Thursday, 21 February 2013

Ponting signs as Smith cover

If, after beating the drop with a game to spare, you'd told me that in the next season we'd have turning out for us the two most successful captains in test match history, I'd have laughed in your face. But so it has come to pass, Ricky Ponting will play in Graeme Smith's place when he's away with South Africa, and alongside him in the Twenty20.

Ponting played his last test in December and since then he's been gorging himself at the table of Australian domestic cricket. First he played in seven of the Hobart Hurricanes' Big Bash League fixtures, scoring 236 runs at 39 in the process. He's also scored just shy of 600 Sheffield Shield runs at an average of 119, including an unbeaten double hundred in Tasmania's most recent match. And for good measure he's scored 200 one day runs. The bloke can very definitely still bat at the grand old age of 38.

He doesn't have especially happy memories of the Oval of course, having lost the last two Ashes series in England at the ground. Hopefully he'll see his two month mid-season stint as a chance to put some of those memories to rest.

Having gone into last season with a comparatively young, inexperienced side we will now have some very experienced pros making up our top six. A squad that had an average age of about 25 last year is now more like 28. Where four players aged between 22 and 25 departed the club at the end of last season, four have since been signed aged between 32 and 38. The change of tack is clear and the watchword is experience. For the younger contingent, the likes of Burns, Ansari, Roy and Harinath the summer of 2013 could be a critical and valuable time in their career development. Who better than Smith and Ponting to bring those players up to the next level?

What cannot be in doubt is that the club are backing the current management with some serious spending. No other coach in county cricket has been afforded the kind of playing budget Chris Adams has at his disposal this year. With such significant investment comes the pressure to succeed, and succeed quickly. A middling season is unlikely to be tolerated. There have been suggestions that Adams' role at the club is being marginalised, and with the departure of Hamilton-Brown - the man hand-picked by Adams to lead the team in his image - its hard to avoid coming to that conclusion. If indeed that is the case it need not be a negative for anyone concerned, if the likes of Smith and Ponting (and perhaps Solanki too) take a more active role in leading the team, maybe Adams will have more time to dedicate to coaching.

It is not just the calibre of player that is significant, but also the type of player. In signing Smith and Ponting, two of the most disciplined and determined players the game has ever seen, Surrey have signaled that attitudes have to change. Nothing less than absolute commitment will be tolerated.

One thing's for sure, 2013 is going to be a fascinating season for Surrey fans. Roll on April.