Surrey's old hands fight against dying of the light

Relegation looms for the most successful side of the last 10 years and the break-up of an ageing squad of stars is inevitable, writes Angus Fraser

For a Premier League football club that had just spent £25m upgrading its ground the prospect of relegation to a lower division would be a nightmare. But cricket is not like football, and the magnificent new OCS Stand at the Oval was built to raise the capacity and improve facilities for international matches, not poorly attended domestic cricket.

In order stay among the élite Surrey need to beat Middlesex in their final County Championship match of the season, and they need to beat them well. If Surrey escape relegation it will be at Middlesex's expense, and the "Brown Hatters" need to collect 15 more points than their arch rivals in the four-day game which starts today at the Oval.

There are may reasons for the decline of one of English cricket's biggest and most prestigious counties. Surrey's pre-season preparations were undermined when it became evident that Mark Butcher, the Surrey captain, would miss a considerable chunk of the summer with a wrist injury he picked up on England's tour of South Africa.

The loss of Butcher would have done little to raise the morale of the team, and Surrey have looked an unhappy side, preoccupied with internal issues, for the majority of the season. The coach, Steve Rixon, announced in early August that he would not be returning in 2006, and it is believed his style of management has not gone down very well in the Surrey dressing-room.

Yet despite these factors it is still possible for Surrey to stay up. Middlesex's recent form has been equally fragile, and all Surrey need to do is bowl out their north London opponents for under 250, score 500 and then dismiss them again. It will not be easy but Surrey have the players capable of pulling it off.

Yet the same was said about Australia throughout the summer. We all turned up to each Test expecting the real Australia to exit the pavilion but time and time again they failed to perform. And in many ways the fortunes of Australia, and the challenges they now face, mirror those of an ageing Surrey squad.

Surrey have been the strongest and most successful side for a decade, winning nine trophies in nine seasons and supplying England with more than a dozen players. They were a decent outfit before they won the National Cricket League in 1996 but the side contained several players with inflated egos and they generally underachieved.

Adam Hollioake changed all that when he became captain in 1997. Hollioake broke the cliques, stopped the back-stabbing and turned Surrey into a happy, winning team. Adam, understandably, lost interest in cricket when his brother, Ben, was tragically killed in a car crash during the winter of 2001-02. Ben's death spurred the team on to win the County Championship in 2002, but Adam drifted away from the game and back to his family in Perth.

Along with his brother, Hollioake had Alec Stewart, Graham Thorpe - who has been left out of the side to face Middlesex, so has played his last match for the county - Martin Bicknell, Mark Butcher, Ian Salisbury, Alistair Brown and Pakistan's Saqlain Mushtaq when they were at their best, and his departure coincided with their decline. Jon Batty and Mark Butcher have tried to rejuvenate old bodies but their efforts have proved unsuccessful.

What is taking place at the Oval happened to the Middlesex side I played for in the late Eighties and early Nineties, and the great Essex team of the Eighties.

In county cricket good teams are formed as much through luck as judgement. The chances of producing a successful side increase when a good structure is in place and there are hundreds of youngsters who want to become the next Andrew Flintoff. But good fortune dictates that a group of talented and ambitious young players gather at a club at the same time.

Once there the group get on, have the same interests and become good friends away from work, and this helps develop an excellent team spirit. But, secretly, they are competing with each other. They all want to be the stars of the side, play for England and receive the associated financial rewards. The desire to be successful, and the envious glances at mates when they go off to represent their country, make those left behind more determined. As a consequence they work harder and improve.

Success is not inevitable but if it arrives the same group of players stick together and go on to win trophies for a considerable period of time. It may sound ridiculous but a team of 11 excellent 24 to 28-year-olds creates problems further down the line, because opportunities for aspiring youngsters are limited, and it can cause a club to lose a generation of players.

The problems arise when the team gets old together. By now each of the players is earning good money and they all want to play for as long as possible. The team, inevitably, becomes a collection of old players hanging on for one last pay day, plus youngsters with little experience.

Surrey, like Lancashire and Yorkshire, who have been promoted from the Second Division, have too good a set-up to be among the also-rans for too long, but they have some important decisions to make this autumn. They start with the players, and a few contracts need to terminated if they wish to return to the top.

Surrey (from): M A Butcher (capt), S A Newman, M R Ramprakash, A D Brown, R Clarke, J N Batty (wkt), Azhar Mahmood, T Murtagh, I D K Salisbury, M Akram, N Doshi, Saqlain Mushtaq, J W Dernbach.

Middlesex (from): B L Hutton (capt), E T Smith, O A Shah, S B Styris, E C Joyce, J W M Dalrymple, P N Weekes, B J M Scott (wkt), P N Trego, Y Golwalkar, M M Ali, E J G Morgan.

News
A Brazilian wandering spider
news

World's most lethal spider found under a bunch of bananas

News
people
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in the win over QPR
footballInternet reacts to miss shocker for Liverpool striker
Voices
Sol Campbell near his home in Chelsea
voices
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
News
Kimi the fox cub
newsBurberry under fire from animal rights group - and their star, Kimi
Sport
Fans of Palmeiras looks dejected during the match between Palmeiras and Santos
footballPalmeiras fan killed trying to 'ambush' bus full of opposition supporters
Arts and Entertainment
filmsIt's nearly a wrap on Star Wars: Episode 7, producer reveals
Life and Style
fashion
News
i100
News
<p>Jonathan Ross</p>
<p>Jonathan Ross (or Wossy, as he’s affectionately known) has been on television and radio for an extraordinarily long time, working on a seat in the pantheon of British presenters. Hosting Friday Night with Jonathan Ross for nine years, Ross has been in everything from the video game Fable to Phineas and Ferb. So it’s probably not so surprising that Ross studied at Southampton College of Art (since rebranded Southampton Solent), a university known nowadays for its media production courses.</p>
<p>However, after leaving Solent, Ross studied History at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, now part of the UCL, a move that was somewhat out of keeping with the rest of his career. Ross was made a fellow of the school in 2006 in recognition of his services to broadcasting.</p>
TV

Rumours that the star wants to move on to pastures new

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey indulge in some racing at a Point to Point
tvNew pictures promise a day at the races and a loved-up Lady Rose
News
people

Comedian says he 'never laughed as hard as I have writing with Rik'

Arts and Entertainment
Tim Wonnacott dancing the pasadoble
TVStrictly Come Dancing The Result
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past