate yet another underwhelming season at The Kia Oval, but an inspired and almost miraculous turnaround saw triumph in the four-day game and a Royal London One-Day Cup run that faltered only at the final hurdle.
Given the near-calamitous months that preceded it, the second half of 2015 was an accomplishment of unimaginable proportions.
Now 2016 is the time to further those achievements.
Over the past three years, a squad has been slowly building, with a range of skillsets and ages to be found within the group. Joining the side this season is Mark Footitt, who left Derbyshire at the end of last season in search of bigger and better things.
It’s easy to see why, with Footitt the leading wicket-taker in Division Two in both of the past two seasons, sharing the position with new teammate Tom Curran last year.
Footitt only adds to the strong unit of players on show at Surrey. In the bowling department alone, the likes of Jade Dernbach, Stuart Meaker, who will, ideally, play substantially more cricket than last summer after injury cut his season short, James Burke as well as the aforementioned Curran and younger brother and developing star Sam all present a range of capabilities.
On the batting side, Jason Roy, Steven Davies, Gary Wilson and Rory Burns, who have all been at the club for several years, are highly-skilled players who are essential to the side’s efforts.
That’s not to forget experienced captain Gareth Batty. Since taking the role in 2012, Batty has shown himself more than capable as the side’s leader, and even at the age of 38, it’s clear to see that there is still much for him to bring to the club.
Joining on a three-year deal, Michael di Venuto takes over as head coach after Graham Ford’s return to coach Sri Lanka, and with him comes a great deal of county experience. He’ll look to make his mark as quickly as he can with an expectation for performances of the highest quality, which could make Surrey a force to be reckoned with in the early stages of the year.
When Surrey were last promoted back in 2011, the focus was on survival. With a strong, developing squad, that shouldn’t be the case this season. Sights can be set high and this team can believe that great things are well within their reach.
Ins: Mark Footitt (Derbyshire), Conor McKerr, Mathew Pillans (both British Passport), Ravi Rampaul (Kolpak)
Outs: Kevin Pietersen (will “not be playing county cricket” in 2016), Tim Linley, Chris Tremlett, Vikram Solanki, David Balcombe (all retired)
From a Surrey perspective, it’s unfortunate that Jason Roy has, for the most part, succeeded for England in white-ball cricket this winter, because his value to the club cannot be underemphasised. He will once again miss part of the domestic season – likely seven games across the different formats – due to his international commitments, but that doesn’t mean that he won’t play a key role in Surrey’s quest for titles.
Roy can be pleased with his form last year, amassing 810 runs at an average of 48 in twelve Championship matches, but there will be a real desire to push on and break that this season. At the top of the order in the shorter forms, Roy can kickstart an innings in a way few others can, and he played a big role in his side’s search for the 2015 One-Day Cup trophy.
There were times last season where, despite going big with the bat, Roy looked very uncertain of himself. The freedom he has been offered by England’s new management style in the past year will have given him confidence and should he bring that to Surrey over the coming months, he could make them a real force to contend with in all formats.
Player to Watch
Described by Director of Cricket Alec Stewart as the best 17-year-old he has ever seen, Sam Curran’s emergence halfway through last season was a revelation. The son of former Zimbabwe all-rounder Kevin Curran, Sam broke into the Surrey team in a T20 match against Kent in June.
Less than a month later, against the same opposition, Curran became the youngest player ever to take a five-wicket-haul on his Championship debut.
Things didn’t stop there, and his 44 wickets across all competitions saw him earn a spot in England’s squad for the Under-19s World Cup. Many have suggested he could break into the full side within a few years.
Currently in the second year of his A-Levels, Curran’s availability in the first two months of the season will be inconsistent at best. When he does play, however, he will pose a real threat to all those he comes up against, and 2016 could be a golden season for a very special talent.
Some real overseas power players join Surrey’s ranks in 2016. The club have made two signings for the T20 Blast: Dwayne Bravo and Chris Morris. Bravo will be available for the first six matches, with Morris replacing him for the final six games.
Both players will offer a considerable amount with bat and ball, allowing Surrey a considerable amount of freedom with the remainder of their line-up, and they’ll be hoping for displays like Morris’s explosive 38-ball 62 against England earlier in the year.
Once again, Kumar Sangakkara remains a crucial part of the side, with his long international career providing him with the knowledge and experience that can be used both on and off the field. Much like in 2015, he’ll be available for the majority of the season.
However, when he leaves for the Caribbean Premier League at the end of June, Aaron Finch will join the squad. Finch, who has played at Yorkshire for the past two seasons, will be eligible in all competitions, and he will only add to the talent pool brewing at The Kia Oval.
How they’ll fare
Realistically, it’s difficult to imagine the south London county aiming to take Yorkshire’s crown. But with some excellent players at the club, they would be remiss to assume it isn’t possible. More likely would be targeting silverware in one of the two limited overs competitions. Two Finals Days from three in the Blast and a runners-up position in 2015s 50-over format will inspire belief that this year, making that final step might be possible.
v Nottinghamshire, Sunday 10th April at Trent Bridge
Specsavers County Championship Division One: 8/1
Royal London One-Day Cup: N/A
Natwest Twenty20 Blast: N/A