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Surrey cricket’s leading club competition, the AJ Fordham Surrey Championship, begins a new campaign this weekend. Richard Spiller previews the 18-week campaign ahead.

It’s been a long time coming but Dominic Reed will finally lead out his East Molesey side in defence of their AJ Fordham Surrey Championship title on Saturday.

Back in September 2019 they had celebrated securing top spot in the Premier Division, victory over Banstead giving the Moles a 16th victory in 18 outings as they finished 35 points in front of Reigate Priory. It launched protracted celebrations at Graburn Way for a club which had not enjoyed the view from the summit since 1980, plunging down the league before climbing back up it.

“It certainly feels like an age ago that we beat Banstead to win it,” admits Reed. “So much has happened in the meantime. But we’re still the same team, essentially, and we’re maybe a bit stronger now. There’s certainly a desire to go and win it again.”

Among the fresh faces are the club’s director of cricket Jamie Southgate, who has been in post for almost 18 months, and 21-year-old batsman Marco Campopiano, who scored 66 for Sussex against Surrey this week in the Second XI Championship at Hove.

Reed is also looking forward to watching Indian batsman Himmat Singh – who has played for Royal Challengers Bangalore alongside Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers – with Moles having ensured he arrived in good time to complete his quarantine.

But the captain also admits that his side face a tough start to their defence given he expects tomorrow’s opponents Weybridge – just down the road at The Green – and Wimbledon, their opponents seven days later, to be among the frontrunners.

Reigate Priory, runners-up for three of the last four years, will doubtless be pushing to end a wait of seven years since claiming the Premier title, while Wimbledon – fourth in 2019 – will be well worth watching given they won all seven matches in last year’s Challenge Cup, which replaced the Championship following the belated start of the recreational season following the first lockdown.

Last champions in 2013, they may see little of prolific opener Nick Welch now he is on the Leicestershire staff but can boast Ryan Patel, their homegrown Surrey all-rounder, while county colleagues Jordan Clark and Daniel Moriarty are also registered.

Club treasurer Crispin Lydon-Cowan – also the league registration secretary – underlined the relatively small number of overseas players likely to be appearing this season, caused by the difficulties of international travel, although Wimbledon’s Zimbabwean signing Gary King has already been in the UK for 12 months.

Ashtead will be captained by Surrey’s new recruit, batsman Ben Geddes, with Reed predicting he could be the league’s highest scorer should he be free from professional commitments regularly.

The challenge for Normandy and Cranleigh will be securing their place in elite, having been relegated in 2018 but bouncing straight back. That’s the test now facing Guildford and Sutton, who dropped out two years ago. The former warmed up with a heartening win over Normandy while Sutton are strengthened by the additions of Fabian Cowdrey, the former Kent all-rounder, and experienced West Indian left-arm spinner Dane Currency.

Covid regulations mean it won’t quite be a complete return to normality, a number of restrictions affecting the way matches are played. The first seven rounds and last two will be played over 50 overs – it’s usually four at the start and five at the end – with the nine longer time matches in between.

Regardless of formats and regulations, the over-riding need will be for help from the weather, so anxious eyes will be cast skywards this week.