Loss of Hollioake spurs Surrey to pull together en route to title

By David Llewellyn
Sunday 15 December 2013 03:35
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If there was a sense of anti-climax within The Oval at winning the County Championship during a week off, then it is certain that any such bathos would have been tempered with an even greater sense of relief after the season they have gone through.

They could have been excused a lack of sparkle to their game having lost one of the champagne cricketers Ben Hollioake before they had begun their campaign. Ben's premature death also robbed them of their captain Adam Hollioake for the first few matches and what with injuries and Test and international calls Surrey looked to be up against it.

But as things turned out, far from suffering under the cloud of their collective loss, they adopted a positive attitude. There are those who would protest that it is little wonder Surrey have won the Championship with all the international and Test-class cricketers they have, but it should be remembered that the bulk of these are home grown and by the looks of it, more are already tumbling off the production line to the south and west of The Oval.

This, Surrey's third title in four years, will no doubt be dedicated to the memory of Ben Hollioake, and rightly so; but no one should forget the contribution of those squad members who stepped up and stood in for their more illustrious, absentee brethren.

It was players of the calibre of wicketkeeper Jon Batty, who made the whole thing possible. Batty, more often than not, opened the batting with Ian Ward, then turned around and gave as tidy a performance behind the stumps as the man for whom he was standing in – Alec Stewart.

And Ward himself passed 1,000 runs for the summer, as did Alistair Brown. Surrey's first temporary overseas replacement for Saqlain Mushtaq's wily spin was Azhar Mahmood, who did them proud as did another Pakistani, the former Test leg-spinner Mushtaq Ahmed, who dropped in later on to take a few wickets for the cause.

Nadeem Shahid produced a series of telling contributions with the bat, together with Mark Ramprakash, another to reach four figures this summer. Adam returned and played like a man possessed; his batting reverted to his youth, unfettered, unfussy and at times unbelievable. Then there was the next generation of supremely gifted cricketers, the all-rounder Rikki Clarke who made a hundred on his first-class debut and quickly followed it up with an unbeaten 150 against Somerset and Scott Newman, who savaged Hampshire on his first-class debut before falling on 99.

The attack was shorn of the services of Mr Dependable, Martin Bicknell just as Surrey were getting into their stride, but the strength in depth of the squad and astuteness of their overseas recruitment policy saw them through that sticky patch before Saqlain returned and came into his own at the critical, climax the title race reaching 50 wickets before the end of the season.

Now Surrey have come into their own, winning what is for them a very special championship, and they carry with them into the winter the promise of more titles to come. It is early days, but there are certainly indications that this present crop of Surrey cricketers could go a long way towards emulating the phenomenal achievements of the wonderful team of the 1950s, which won the title eight times in nine years, seven of them on the bounce. Do not bet against it.

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