In last season's preview I was adamant that the batting was our weakest department. Since then we've lost Hamilton-Brown, Ramprakash, Spriegel, Lancefield and of course Tom Maynard. We are certainly not blessed with large numbers of batsmen, but the ones we have are a pretty handy bunch. It still doesn't quite replicate the strength we have in the seam bowling department for example, but there are plenty of positives to draw on.
Being light on numbers, there is a concern over a lack of competition for the batting slots. If some of the players who struggled for form in 2012 continue to do so, Adams may find himself short of alternatives. Here's a player-by-player account of the options at his disposal:
What to say about the man who in the last nine months has hit the following milestones: 100 tests (against England at the Oval), 100 tests as captain (against Pakistan at the Wanderers) and most test wins as captain (winning his 49th test vs. Pakistan, overhauling Ponting's record). It seems scarcely believable that such a colossus of the international game will be turning out for Surrey this month (assuming his dodgy ankle isn’t too dodgy of course). Any extended period he can spend in and around the club will be of immense value. Not just in passing on his skills as a batsman but also in impressing his attitude on a group of players, many of whom are still finding their way in cricket. His work ethic, combined with that of the other "big beasts" of the batting order, Zander de Bruyn and Vikram Solanki, could see the side transformed. After the disappointment of Jacques Rudolph last year, this South African opener won't let us down.
One of very few genuine bright spots in 2012, Rory Burns' emergence as a genuine talent and a genuine opener was a massive bonus. The last three seasons have seen 17 players tried in the openers' slots but we go in to 2013 reasonably certain of the opening partnership. Young players are always susceptible to the mysterious "second season syndrome" that can make the first one seem like a fluke, and undoubtedly Division One bowlers have had a good look at him now and life will be tougher for him. However such was Burns' composure in taking on the tricky opener's role, and in tricky circumstances I have high hopes that he'll continue where he left off. His pre-season form suggest’s he’ll be fine with scores of 39* and 79 against Hampshire and Kent.
More than a few eyebrows were raised as Surrey's spending splurge continued apace, following the signing of Graeme Smith with that of former Australia captain Ponting. He comes at a price sure, but his Sheffield Shield form this season shows that the price is warranted. Although he's 38 he still topped the Shield batting with 911 runs at 76, with three hundreds in nine matches as he collected his first winners medal. His grit and leadership skills will come in more than handy when Smith is unavailable, and the younger batsmen in the side will benefit from his vast experience.
This is a big year for Harinath. He was given the final six fixtures of the 2012 season to perform and nail down a place in the side. He didn't do that beyond doubt, but he did a very solid job, averaging 37 in the number three slot with two hundreds. It was the first time in a while that he'd been given a lengthy run in the first XI and there was nothing to suggest he should be replaced in the side for 2013. He is a mentally very strong player, and while he doesn't have a huge array of shots (though he has expanded significantly in the last 18 months or so) he is very intelligent, and technically sound. He will have to make the most of his talents, but there are few who work harder at their game. To my mind it is important that Harinath is backed to continue in the number three slot ahead of Solanki.
37 years old and just a single hundred in 2012 does not make especially pretty reading for Surrey fans expecting Solanki to form a key part of an experienced middle order. However, his 2011 was markedly better and let's face it, how many batsmen had a great time of it last summer? Age is not necessarily a barrier to big runs, Mark Ramprakash was 36 when he scored 2,278 runs in 2006 and he scored a few more after that. Solanki isn't the batsman Ramps was but he's still a fine player capable of scoring plenty of runs. He's used to the number three slot but I'm hopeful that that will be the reserve of Harinath, and such an experienced player at number four is no bad thing. His pre-season form, just 22 runs in two games, could give Adams cause for concern, he may have to make an outing for the Second XI this week to find some form. If he does, and he and Steven Davies ever get into top gear in partnership make sure you’re there to watch it.
Zander de Bruyn:
Such a rock of the Surrey batting order in 2011, de Bruyn endured a torrid time of it in 2012 registering just a single hundred in the final fixture, adding something of a gloss to his numbers. His returns over the winter in South Africa have been worryingly similar, averaging an identical 26 from 17 innings with no hundreds, suggesting that last season's form may be the rule rather than the exception. Should his mediocre run continue he will surely be put out to pasture. Nonetheless a return to form would be most welcome, if nothing else his part time military medium can be useful in early season conditions, allowing three seamers to be played. His winter form with the ball - 21 wickets at 26 – was significantly better than his batting. He’s been missing throughout Surrey’s pre-season so far because of T20 duty in South Africa and since he hasn’t faced a delivery since the 9th of February, Adams will be taking something of a gamble if he’s selected for the first game.
Davies revealed earlier this year that he has been struggling with depression after the death of Tom Maynard and that may explain his poor form in the latter half of 2012. In truth it is some time since we saw the best of Steven Davies but it would be wrong to doubt that he's any less of the glorious strokemaker we saw in 2010 and 2011 - you know what they say about form and class. He's fallen way down the England pecking order with the emergence of Buttler and Bairstow, so we will get a full season out of him in 2012. If he finds himself again he can be a terrific asset in all forms of the game. A withering pre-season hundred against Kent this week provided a hint that he might be back on track.
Another who was hit hard by the events of last June, Roy frequently looked all at sea in 2012. He still shows those flashes of brilliance but I can't escape the feeling that his game hasn't moved on at the pace it seemed to be doing under the watchful eye of Graham Thorpe. He doesn’t suffer from a lack of talent, he can go as far as he wants in the game, but the club need to make sure he is allowed to develop into the batting powerhouse he surely can be. Like Davies, Roy too can dominate in all forms of the game. His style is of course more suited to the shorter formats but if he can tighten up his technique and play the occasional innings like the one we saw against Warwickshire last year (42 not out from 101 balls to help secure the draw), he will give our middle order real potency. A settled place in the batting lineup would help, since he came into the side in 2010 he’s batted in every position in the top seven aside from number four. He’ll be hoping that scores of 56 and 58* will persuade Adams to give him a run in the side from the get go.
I've said before how I've come full circle on Wilson. Where I once thought he was a pointless selection, I now think he can be a valuable player in all formats, whether he takes the gloves or not. He is an intelligent batsman, he showed that on his way to 182 runs in just six T20 matches last year while much of the rest of the batting floundered. He will again disappear for Ireland for a couple of games in May, and one each in June and July. Wilson is without question right to choose his country over his county as they strive towards test status, but his ability to hold down a regular place in the side will be hampered by his absence.
We probably won't see a great deal of Pietersen this year, certainly less than we saw of him in 2012 due to unforeseen circumstances. There is the tantalising prospect of him and Graeme Smith taking to the field together in the Championship game against Durham at the Oval in May, depending on Pietersen’s knee injury, and the even more tantalising prospect of he, Smith and Ponting all turning out against Middlesex in the T20 in July. If last year's outings are anything to go by, his limited appearances are unlikely to disappoint.
This prodigiously talented 17 year old opener might just sneak himself a bit of first team cricket towards the end of the season and I wouldn't bet against him making an impact. He was away with the England U19 side over the winter and despite being one of the younger members of the squad he made something of a name for himself. In six matches he scored three fifties and a hundred, the hundred being a bat-carrying effort in an innings in which the next highest score was 29. He can expect a lot of Second XI cricket which ought to toughen him up for a challenging first team debut.
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