Published: 3rd November, 2018
In the 16 years between Surrey’s two recent title successes, nobody saw more of the Three Feathers than BBC commentator Mark Church.
After providing radio updates in the first few years of the 21st century, including the final Championship won under Adam Hollioake’s stewardship, Church was a pioneer for the ball-by-ball commentary that is now commonplace across county cricket.
His first ball live on air, as Surrey faced a Lancashire team including a young Jimmy Anderson, came at the start of the 2003 campaign and he remembers the ad-hoc nature of the broadcast well.
He said: “We did it from an area of the Pavilion that is now for Members to get a cup of tea. I didn’t even have a laptop so we were getting all the scores from other games on Ceefax but obviously it worked because immediately people were listening in.”
“Although on that day I maybe didn’t expect it to take 15 years, what has been lovely was seeing the whole journey from the last time they won it through to this year and the ups and downs of that right up until the game at New Road where they won the title.”
While many may have expected a Surrey team that had, at that point, won three titles in four years to continue their dominance; Church was prepared for a period of change at the Club.
Given his proximity to the squad and the inner workings of the Club throughout this period, Church’s thoughts on the following years are always well worth listening to.
“There was always that thing that it was such a good side that won those three titles but they were all getting to the point that they may be retiring or moving on.
“I felt a little bit for Steve Rixon when he first came in because leading this group who were so successful and trying to get them to play his way meant there was going to be a transitional phase.
“Chris Adams then came in and had some success winning the C&G and getting promoted. He also made some crucial signings in terms of the likes of Gareth Batty.
“There was also the whole tragedy with Tom, which set everything back as it was always going to.”
Director of Cricket Alec Stewart is someone that Church insists immediately had the vision of success to come when he took up his current position in 2013.
“You could see his plan was one that long term. It was an absolute masterstroke bringing Graham Ford because one thing he is very, very good at is bringing young players up to the standard they need to be at.
— Surrey Cricket (@surreycricket) September 14, 2018
“He knew this could hurt for a while but playing a group of players that came through the academy together was essential so that there’s a core group that know each other inside out when they do go up.
“In all of this there’s the likes of Zafar Ansari, Gary Wilson, Tim Linley, Chris Tremlett and Steven Davies who have moved on but all had a huge part in getting Surrey to where they are now.”
Eventually Graham Ford moved on when Sri Lanka came calling in 2016 and in Church’s opinion the next appointment as Head Coach was just as crucial in terms of taking Surrey to the summit of the county cricket.
“With Michael Di Venuto adding his knowledge, expertise and world-class insight into the spaces it was required on top of Fordy’s foundations and the work of Gareth Townsend in the academy, the conveyor belt of talent that has always been there is now being utilised to its fullest.
“This year’s young lads have come into a side that was already settled and are so talented that they’ve made themselves permanent fixtures. There have been three stages to get to this point but it’s easy to see that the planning is already in place for the next five years to make sure this isn’t a one-off.”
Alongside the wholesale changes within the playing squad, Church has been an ever present as the Kia Oval’s identity has developed into one of the foremost sporting theatres in the world.
“I love the Kia Oval but I always thought there wasn’t enough to celebrate the great history of the place.
“I sat opposite the building of the OCS Stand while commentating and watching that go up was remarkable, that really changed the feel of the ground once it was up. Then, getting the Pavilion done and creating the grand entrance the ground deserved.
“The final piece of that jigsaw was putting up all the honours boards around the ground, with the club’s best players on and the history really documented for every fan, player and commentator that arrives. That says to me that Surrey are very proud of their teams.”
Next week we’ll be back with Mark Church to find out why he feels Surrey were able to be so successful during the 2018 season.