‘Third time lucky’ is a proverb that, in various forms, has been around for over four centuries, with no definitive explanation for why it is three that brings good fortune. Irrespective of its origins or meanings, Surrey will be simply be hoping that it rings true in 2017.
After an agonisingly narrow defeat in 2015’s Royal London One-Day Cup final, the South London club fell at the final hurdle yet again last year, albeit in less competitive fashion.
It was a disappointing end to a season that had otherwise seen promising progress made across the board.
A mid-table finish in their first year back in Division One since 2013 was a good return, while a one-point gap kept them from the Natwest T20 Blast’s knockout stages.
But where 2016’s objectives might not have been the most ambitious, the new season brings with it higher aspirations.
If last year’s Championship aim was survival, it isn’t unrealistic to see Surrey as dark horse contenders for the crown.
An eight-team division only heightens the competitive nature of the season, but they aren’t short of depth or quality and a strong start could prove dangerous to their rivals.
This is a club who vie for success and know how to do it, especially in white-ball cricket; they’ve reached at least the semi-finals in either competition in all but one year since 2011.
All that’s plagued them is last-gasp capitulation, and with a year’s more experience under their belt, Surrey’s players may be able to bring home one of the three main trophies for the first time in six years.
Ins: Mark Stoneman, Scott Borthwick (both Durham), Kevin Pietersen (T20), Moises Henriques (T20)
Outs: Steven Davies (Somerset), Gary Wilson (Derbyshire), Azhar Mahmood (retired), James Burke (Leicestershire, loan)
Key Player – Kumar Sangakkara
Even at the age of 39, Kumar Sangakkara remains one of the most talented players in world cricket.
His skill and his wisdom from two decades in the professional game are unmatched across the country, and what he adds to Surrey cannot be understated.
There is no complication with his style as patience, temperament, and finesse allow him control and prosperity.
He passed 1000 Championship runs last year despite missing four matches, topping the club’s batting averages and remaining a constant threat to any bowler who dared oppose him.
Although he will miss a month of the season due to Caribbean Premier League commitments and his absence will be felt, much of it will be for the Blast in which Surrey are not short of power-players.
Sangakkara is just as composed off the field as he is on it; he is able to impart his knowledge onto the younger members of the squad, making his role at the club indispensable.
Player to Watch – Ollie Pope
Wicket-keeper batsman Ollie Pope may be aided this season by the fact that he will likely remain under the radar, given the excitement surrounding Sam Curran.
Pope played for England’s Under-19s in India over the winter and was the side’s second highest runscorer with 179 in the series.
Arguably, a slightly below par return for a five-match series, but given that they performed only slightly better than the senior team, it is far from a bad thing.
The 19-year-old held together the middle order batting at five and picked up six catches and a stumping.
His role at The KIA Oval this season is undetermined, and though he is unlikely to be a regular, it is difficult to envisage him not being given ample opportunity.
With Ben Foakes firmly in control of wicket-keeping duties, Pope may only invariably be able to show off both of his skillsets.
But if he can step up to the plate with the bat and highlight his quality when given the chance, he will stand in good stead as he develops.
Overseas Signings – Moises Henriques and Aaron Finch
Two years after breaking his jaw on the field for Surrey, Moises Henriques returns to provide Blast cover when Sangakkara departs for the Caribbean Premier League.
Since his horrific injury in 2015, Henriques has returned to Australia to play in all three formats, captaining both New South Wales and Sydney Sixers and earning a place in his country’s February T20 series against Sri Lanka.
Though he has bowled fewer overs in recent weeks than his previous county spell, he still offers an extra option and is more than capable with the bat having averaged 64.58 in this year’s Sheffield Shield.
Aaron Finch will once again serve as the club’s T20 specialist but will also be eligible for the Championship during Sangakkara’s absence.
He scored 259 runs in six Blast games last year and averaged 48.66 in as many first-class innings, and such is his style that he is a health and safety hazard to any crowd members not quite paying attention.
How they’ll fare
The bookies see Surrey as favourites in both limited overs competitions, an assessment that isn’t much of a stretch all things considered.
Two consecutive runners-up medals in the One-Day Cup suggest an existing quality, while the explosive power of Jason Roy and Finch, a returning Kevin Pietersen, and the like means they cannot be dismissed as real Blast contenders.
Championship cricket will be far more competitive than recent years given the structural change, but Surrey have the depth and talent to make a real challenge, though that is mostly contingent on a strong start.
The much-talked about Curran brothers, now a year older, should pose even more of a threat than last season, while Foakes’ and Rory Burns’ restrained but effective batting – along with Sangakkara – provide an antithesis to the less conventional squad members.
New signings Scott Borthwick and Mark Stoneman add further depth with the bat, while Borthwick provides yet another option with his legspin.
And, despite being 39, captain Gareth Batty still has plenty to offer with his offspin a real danger on pitches displaying even a hint of turn.
They may not be the finished article just yet, but the squad’s winter refinement could be enough to bring at least one piece of silverware to South London this season.
v Warwickshire, Friday 7th April at The KIA Oval.
LV County Championship Division One: 5/1
Royal London One-Day Cup: 7/1
Natwest Twenty20 Blast: 7/1