As the rhythms of the county season kick in, Surrey will be playing an LV= County Championship game starting on a Thursday for each of the next four weeks.
They start with the first match of the season at The Kia Oval, against early pace-setters Hampshire. James Vince’s men kicked off with a dominant three-day victory over Somerset, with a big hundred for Joe Weatherley, who put on 180 for the first wicket with Ian Holland, and a typically elegant half century for skipper James Vince.
All this occurred after Somerset had won the toss and elected to bat, but were only able to muster 180, the wickets shared around amongst the southerners’ impressive five-man pace attack and spinner Liam Dawson. In Somerset’s second innings, James Fuller’s fiery opening burst was backed up by the metronomic Mohammad Abbas and Hampshire had made pretty much the perfect start with 23 points in the bag, the only team to win in the first round of matches.
Hampshire, many people’s favourites for the title having come close last time, look strong, well-balanced and hungry.
Director of cricket: Giles White
First-team manager: Adi Birrell
Captain: James Vince
Overseas: Mohammad Abbas, Kyle Abbott
In: Nick Gubbins (Middlesex), Ben Brown (Sussex), Ross Whiteley (Worcestershire, white-ball contract)
Out: Sam Northeast (Glamorgan), Ajeet Dale (Gloucestershire), Tom Scriven (Leicestershire), Brad Taylor, Ryan Stevenson (both retired), Tom Alsop (Sussex, loan), Lewis McManus (Northants, loan)
On 21 April, Surrey will start a second successive home four-day LV= County Championship game, against Somerset. Seemingly perennial bridesmaids, Somerset will as ever be looking to break their Championship duck and have employed the Australian Lachlan Stevens, former head coach of Western Australia and Perth Scorchers, as batting coach and assistant to the head coach, Jason Kerr.
Stevens may have his work cut out if Somerset’s opening-week defeat to Hampshire is anything to go by, going down by an innings and plenty, with James Hildreth the only Somerset player to make more than 32 in the match. The defeat was marked by “a lack of backbone and fight”, according to skipper Tom Abell, the club’s impressive young captain.
Peter Siddle has decamped from Essex to lead the attack, backed up by Craig Overton and South African speedster Marchant de Lange, alongside Jack Leach of course, and with youngsters Geroge Bartlett, Tom Lammonby and Lewis Goldsworthy backing up Hildreth and Surrey old boy Steven Davies, runs should come. But the key signing for the West Country side has been Queensland’s Matt Renshaw, who impressed hugely in his last stint in the side. His presence, though, would mean one of the other overseas players, Siddle and de Lange, would have to sit the game out.
Director of cricket: Andy Hurry
Head coach: Jason Kerr
Captain: Tom Abell
Overseas: Marchant de Lange, Matthew Renshaw, Peter Siddle
Out: Eddie Byrom (Glamorgan)
The week after, 28 April, Surrey will be on the road again, following Somerset back west as they take on Gloucestershire, in the top tier for the first time in 18 seasons, and who started the season with a thrilling draw against Northants.
Gloucestershire possess a player who must be amongst the most underrated on the circuit in Ryan Higgins, who started the season in blistering style with a big hundred and seven wickets to take him to the top of the PCA MVP rankings. A long way from express pace he may be, but Higgins will be central to Gloucestershire’s hopes of establishing themselves in the top division, just as he was critical to getting them there. In 2019, the season they got promoted, he took 50 wickets in 14 matches and made 958 runs at an average of just under 60.
But Higgins is far from Gloucestershire’s only shining light. James Bracey had two undistinguished Tests last year, out of position admittedly, but seems to have come back stronger and is yet another excellent keeper-batsman, starting the season with a hundred at the anchor role of No.3.
And in the bowling ranks, young Pakistani pacer Naseem Shah is bound to make an impression. Shah, who only turned 19 in February but already has nine Test caps, will be available for the first half of the season and his raw pace will be a welcome addition to the county landscape.
Head coach: Dale Benkenstein
Captain: Graeme van Buuren
Overseas: Marcus Harris, Naseem Shah, Zafar Gohar
In: Ajeet Dale (Hampshire), Paul van Meekeren (Durham)
Out: George Hankins, Harry Hankins (both released)
Surrey then head back home to take on Northants on 5 May, with the visitors’ story of making it to the first division a genuinely heart-warming one. It was Northants and Gloucestershire who secured promotion back in the pre-pandemic season of 2019 and it took a full two years before they knew that their second place finish would actually mean they got to play in the top flight.
But justice was served and here they are, mixing it with fellow promoted side Gloucestershire in the first round of the season and all this after the departure of their influential captain Adam Rossington to Essex, three days before the season. Rossington says: “I got back from pre-season, sat down with the head coach and he said he didn’t want me to be captain anymore and so after a bit of time to reflect on that and going into the last year of my contract it was a case of exploring other opportunities. As soon as I heard that Essex were keen it was a no-brainer for me.”
The Graham Thorpe-a-like Ricardo Vasconcelos has taken the reins and looked a class act at the top of the order over the past few seasons (it would be no surprise if he became the first Northants batter to play Test cricket for England since Ben Duckett in 2016 – South Africa-born, he qualifies in 2024), and he should enjoy batting with the classy New Zealander Will Young. And no county bowler has been more impressive than Ben Sanderson over the last few seasons – he is now approaching 300 wickets at around 20 for the county. He will be hoping overseas recruit Australian Matt Kelly can help him out. Look out for David Sales’ son James too – the seam-bowling all-rounder was part of the men’s U19 side that got all the way to the World Cup final this winter.
Coach: John Sadler
Captain: Ricardo Vasconcelos
Overseas: Will Young, Matt Kelly (April-May)
In: Lewis McManus (Hampshire, loan)
Out: Adam Rossington (Essex, loan), Richard Levi (released)