It can be easy to get carried away with a Specsavers County Championship title victory, but the quality of Surrey’s squad means those in South London can dream gleefully.
This is a team for whom everything came together last year. They constructed a run of nine straight victories in the Championship, five of which came by an innings, and only tasted defeat in the final match against Essex.
It was a phenomenal team effort, but Rory Burns and Morne Morkel, in particular, were superb. Morkel’s 59 wickets struck fear into his opponents while Burns, in his first season as club captain, was the best batsman in the country bar none. His 1359 Championship runs were more than 300 clear of his closest challenger and, as one of only four batsmen to pass 1,000 runs, earnt him an England Test call.
Performances in the white-ball competitions were not so comprehensive, failing to make the knockout stages in either the Royal London One-Day Cup or the Vitality Blast. That will be an area to improve this time around.
So many crucial members of the squad are 28 or younger and therefore have some of their best years ahead of them. Director of cricket Alec Stewart has overseen remarkable progress since his appointment in 2014 and having noted at the end of last season that he wants his side to push on further, it would not be surprising to see them do so.
They have made very few changes. Only Mathew Pillans, the South African bowler who featured irregularly in his three years, departed Surrey, with Liam Plunkett and Jordan Clark brought in.
Clark’s hat-trick in the Roses match last season was a reminder of the impact he can have, while Plunkett remains an important part of the England white-ball sides. He will be scarcely available in the first half of the season but will be influential in the second half — especially in the Blast.
For the first time in more than 15 years, fans can dream of an era of success returning to The KIA Oval. With last season is a template, it could be another brilliant season for Surrey.
Ins: Liam Plunkett (Yorkshire), Jordan Clark (Lancashire)
Outs: Mathew Pillans (Yorkshire)
Simon Harmer proved for Essex two years ago that a shrewd overseas or Kolpak signing can make a huge impact, and Surrey doubled down on that last season. Bringing in Morne Morkel was an inspired decision and it paid off handsomely.
He essentially steamrolled all in his path — he took a wicket in all but one innings — despite, mercifully for some, missing the first four games through injury. It is difficult to ignore a man with 309 Test wickets spearheading your attack.
With more Championship matches being played in the middle of the season, pitches may be quicker than last year, suiting him better. Few bowlers will intimidate quite like Morkel — Duanne Olivier at Yorkshire comes closest — and if he can find something even close to last year’s form, there will be little stopping him.
Player to Watch
Will Jacks made headlines during Surrey’s pre-season trip to Dubai by striking a 25-ball century in a T10 match against Lancashire. The feat included six sixes from a Stephen Parry over, and his talent is clear to see.
He had an impressive debut season, scoring 589 runs across the formats, including a maiden hundred in the One-Day Cup against Gloucestershire in just his third match. The 20-year-old, who has played for England Lions, followed that up with half-centuries in each of the formats.
Jacks is likely to be on the fringes of a very strong red-ball side — particularly with Surrey retaining their potential Test players until late July — but has very quickly made himself a huge asset in white-ball cricket. He is sure to provide a selection headache in the Championship with some strong One-Day Cup performances, and that can only be a good thing.
Surrey have resigned Dean Elgar for 2019, with the South African opener joining in late April and set to feature in 13 Championship matches. The move is subject to his international commitments but South Africa do not play another Test until October, while he has played just eight ODIs — only three of which have come since the last World Cup.
Elgar played a part in Surrey’s Championship victory last season, scoring one hundred and two half-centuries in stints at either end of the season.
Aaron Finch will also return to The KIA Oval having signed a two-year T20 deal in 2017. The Australian has enjoyed a productive three seasons with Surrey, averaging 60.77 and striking three hundreds.
His most recent century in the Blast came in Surrey’s memorable victory over Middlesex last August, bludgeoning 117 not out as they chased 222 with four overs remaining — it was a brutal display of power-hitting and a reminder of how dangerous they can be when Finch is in form.
How they’ll fare
This is a Surrey side that could very easily dominate the Championship for the next five years. They have lost none of their major players and strengthened, cool as you like, with Liam Plunkett and Jordan Clark.
Surrey’s depth is frightening, to say the least. They were the best team in Division One last season by some distance and they are unlikely to be any less relentless this time around. It will take a staggering effort from another county to deny Surrey back-to-back titles.
With Aaron Finch — one of the world’s best T20 batsmen — in their ranks, they would expect to do far better in the Blast than they have done so far.
They are yet to reach Finals Day with him but that run surely cannot last.
Such is Surrey’s all-round strength that should also be challenging for the One-Day Cup. It will play into their hands that the competition takes place early in the season and will not impede their red-ball hopes and as third favourites, they cannot be ruled out.
v Essex, Thursday 11th April at The KIA Oval
Season Odds (SkyBet)
Specsavers County Championship Division One: 9/4
Royal London One-Day Cup: 8/1
Vitality Blast: 8/1