BY MARCUS HOOK
In 2020, Gareth Batty was just one of four players who also played in the very first domestic T20 competition, 17 years ago. As he heads into the new Vitality Blast campaign, the 43-year-old says he could not be more excited to see where it takes Surrey, who reached last year’s final.
“I feel like we’ve got a good base to work from, from last year, but we need to be that little bit better in all facets,” said the veteran off-spinner. “The game is evolving and we need to be trying to set that trend, rather than copy the likes of Notts. They’ve got the cup, but we need to be setting the bar that little bit higher.
“We have plans of how we can better show off our skills and how we can find a way of putting our noses in front.
“The things we’ve been working on – will they be the difference in terms of going up another level, both individually and as a group?
“I had a coaching role at the start of the year with the second team, which has been brilliant, but there’s nothing better than to be out there playing.”
Looking back at how T20 cricket has developed since 2003, Batty almost cannot believe the transformation, particularly in terms of the extent to which research and analysis now dictates gameplans and one-on-one match-ups.
“Back then there was a lot of evening, midweek 20-over club cricket. Even the pros, for the first year, took it like that, seeing it as a bit of fun. But the best teams were the ones who thought it through and were smart.
“We’ve now got all this data and this information. But at certain times you have to go with your gut, because you’re on the field and you see it right in front of you.
“T20 is probably the most planned for out of all the formats, because you have less time to react and get back into a game. You have to have all your cards and then it’s a question of when you play them.”
Batty is also excited to be playing in front of spectators again.
“Let’s take the competition out of it and let’s take Surrey out of it, it’s just brilliant for the game that we’re back out there,” said Batty. “Let’s hope the weather continues and as many people as possible get to come to the Oval.
“All the players are wanting to do is put on a spectacle and put on a show for our great game.
“For a lot of them T20 is the nearest and next best thing to playing international cricket. Home games we thrive off, and we’ve got to be just as competitive when there’s five or six thousand in the ground rather than a full house of 26,500.”
Batty admits the loss of Sean Abbott and Reece Topley to injury has forced a rethink, as will England calls, but he is confident that Surrey have the tools for the job.
“We’re pretty lucky that we’ve got a really good squad to pick from,” said Batty. “We’ll have to contend with players coming and going, due to England, and the odd injury dotted around, but it’s the modern way.
“Sean and Reece are two international cricketers, so it’s going to change the dynamic, but we’re lucky in that we have a squad that covers a lot of bases.
“With Reece, we know left-arm seamers are vital in T20. It’s sad that he’ll be missing out on playing white-ball cricket for England.
“Sean would have married up and complemented our batting and bowling beautifully with his skiddy, quick bowling.
“He can also whack a few with the bat down the order, so he would have been an incredible signing for us.
“But it won’t be 11 players who get us to where we want to be, it will be a full squad effort.”
Two of the stars of last year’s Vitality Blast were Batty’s fellow spinners, Will Jacks and Dan Moriarty.
“Dan is coming on in leaps and bounds in all forms of the game,” said Batty.
“He held the economy last year. He bowled in those middle periods and because he’s taller than me we complement each other.
“Jacksy has done the braver stuff, bowling spin at the start of the innings. When you look at the very successful teams, spin in the first six overs can be extremely valuable. But it takes some real mettle of character and skill to bowl then and bowl very well, which Will did last year.
“Certainly, with bat and ball, Jacksy is a very impressive player in white-ball cricket and Dan, in all forms of the game, is becoming a very useful left-arm spinner.”
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