Marcus Hook’s Surrey CCC column: Championship domination…now league leaders aim to light fuse in T20 Blast
Week eight of the season sees a change of gear, with the T20 Blast dominating the schedule through to the start of July almost as much as Surrey have dominated the opening rounds of the County Championship.
Interspersed with 14 T20 group fixtures in the space of 39 days will be two further championship forays, the next being a rematch against Kent, who were polished off with five sessions to spare last weekend as Surrey went 25 points clear in Division One.
But before Kent play host to the championship leaders at Canterbury, they face a quick return to the Oval for tonight’s T20 Blast clash against the 6-1 pre-tournament favourites.
Lancashire (7-1) appear to be the pick in the North Group, while, in the South Group, Hampshire – the defending champions – and Somerset are Surrey’s main opposition according to the bookies.
Everyone expects the Oval outfit to carry their four-day form into the domestic T20, but it’s never as simple as that.
En route to last year’s County Championship title Surrey took the Blast by storm before England came calling. Even then, they were only robbed of a semi-final place by a single run, at the hands of Yorkshire.
With the ball, Sam Curran and Chris Jordan will be key up front as well as the back end of the innings, as both are so adept at changes of pace and bowling yorkers.
Gus Atkinson’s extra pace makes him the ideal first change, provided he avoids bowling no-balls and focuses his radar on the top of off-stump. Jordan Clark and Dan Worrall will be on hand if Atkinson is got after, while the spin duo of Sunil Narine and Will Jacks will look to keep things quiet in the middle overs.
Jacks will also be pivotal at the top of the batting order in tandem with Jason Roy, whose return to form in the IPL (285 runs at an average of 35.62) has come just at the right time for the Oval outfit.
But injuries and Test calls will determine the extent to which Surrey’s assault on the T20 will draw on the wider squad.
Ollie Pope might be a permanent absentee if England decide to keep their newly-appointed vice-captain fresh for the Ashes.
While it would seem wicketkeeper Ben Foakes is surplus to England’s requirements, let’s wait and see if Yorkshire’s Jonny Bairstow can pick up where he left off in 2022 after a winter of no cricket, due to a broken leg.
Whether a side takes an early lead in their T20 group or comes up on the rails, the only thing that’s more important in the Blast than a knockout berth is a home quarter-final, which is what Surrey secured last summer before the cricketing gods made other plans.
I know the pain of failing to go all the way in last year’s tournament is still felt by the players. Indeed, the sense of unfinished business could hardly be more tangible.
“There was a bit of a bitter taste left in their mouths after absolutely dominating the group stage last year and being unbeaten for so long,” said Jade Dernbach, Surrey’s assistant coach.
“Unfortunately, injuries and [England] call-ups happened and we fell at the quarter-final hurdle, which I know really stung a lot of the guys.
“Here at Surrey there’s always that push to win trophies and to be successful.
“Obviously, we ticked off the County Championship last year and we’re looking to do the same and regain the trophy this season, but the T20 Blast is very high up on our list of priorities.”
The former Surrey and England seamer added: “The T20 Blast as a package is just sensational.
“To be at The Oval in front of a full house, under the lights, music blaring and fireworks everywhere…I’ve been lucky enough to play international cricket around the world, and some franchise stuff, but the Oval on a Friday night, not much comes near it.”
PICTURES: KEITH GILLARD
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