Yorkshire apart, no team has won more Championships than Surrey and none therefore looks quite as out of place in the Second Division.
Expectation always rests heavily on their shoulders and the return of Kevin Pietersen has seen them installed as favourites to win the title. Yet even without the KP factor, the effect of which is impossible to predict, they would be one of the more fancied sides.
The batsman that gives their promotion claim real authenticity is not Pietersen but Kumar Sangakkara, the Sri Lankan veteran whose powers show no sign of waning even at 37. Named as world male cricketer of the year in the new Wisden, Sangakkara scored 2,868 international runs in 2014, a record for a calendar year, and followed that with four consecutive hundreds in the World Cup, another record. If anyone can guarantee runs, it is he. He should be available for 12 of Surrey’s 16 matches.
Yet it will not be a one-man show. Jason Roy, Rory Burns, Steven Davies and Zafar Ansari all passed 1,000 first-class runs in 2014. Ben Foakes, a wicketkeeper-batsman whose progress with Essex was frustrated by James Foster’s consistency, is a useful addition and anything Pietersen contributes, before he achieves his wish and regains his England place or else tires of trying, can only be a bonus.
Surrey’s bowling is strong too. Chris Tremlett and Stuart Meaker, if they stay fit, can wreak considerable damage and, at 22, Matt Dunn is a quick of much promise. Captain Gareth Batty remains a competitive off-spinner.
Elsewhere, bolstered by three Australians in Clint McKay, Mark Cosgrove – a British passport holder – and Andrew McDonald, who returns not to play but to coach, Leicestershire must surely break their run of two seasons without winning a match. Promotion may be stretching it, however, and it is probable that Essex, Lancashire and Derbyshire will be Surrey’s closest rivals.
Lancashire, with Ashley Giles in charge, look a better bet to return than Northamptonshire of last year’s relegated sides. But while James Faulkner – man of the match in Australia’s World Cup final win – is an exciting signing as Peter Siddle’s replacement in the overseas slot, the squad does not look as strong as the one that won the Second Division title two years ago. Tom Smith, last year’s star with bat and ball, must now show he is a leader too after succeeding Glen Chapple as captain.
Derbyshire, who won five of their last six matches in 2014, should continue to improve under coach Graeme Welch. But it is likely to be Essex, whose 22 wins in all cricket was bettered only by Warwickshire in 2014, who represent the biggest threat to Surrey.
Essex have a nice blend of youth and experience. Opening batsman Nick Browne and seam bowler Jamie Porter fall into the former category, while the likes of Graham Napier, Jesse Ryder, Monty Panesar and Foster offer a wealth of the latter, with Ravi Bopara and Ryan ten Doeschate to provide more still once their IPL involvement is over.
Second division predictions