Alec Stewart hopes Surrey’s eye history is ‘irreplaceable’

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<p><figcaption class=Alec Stewart is stepping down as Surrey’s director of cricket at the end of the season.Photo: Alex Davidson/Getty Images for CCC Surrey

If Surrey lift the County Championship trophy in September, it will be the first time any team has won three years in a row since Brian Close led Yorkshire to the treble in 1966, 67 and 68 – when they beat the Australians on tour too. innings for good measure. Surrey finished 15th that year – collecting just four wins in 28 games.

The tables have turned a bit since then. Where Yorkshire has slipped from disaster to disaster in recent years, the good ship Surrey sailed on smoothly. But change is underway. After 11 years as director of cricket and 23 years on the playing staff, Alec Stewart, Mr Surrey – six of the spotless whites and iron collars, 6am gym sessions and military posture – will step down at the end of the season to more spend more. time with family, especially his wife, Lynn, who has cancer.

Related: County Championship 2024: a team-by-team guide to the new season

Surrey head coach Gareth Batty, who has been working with Stewart since 2022, knows how big a hole he will leave.

“Alec is irreplaceable,” says Batty. “There is no one in world cricket who can do the job he does at Surrey, because of who he is and all the history he has with the club. We just have to put our best foot forward and make sure we put all of his hard work into practice.”

The relationship between the two has been extremely successful – two Championships in two seasons – but how exactly does the communication between the director of cricket and his head coach work?

“He probably tells me what to do and I do it!” says Batty. “He is the line manager and my role is the day-to-day activities with the playing squad and he controls everything else, dealing with the board, the managers, the players’ contracts, the good mood of professional sport. The DOC hires and fires and eventually the buck stops with it. There are so many moving parts. We talk every day and, if not, we talk the next morning. There must be a good relationship between us, between the three of us, with [club captain] Rory Burns, a fluid relationship. That part will be hard to replace as well.”

Burns, a regular in the England team during the pre-baseball era, had a strange season last year, leading the team to the title but not making the run he or the club would have hoped for. However, Batty is confident that he will be back with a bang in 2024. “I’m very confident that Rory will have a great season as captain and as a batsman. He is the best captain in the county championship and anyone who doubts him should look at his trophy cabinet.”

Surrey’s squad, which kicks off their title campaign against Lancashire at Old Trafford on Friday, is largely unchanged from last year – fan favorite Kemar Roach returns for a fourth year and Ollie Pope is expected to play and Ben Foakes a decent size Championship. cricket, although the IPL will retain the talents of Sam Curran and Will Jacks for the opening rounds. The only big name he signed was Dan Lawrence, an Essex boy and man, who decided Surrey was the best club for his ambitions. The risk is there, he goes from being a star attraction to having to make waves in a squad bursting with big names.

“It will bring some energy to our side,” says Batty. “He made the move because he feels this is the only place to give him the best guidance in terms of where he wants to get, it’s encouraging that he’s willing to make the sacrifices to move. Hopefully we can add something to his bowling, there’s a lot in the tank in the spin department.”

The only criticism thrown at Surrey, apart from wide-eyed sighs over his money pot and favorable position, is his reliance on batteries of right-handed seam bowlers, which left Amar Virdi languishing in the second team and pushed Dan Moriarty to. Yorkshire in search of more opportunities.

But Batty, a spinner with nine Tests under his belt, is not paid to weave the romantic tales of two men. “As a player I obviously loved spin, as a coach I have the passion to help 28 rounders win things. Will [the attack] be the same this year? It depends on how everyone is playing. I want spin to play a huge role but if the quick attack we have is proof of the pudding…”

Batty is trying to pull some elements from outside the game, talking to Premier League football managers, using more data – for example GPS tags on players to track movement on the pitch – so they can better rest. But there is no amount of science you can win a Championship, it requires physical sacrifice, sweat and an equal number of tears.

“Obviously some of it is down to the size of the squad, or an element of luck or the weather. We are the same as everyone else, our advantage is that we have done it before. You grind hard, make good mistakes and make more mistakes. We were a good team but we can be much better.”

And is the Championship still the biggest trophy, even for the young kids who are coming through in the franchise era?

“They see what it means, I think we can say that the men who put in the work and won the County Championship over six whole months feel as players and as people. Some franchise competitions may leave you incomplete as a human being.”

Alec Stewart, who still meets some of those young kids in the gym, might give a nod.

• This is an extract from the Guardian’s weekly cricket email, The Spin. To subscribe, simply visit this page and follow the instructions.

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