It would be no surprise if Surrey’s players had a number of sleepless nights this winter — not through watching teammates Mark Stoneman and Tom Curran toil in Australia, but from being haunted by nightmares about Alex Hales.
His sublime innings meant that Surrey emerged runners-up in the Royal London One-Day Cup for a third consecutive season, as the three major honours eluded them for another year.
Their Specsavers County Championship campaign did little to thrill, with their two wins coming at home in the first and penultimate fixtures of the season.
In between came draws and plenty of them. Surrey’s ten stalemates is the same number of games Essex won on their way to the Division One crown.
Surrey’s batting was very top-heavy, with the division’s three leading run-scorers all plying their trade at The Oval — Kumar Sangakkara, Mark Stoneman and Rory Burns.
This season, their batting depth will be examined. Sangakkara has since retired while Stoneman, after a moderate winter, may be retained by England for summer Tests against Pakistan and India.
Of the three, only Burns remains firmly at the club and has been awarded the captaincy for 2018, with 40-year-old Gareth Batty stepping down after three years and playing solely as a bowler.
There should be no shortage of options for Surrey, with the likes of Ben Foakes in fantastic domestic form, seasoned professional Rikki Clarke on hand and 2017 signing Scott Borthwick, who failed to make an impression in his debut year, looking to improve.
Throw in Jason Roy and overseas signing Mitchell Marsh — both of whom will miss small stages of the season through international commitments — they look a formidable force.
Brothers Curran remain exciting and optimism on the south side of the Thames wouldn’t be inappropriate, but the challenge will be turning the promise into results and results into trophies.
Ins: Will Jacks (Youth), Gus Atkinson (Youth), Mitchell Marsh (Overseas)
Outs: Kumar Sangakkara (Retired), Ravi Rampaul (Derbyshire)
Key Player – Stuart Meaker
Surrey’s biggest problem last season was taking wickets, with only relegated Warwickshire claiming fewer bowling points than them in Division One. So while the likes of Burns will need to step up to cover for the loss of Sangakkara, it is the bowlers who will be crucial.
There will be fierce competition for places this season but Stuart Meaker is one bowler who will have a major role to play.
His pace is much-lauded around the county circuit and despite his international aspirations barely getting off the ground, he is a dangerous cricketer.
If the wickets at The Oval are once again as flat as last season, Meaker’s speed will be crucial in improving that bowling points return.
Player to Watch – Amar Virdi
Batty’s age means this could end up being his final season in cricket, so there is no better time to push through the development of 19-year-old off-spinner Amar Virdi.
Virdi made his first-class debut last May and picked up six wickets in three appearances, and Surrey will want him to progress further this year.
Various international commitments mean there will be openings in this side and Virdi should feel confident about getting chances this summer, particularly on Oval pitches that welcome spin and where he and Batty could be used in tandem.
With Sangakkara having retired at the end of last season, Surrey have been forced to fill a gap that is arguably unfillable.
To attempt that, the club have brought in Australian all-rounder Mitchell Marsh, who has been in good form throughout the winter.
A pair of centuries in the Ashes as well as three half-centuries across all formats against England and South Africa will encourage those at The Oval.
He is unlikely to match Sangakkara’s 1491 Division One runs last season, but Surrey will be hoping he can push the thousand run barrier.
Marsh remains the club’s only overseas signing although Morne Morkel is reportedly set to sign a Kolpak deal having retired from international cricket, while the Times of India have claimed Virat Kohli will play three Championship games for Surrey in June when Marsh is with Australia’s ODI squad.
How they’ll fare
There is more than enough talent in this team to produce a title-winning season, despite little changing in the way of personnel during the off-season.
A first Championship victory since 2002 looks very possible, although Surrey will need to vastly improve their ability to pick up wins for that to happen.
It would also be foolish to write them off in either white-ball competition, especially in the One-Day Cup where they have found a successful formula despite not turning that into silverware.
With Surrey’s resources, bringing a trophy back to South London should be a minimum requirement.
SSCC v Hampshire, Friday 20th April at The KIA Oval
SS County Championship Division 1: 6/1
Royal London One-Day Cup: 10/1
Vitality Twenty20 Blast: 8/1