Between 1999 and 2003, a period during which Surrey won six major domestic competitions, Adam Hollioake's impressive if somewhat cocky side were looked upon as the Manchester United of English cricket. The team enjoyed the comparisons and were often found strutting their stuff somewhere along the Kings Road in Chelsea.
With a playing staff as strong as any in the country and the financial muscle to attract the best overseas and English-born players, the club seemed destined to dominate the domestic game for many years to come. But five years down the line and with relegation to the second division of the County Championship yesterday confirmed this famous and proud club now bears a greater resemblance to Newcastle United. This season they have been a shambles. How far and quickly the mighty can fall.
Surrey's fate was sealed before lunch in Liverpool when Lancashire's Tom Smith had Kent's Yasir Arafat caught at slip. At the time Surrey were doing absolutely nothing to suggest they could or would avoid the drop here at The Oval and the bonus point gained by the wicket does not guarantee Lancashire First Division cricket in 2009. But it did ensure that Surrey could not finish above either Lancashire of Yorkshire.
Surrey have spent almost the entire season without their captain Mark Butcher, but, even so, there can be little sympathy for their plight. Prior to the successful period mentioned above Surrey had a youth system to envy, a system that produced players of the calibre of Alec Stewart, Graham Thorpe, the Bicknell brothers – Martin and Darren – Alistair Brown, Alex Tudor and Butcher. The addition of Mark Ramprakash, Saqlain Mushtaq, Ian Salisbury and Hollioake made them the team to fear.
Surrey's demise has been a sorry tale of one desperate signing after another, a policy highlighted by the recent employment of Shoaib Akhtar. He was poleaxed yesterday before having the chance to bowl by an Andre Adams bouncer that struck him on the neck. He returned to bowl 10 unthreatening overs and is currently costing the club approximately £100 per ball bowled.
Surrey re-employed Saqlain, Tudor and Chris Lewis for the 2009 season too. The signing of Usman Afzaal from Northamptonshire, along with Pedro Collins and Matt Nicholson on Kolpak deals considerably reduced the chances of the next crop of Brown Caps coming through. The England and Wales Cricket Board must be delighted to see their hard-earned cash spent so wisely.
Nottinghamshire's Mark Wagh and Samit Patel all but ensured Surrey's winless county championship season ended on a losing note with a swashbuckling 227-ball stand of 242. Both batsmen struck majestic hundreds, with Patel in particular making the most of a short boundary on the Archbishop Tenison's School side of the ground. The England all-rounder seems to enjoy The Oval. It was here he scored 31 and took five wickets playing against South Africa in only his second one-day international. Patel's innings, which contained 12 boundaries and six sixes, has given Nottinghamshire an excellent chance of entering the final week of the season at the top of the table. Perhaps Surrey should spend some of their money on attracting him to London, but possibly not the Kings Road.