Is Rory Hamilton-Brown ready to be Surrey's youngest captain for 138 years?

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The Independent Online

Rory Hamilton-Brown was unveiled again yesterday. The unwrapping brought two thoughts: either he is the symbol of the suspicion that English county cricket has finally gone mad or the standard-bearer of a new golden age.

At 22 years old, after playing seven Championship matches, he is to be the new captain of Surrey. He was first revealed in this guise back in January but it needed doing again presumably because it seemed beyond belief.

It is not his age, or not especially his age. Since the country will be engulfed by politics for the next four weeks it might be worth remembering that Pitt the Younger was Prime Minister at 24 and survived for 18 years.

But merely running the country is one thing and running a county cricket team quite another. They used to say of Pitt: "A sight to make all nations stand and stare, a kingdom trusted to a schoolboy's care." The sheer lack of experience is breathtaking. Seven matches bespeak promise, not achievement, despite his battling maiden hundred for Sussex last September. Yet here he he is being asked to lead Surrey, the brown-hatted, blue riband side (with due respect to Yorkshire) of the English game.

In their ranks will be the 40-year-old blue riband batsman Mark Ramprakash and, for the Twenty20 competition, it was announced yesterday, the Australian all-rounder Andrew Symonds, as troubled as he is talented. These men Hamilton-Brown must lead.

Surrey have 18 titles to their credit, have been the home of some of the great names of the game – what more pertinent a reminder of their exalted reputation could there be than the death earlier this week of the bowler Alec Bedser? Yet they are turning to a tyro to get them out of the mire of the Second Division in the most convoluted, unedifying season ever devised, which starts on 9 April and ends on 22 September. Surrey are commercially the most successful of England's counties but have become a cricketing basket case.

Hamilton-Brown has been hailed as a natural leader and it goes a long way in cricket as in any walk of life where decisions have to be made. But on a wet, vapid Tuesday at Grace Road, Leicester, a bit of tactical nous might not come amiss either.

Fashionably highlighted, strong cheekbones, Hamilton-Brown handled himself with aplomb in the Long Room at the Brit Oval yesterday, partly because he was being overlooked by portraits of many of the great and the good who preceded him and partly because Chris Adams, the first-team coach who hired him, spoke of what this young, fresh, brave, positive man could do.

Hamilton-Brown himself said he would not have taken the job of captain at any other county, having been poached from Sussex in the winter. Surrey had been his first county and it had been a lifelong ambition of his to be their captain. Before accepting the job he sought advice from those who had helped him thus far in his career, including one Mr Ellison.

It turned out that Mr Ellison is Richard Ellison, sports master at Millfield School, former Kent all-rounder and authentic Ashes hero of 1985 vintage. That young Rory still referred to him with prefix in place told not only of a polite, properly brought-up young man but perhaps also betokened his youthful inexperience. Mr Ellison, like everybody else, told him he should grab the opportunity.

Before running away with the idea that Hamilton-Brown could be Percy Fender, Stuart Surridge, Peter May and Adam Hollioake reincarnated – to name but four of his illustrious predecessors – some perspective was necessary. Ramprakash, 40 and on the cusp of his 24th season, provided it. "If Surrey finish bottom it doesn't necessarily mean Rory is a bad captain and if they finish top it doesn't make him a good one," said Ramprakash. "On paper it can look very rosy but it is completely unknown. You can't get away from the fact that he is only 22 and has played only seven matches.

"Chris has identified young players with the right attitude who will work hard and train hard. I happen to think that experience is very important, judging conditions, when to soak up pressure, when to counter-attack, how to go about a four-day game or one-day game situation. If you have been there before it really does help. Chris thinks this is the right decision and that's all that matters."

Ramprakash seemed perplexed that Surrey have not settled on (or have not let him, as their star batsman, know) their opening batting partnership. What with that and Rory at five, he was clearly thinking he might need to score another 2,000 runs.

Hamilton-Brown has always been a captain. It started at seven when he was still living in South Africa and led his prep school rugby side. Whatever happens, he said that he will have no regrets. It starts tomorrow at The Oval against Derbyshire and shortly after we will know if English cricket is still sane.

Hamilton-Brown: The lowdown

Background Born in 1987, Hamilton-Brown went to Millfield where his best friend was Danny Cipriani. Played rugby for England juniors. Godfather is Dennis Amiss.

Cricket Returned from Sussex after two years this winter. Averages 39 with the bat, 30 with his off-spin.