A solid season for the second year running at The Kia Oval saw Surrey once again fall at the final hurdle in the Royal London One-Day Cup, but there are signs of progress and plenty to be excited about.
After only narrowly faltering at the hands of Gloucestershire in 2015’s Lord’s showpiece finale, their trip across the Thames this year was barely a contest. Warwickshire pushed Surrey aside with ease, a failure immensely disappointing to all those involved at the South London club.
Still, missing out on silverware only leaves a bad taste in the mouth. It’s slightly misrepresentative of a season where, despite the occasional hiccup, Surrey proved that their developing squad are certainly on the right tracks.
A slow start to the year saw Surrey win only one match before June, beating Essex in the T20 Blast. It took until their eighth Championship match to record their first victory, a run that included four defeats.
To say their four-day form had turned around by September would be overstating things slightly, but they won three of the final eight and, for a brief moment, looked set to achieve a higher finish than they ultimately did.
Yet a fifth place finish is more than respectable for the newly promoted side. During their mostly winless run early in the season, many questioned whether this side were strong enough to compete in Division One. The criticism was justified at the time, the on-field performances struggling to live up to expectations set by last year’s success.
Twice defeated by an innings during that poor start – to Yorkshire and Lancashire – Surrey’s efforts didn’t reflect the strength of a team that lost just a single Championship match last season.
Comprehensive victories over Warwickshire and Lancashire as part of an unbeaten August run suggested a turnaround, and while that couldn’t translate into any quantifiable success, it certainly places them on much better ground than it had looked like they’d be in May.
Defeat to London rivals Middlesex in the antepenultimate Blast group match meant that Surrey missed out on the quarterfinals for a second consecutive year. For sure, it was a frustrating loss – sat nicely at 127 for two with eight overs remaining, Surrey stumbled and could only make 196, a target chased down with relative ease on a good Lord’s pitch.
In truth, the early exit from the Blast allowed them to focus on two perhaps more important things: remaining in Division One of the Championship and seeking redemption for their One-Day Cup final silver medal last year.
The former was achieved.
For a time, the latter looked impossible. Defeats against Kent, Somerset and Hampshire left Surrey seventh in the group with only four games remaining. The six-week break in June and July revitalised the side, winning three of their remaining four – including a no result – to reach the last eight.
Kumar Sangakkara helped his side scrape past Northamptonshire in the quarterfinals with an unbeaten 130. Victory at Headingley in the semifinal was slightly easier, though it required a standout partnership between Ben Foakes and the departing Steven Davies to keep them in a tie that, at one stage, they had looked out of.
By the time Lord’s came around, Surrey had secured their place in Division One and had only this to focus on before their winter break.
It was a capitulation of epic proportions. Rory Burns top-scored with 40 and only five batsmen made double figures in a total of 136. Jonathan Trott, hitting 82, sunk Surrey to another Final defeat.
The manner of the defeat made the pill all the more difficult to swallow, but it undermines the good work the side had done throughout the year. It was never consistently spectacular, but positive signs are on display, and it’s hard not to look to next year and wonder if they might be able to go a step further.
LVCC: 5th, Division One
T20 Blast: 5th, South Group
RLODC: Runners-up 4th, South Group
SSCC: Rory Burns – 1144 @ 40.85
T20 Blast: Jason Roy – 495 – SR: 164.45
RLODC: Steven Davies – 396 @ 39.60
SSCC: Gareth Batty – 41 @ 31.21
T20 Blast: Sam Curran – 11 – Econ: 7.89
RLODC: Stuart Meaker – 17 – Econ: 6.25
Win %: 41.5%
Player of the Season: Rory Burns
Missing only two matches throughout the year, Rory Burns stepped up to the plate and proved his talent. Surrey’s leading run-scorer in the Championship, and across all cricket, Burns notched up two centuries and 12 fifties and averaged 41.6 in the four-day format.
His steady hand and gritty resolve at the top of the order frequently assisted his side. A season high of 122 at Hampshire – albeit on a very batsman-friendly pitch – helped Surrey out of the relegation places, but it was often contributions with those around him that elevated his season.
Breakthrough Player: Ben Foakes
After joining the club in 2015 to try and make more progress behind the stumps, Ben Foakes has shone this season. Taking the second most dismissals in the Championship with 46, Foakes attempted to prove his worth as a keeper-batsman with over 1200 runs across the formats.
The 23-year-old played a vital role in the One-Day Cup semi-final, scoring 90 after coming to the crease with his side desperate for an innings at 61 for three.
Could have done better: Zafar Ansari
Plagued by the injury to his thumb throughout the season, Zafar Ansari never quite lived up to the expectations set by his strong performance in 2015.
Though he took 33 wickets in 2016, it was a far cry from his return of 65 the previous year. His dip in success is understandable, but his failure to hit the heights that got him selected by England – even though he is named in the squad again this time – will surely be disheartening.
Need to work on
Getting off to a better start in the respective competitions. Though they made it to the final, Surrey lost three of their first four matches in the One-Day Cup; additionally, their first Championship victory came in June. Had they hit the ground running from day one, 2016 may well have been a truly successful year.
Very few things need changing at Surrey. The exit of Steven Davies will be a big loss, but they will go into 2017 with another year’s experience on their shoulders and the continued wisdom of Gareth Batty and Kumar Sangakkara, and that could be enough for this developing squad.
Surrey put up a good fight this season, despite a far from ideal start, and though there will be disappointment over a second final defeat in as many years, the side can hold their heads up high with the knowledge that they’ll only come back stronger next year.