BY MARCUS HOOK
Gareth Batty’s assessment is that there have been far more positives than negatives for Surrey, who remain top of Division One in the County Championship despite drawing with Gloucestershire at Bristol last weekend.
After being put into bat, Surrey recovered from 37-3 to post 603 before the hosts racked up 443-2 in reply.
With the weather having the final say, the Oval outfit’s head coach reflected on both a professional performance with the bat and a frustrating one with the ball.
“The batting, again, was magnificent on a surface where we would also have chosen to bowl first,” said Batty. “The ball did plenty in those early periods of the game, but then flattened out.
“We want to show a bit of toughness, particularly in April when the ball can zip around, and we spoke about not losing wickets in clusters.
“So, for Jamie Smith to get a double hundred, his first, was a great effort. Up front, Ollie Pope set the tone and it was finished off very nicely by Jordan Clark.
“The batting group is operating very nicely at the minute.
“We also set high standards with the ball and we had a period where we didn’t quite cover ourselves with glory. But the overall picture – the effort and the commitment – was for all to see and I can’t ask any more than that.
“We could have been slightly better skill-set-wise at times, but it was a pretty tough pitch and we beat the bat a lot. At one point I counted seven play and misses in 11 balls. You felt something was going to go our way, but overall we didn’t quite earn the right.”
Batty, who succeeded Vikram Solanki as the Oval outfit’s head coach back in January, was delighted with Smith’s unbeaten 234 as well as Jordan Clark’s (137) first hundred for the South Londoners.
“Our boys bowled pretty well, as we have seen in the first three games, but credit to our batters,” added the 44-year-old. “As a group and as a team we bat a long way down, so to get a hundred from our number nine was also pretty good.
“Smithy played lovely, he really did. He did what we’ve seen from him in training and what we’ve seen him do before, so it’s certainly not a surprise.
“Jordan has also worked very hard over the winter, since last November. It started with him working with Vikram – let’s not forget that Vik did a huge amount with the players before moving on to the IPL. But Jordan has worked his socks off and it was thoroughly deserved.
“Something we discussed was to start fast, and we have with two wins out of four and two very solid performances in the draws.
“It shows the boys have the application and they want to follow a little bit of direction. It’s an observation that we have been deficient [at the start of the season] in historical terms.
“For them to put that right, I’m super happy. As long as they keep doing that, we’ll be where we want to be at the end of the year. We’ll need the rub of the green now and again, and the odd toss to go our way, but I’m certainly very happy at the minute.”
Injuries are a constant headache for a coach to deal with, new or old. But Batty views a Surrey squad brimming with talent.
“We have great depth. Are we going to have that depth all season? I’m pretty sure England are going to come calling at some point for a few of our players. But it was always our intention to have our youngsters in particular, as well as all of the squad bubbling underneath. So, when you get the call, you can make a difference.
“We want people knocking at the door saying I should be playing. They’re all working hard off the field and they’re getting better. But it has to be everybody.
“I don’t care whether you’re 18 or 38, we want people getting better and we want to be playing an exciting brand of cricket. It’s certainly shown we’ve got some tough decisions coming up.”
SURREY v NORTHANTS (probable line-ups)
Burns (capt), Patel, Amla, Pope, Smith (wk), Jacks, S Curran, de Grandhomme, Clark, Overton, Worrall.
Vasconcelos (capt), Young, Gay, Procter, Keogh, Zaib, McManus (wk), Taylor, Kelly, Berg, Sanderson.
Ollie Pope (Surrey) – who probably feels, with 84, that he missed out at Bristol. Although he has never played Northants before, Pope loves batting at the Oval where his first-class record now reads 1,978 runs at an average of 94.19.
Ben Sanderson (Northants) – fifteen wickets at 19.26 runs apiece this season takes the 33-year-old seamer’s first-class tally to 302 at 20.81, all but six of which have been since his move from Yorkshire to Northants in 2015.
Surrey remain top of Division One with a six-point advantage, thanks, in part, to the weather denying second-placed Hampshire the chance to bowl out Lancashire last Sunday. Northants, back in the top flight for the first time since 2014, are sixth (out of 10), having drawn all three of their games so far.
Jamie Smith and Jordan Clark’s 244-run alliance against Gloucestershire last week is a new record for Surrey’s eighth wicket. Chris Dent and Marcus Harris’s opening stand of 296 is now the highest for any wicket for Gloucestershire against Surrey.
Jamie Smith – became only the fourth player to make a double-century against Gloucestershire, and he’s in good company. The others are Tom Shepherd in 1927, John Edrich in 1965 and Mark Ramprakash in 2006.
Jamie Smith joining Surrey’s illustrious group of 200-makers.
May 5-8: Surrey v Northants at the Kia Oval (County Championship)
PICTURES: KEITH GILLARD