How you might have scoffed at my assertion last year that 2011's CB40 represented Surrey's best chance of honours. Even Chris Adams was least confident about the one day competition. But so it came to pass and thus we begin this week the defence of our title won so magnificently at the Home of Cricket six months ago. What hope do we have of retaining it in 2012?
While the turnover of players in the winter was minimal there are two deceptively important parts of last year's side missing. Chris Schofield and Yasir Arafat, either absent or ineffective in other forms, were quietly effective in the CB40 matches. Is there enough talent in this squad to account for that? I think so.
That we won last year with relatively few contributions from 2010's star performers with the bat - Hamilton-Brown and Davies - is testament to how the rest of the side stood up. Jason Roy was peerless for the most part in amassing 585 runs at 45, his consecutive hundreds against Warwickshire and Leicestershire were pre-final highlights.
The other gem was Matthew Spriegel who racked up 424 runs at 53, largely from the number six slot. Alright the average is inflated somewhat by four unbeaten scores, but the volume of runs cannot be denied. His contributions were vital. His batting was so vastly improved from previous limited overs seasons as to be almost unrecognisable. If he can continue his 2011 form with the bat, and add a few more wickets into the mix, he could (and should in my view) be pushing Gareth Batty for a place in the Championship side. Tom Maynard was also impressive, cracking 481 runs at 40, he'll want to continue that good form as he looks to press for limited overs recognition with England.
If Hamilton-Brown and Davies can rediscover the magic of two years ago where between them they scored 963 runs, whether that be at the top of the order or elsewhere, we will be very tough to beat. Zander de Bruyn, disappointing in 2011, will want to bounce back and he should bowl more than he did last year, just 28 overs in 13 games does not reflect how useful a containing option he can be.
Adams won't be able to field quite the same ultra spin-heavy sides he did in 2011 because of Schofield's departure, but he still has Spriegel, Batty and Hamilton-Brown to call on. As well as Zafar Ansari and possibly Freddie van den Bergh later in the season.
He does though have a wealth of quick bowling talent to call on so we should expect more overs of pace this year. Dernbach, Meaker, Lewis and Linley can all play a key role, even if the Viscount was short of his best in the CB40 last year. Tremlett will also come back into the equation before too long.
How Chris Jordan is employed will be interesting to see, Adams previously employed him as an opening batsman with license to attack late in the 2009 Twenty20 Cup. Given the under-performing Hamilton-Brown/Davies opening partnership last year, he may look again at that option as he will probably feel he needs an allrounder in the side to replace Schofield. I would personally stick with the skipper and Davies at the top of the order, in either case Jordan's bowling in this format needs to improve drastically, he was shockingly disappointing last season.
We should be right in amongst the best again this season but it will be a concern to Adams that he cannot replicate precisely the recipe that took us to victory in 2011. I think we should look to play six batsmen plus Spriegel, with Rudolph (or perhaps Lancefield or Burns, if Adams wants to look to the long term) coming in to the middle order as the additional batsman. Batty, Lewis, Meaker at eight, nine and ten, with Dernbach to follow, would make a well balanced side. There is also insurance on the bowling front if either of the five main bowlers is targeted, with de Bruyn and Hamilton-Brown ready to come in.
Surrey will rightly be confident of more success in this format and retaining the trophy is a realistic proposition.