BY MARK BALDWIN
For the second season running the 50-over competition has been difficult for Surrey, the reigning county champions and favourites to repeat their 2022 red-ball title triumph next month, but director of cricket Alec Stewart is determined that ultimate good will emerge from two difficult Augusts in a row.
“Everyone knows we are again very short of numbers at this time of the summer, and that we have had to field some very young players in this year’s Metro Bank One-Day Cup,” said Stewart.
“We’ve also had a few niggling injuries to some of the senior players that are still available to us, and obviously we want to make sure players like Ben Foakes and Jordan Clark are fully fit for the championship run-in next month.
“And so, like last year, the 50-over competition has been a development process for us, and what is most important is that our players learn from it and improve themselves. That’s what I am looking for and, actually, I think you learn far more about players when you are losing and things are tough.”
Surrey have won only a handful of the 16 50-over group games played in the past two Augusts, missing double-figure numbers of their players involved in the Hundred both years, but Stewart is looking far beyond those simple results.
In 2022 it was Tom Lawes, then a 19-year-old virtual unknown, who used the 50-over competition to underline his burgeoning all-round promise by scoring 318 runs at an average of 53, with four half-centuries, besides taking eight wickets and embracing added responsibility with the ball. Lawes, this summer, has not only become one of Surrey’s leading performers in the championship but earned himself a Hundred contract with the Oval Invincibles.
This year Surrey have been able to give invaluable early senior cricket experience to the likes of 17-year-old Luke Griffiths, a highly-promising fast bowler and lower middle-order batsman with still one academic year to go at Charterhouse School, and 19-year-old Tommy Ealham, the son of former England all-rounder Mark Ealham and grandson of former Kent captain Alan Ealham.
For other younger players such as batsman Ben Geddes, wicketkeeper Josh Blake and fast bowler Conor McKerr there has been the on-going challenge of furthering their careers by taking the added opportunities the One-Day Cup provides.
“The experiences they are getting to play in these games are only going to be worthwhile if players learn from them,” said Stewart. “I’m looking for improvement both as individuals, and as a group. I’m looking at how players perform in certain match situations, irrespective of the final result, and I have always judged players more in adversity than when things are going their way.
“Talent in cricket is easy to spot, but what about a player’s character and how they respond to both success and failure? How do they cope mentally with a bad day? There is definitely also a teaching element to a competition that, for us, is all about player development and that is why it is as important to judge character as to help the players to improve the application of their individual skills.”
PICTURE: KEITH GILLARD
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