Rory Burns is confident Surrey have found the perfect template at the Kia Oval to be able to win their Vitality Blast quarter-final against Kent Spitfires on October 1 and complete a stunning turnaround in fortunes by reaching T20 Finals Day at the end of a rollercoaster mini-season.
“The way we are going about our cricket now in T20 matches is really pleasing,” said Burns.
“And, at home in particular, we have been winning matches. That’s so important, and it does instill confidence about the way we are approaching things.”
Burns does not yet know if he will continue to lead the side in their home quarter-final. Surrey’s club captain stood in for his predecessor and hamstring injury victim Gareth Batty for the last three south group fixtures – which brought wins against Sussex, Hampshire and Kent and took the team’s run of T20 victories to seven and qualification for the last eight as impressive group winners.
Surrey’s Blast performances, moreover, have been a magnificent response to the initial agonies suffered in the Bob Willis Trophy, when four successive defeats in August left them bottom of the south group.
Since then, however, Surrey have bounced back not just with their T20 successes but also with red-ball victory against Sussex in their final Bob Willis Trophy fixture earlier this month – and it is a run of form achieved despite an ever-present and lengthy injury list.
With the Curran brothers, Tom and Sam, now away at the Indian Premier League, and nine other players injured – including Batty and Hashim Amla, the former South African batting star who has a calf problem – it is testament to Surrey’s resilience and depth of squad, plus the club’s management skills, that they have managed to be so competitive over the past month.
“We’re all having a few days off this week because there are a few tired bodies about, and then we will get back in for practice and see who is going to be available for October 1,” added Burns. “At the moment it’s still much too early to speculate on fitness situations. We’ll probably have a couple of middle practices early next week before we make our final selection decisions.” Veteran off spinner Batty had himself stepped up to lead Surrey again in the Blast when Jade Dernbach, the club’s T20 captain since 2018, was ruled out for the rest of the season with a chronic groin injury.
And Batty, who turns 43 next month, not only led the side brilliantly in the first seven group games but proved himself an enduring master of short-form cricket by taking nine wickets at 15.44 runs apiece – at a miserly economy rate of 6.31 runs per over.
Indeed, Surrey’s strategy throughout the group stage – and especially at home where the whole of the Oval outfield has been in play and used pitches the norm – was to employ their spinners to put pressure on opposing batsmen by taking pace off the ball and make run-scoring a more difficult proposition on slow, turning surfaces.
Slow left-armer Dan Moriarty has been another central part of Surrey’s success, with 14 wickets at 17.35 and an economy rate of 6.75, while Will Jacks’ off spin has picked up six wickets at 26.16 while conceding only 6.72 runs an over.
All-rounder Jacks, with 267 runs from nine innings so far at a strike rate of 153 runs per 100 balls, currently tops the PCA’s Vitality Blast Most Valuable Player charts – a tangible measure of just how important the 21-year-old has been to Surrey’s campaign.
Laurie Evans, meanwhile, has returned to his native club in triumph, scoring 301 runs from eight Blast innings at an average of 60.20 and a strike rate of 155 following his move from Sussex. Both Evans and Jacks have made three scores above fifty and have shown a real aptitude in leading the run chase when batting second.
England one-day opener Jason Roy’s return to form, with a 52-ball 72 in Sunday’s comfortable six-wicket win against Kent, is another crucial factor in Surrey’s ability to go all the way in the Blast. The 135-run partnership between Roy and Evans, who made 73 from 45 balls, was a Surrey second wicket record against Kent in T20 matches, beating the 124 put on by James Benning and Mark Ramprakash in 2006. Yet it is Surrey’s bowling strength which could be the key to beating Kent and get to Edgbaston for Finals Day on October 3.
In addition to their spin options, Reece Topley’s international white-ball experience and expertise in the death overs has brought him 11 wickets so far while Liam Plunkett’s return to full match fitness has provided a huge late-season bonus. Plunkett’s three for 19 off four highly-skilled overs in the final group win against Kent showed that the 2019 World Cup winner was back to his very best with the ball after a summer bedevilled by injury.