Homegrown Surrey plan to start another dynasty

By Charlie Talbot-Smith

The bad news for the rest of the County Championship is that when Surrey lift the title – they seldom stop at just one. In their history, the South London boys have made a habit of putting together dynasties rather than single successes.

Sixteen years ago, Adam Hollioake lifted their last crown to cap a run of three titles in four years. They also won seven in a row back in the Fifties and if you go all the way back to the competition’s inception at the start of the 19th century – you will see that the Brown Caps won five of the first six editions.

So when Michael Di Venuto – head coach of the 2018 champions – says there is more to come from this crop, you know it’s not an idle threat.

“You want to go on a roll and win for a period of time and Surrey have certainly done that over their history,” said the former Australia batting coach.

“When they have won a title, they have generally won quite a few. That’s what every team wants.

“It is all about us, and if it happens that we can win a few in a row then great.

“The blend and the strengths of this squad would certainly suggest that will be there or thereabouts in the coming years. And we want to improve as well – that is what the best sides do, and certainly we can do that.

“But for us, our process is about our individuals and trying to help them improve and be the best players that they can be.

“We want them to play for England, we love seeing them on the TV. And when they come back to us, they want to win games for Surrey as well.”

The source of much of Surrey’s success this year has, of course, been their homegrown talent.

From Ollie Pope to Amar Virdi, via the Curran brothers, the big spenders in the big city have been growing their own for a while now.

And from the moment Di Venuto arrived back in 2016 to continue Alec Stewart’s vision – he knew they were onto something special. But there was certainly work to do.

“When I came in I inherited a squad and I saw the young talent that we had. It is top-end young talent – I said to myself, ‘these are serious young players’,” he said.

“You don’t know the specific timeline, you don’t know when it’s going to click like it has.

“But certainly it has been a progression, when I came in Surrey had just won Division Two and got promoted so we were the tenth best team in the country.

“And for me it was about getting the right senior players around those guys.

“You do the majority of your learning out in the middle, batting with a Kumar Sangakkara or in the field next to Morne Morkel.

“So recruiting was about getting the right people who will help the youngster out in the middle and their development in general.

“Mark Stoneman, Rikki Clarke, Kumar, these guys have been terrific.”

(Photo: Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images)

The icing on the cake this year was obviously Morkel.

Much credit must also be laid at academy coach Gareth Townsend’s door – but there were still changes that needed to be made.

Not least in the fitness department where first Rob Ahmun – now with England – and subsequently Darren Veness have made real strides.

“We struggled a bit early, getting used to Division One cricket and there were certainly things I saw when I came in,” added Di Venuto.

“We were not fit enough – yes, I saw some exceptional young talent but way down on their fitness.

“I barely had a fast bowler, Tom Curran and Sam Curran were teenagers leading the attack. They were doing everything, opening bowlers, stock bowlers, strike bowlers.

“They are terrific young cricketers but it was too much workload on two young men.

“Now we are fit and strong, guys are playing lots more cricket and staying on the park – just look at Jade Dernbach who is a role-model professional and as fit as he has ever been.

“If you keep fast bowlers on the park and fresh as they can be in county cricket, you are half the way there.”

(Photo: Getty Images)

And leading from the front in all this has, of course, been Rory Burns.

The skipper, Surrey through and through, but one who almost slipped the net according to former director of cricket Chris Adams.

“When I was there he was a good player coming up through the system but had not got picked up at the end of that trail,” said Adams – who led Surrey to a promotion and a one-day crown in his time in charge before the Tom Maynard tragedy hastened his departure.

“I remember Rory going off to play for Hampshire in a trial game and our vast knowledge of specialists in the coaching department were not sure.

“I seem to remember he got a hundred in that game, and I had him in two days later and gave him his first contract.

“I got a hunch about his character more so than his ability, that was what drew me to him first. He was a bit of a fighter.

“I’m pleased we got that one right – you don’t always get them right!”

Burns is one of the few holdovers from the Adams era – another is the inimitable Gareth Batty.

Batty might not have played a red-ball game this season, but make no mistake about it he has been a key pillar in this Surrey’s side progression.

And it was Adams who brought him back to the Oval in 2010.

“I’m delighted for them, and there are still quite a few players there that I have given contracts to. Tom Curran, Jason Roy, Gareth Batty who has been pivotal.

“What a character and player he has been.

“I have got two words that begin with G to describe him. One is ‘granite’ – from a mental aspect, a team point of view he is rock solid. As consistent as you will ever get in terms of his output within a dressing room. Yes he is fiery, committed, competitive, but he never changes.

“And the other is ‘glue’. I can guarantee that while he might not have played this year, he will have been in there, in and amongst it.

“As can happen in any campaign, there can be fractures and people start to go away from gameplans, but you need a Gareth Batty – to bring it all back in together and keep it solid and connected in the middle.

“People like that are few and far between and when you get one, you hang onto him for dear life because they are very special.”

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