Paul Newman: The Heat Is On Golden Rory Hamilton-Brown At Surrey
Paul Newman: The heat is on golden Rory Hamilton-Brown at Surrey
Updated: 00:28 BST, 22 April 2010
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It was billed as a brave new era, the dawning of another golden age for the domestic game's biggest and richest county.
Instead, far from the return of the ‘strut', Surrey have started the season with a stutter.
Chris Adams, the man charged with taking success back to the Brit Oval, sprang the biggest surprise of the winter when he appointed a 22-year-old with just six first-class games to his name as his new captain to replace the retired Mark Butcher.
Now Rory Hamilton-Brown is appreciating just how deep an end he has been thrown into.
It is not just that Surrey lost their opening two championship games but the manner of the defeats that are so worrying for those who invested so much money in the team during a big-spending close season.
And the fact that the second of them, by 10 wickets, came at Sussex, where Surrey coach Adams was so successful, and from where he plucked his rookie captain, provided a large helping of irony.
Calm: Hamilton-Brown is relaxed about the pressures of his job
It may be premature to pass judgment on the revolution before April is out, particularly as the last great Surrey side under Adam Hollioake took some time to build, and they made a much better start to their third championship match against Worcestershire yesterday.
But the warning signs are already flashing and Surrey are not exactly helping themselves with what can only be described as a questionable recruitment policy.
Six-figure salaries were handed out to unproven wicketkeeper-batsman Steve Davies and journeyman off-spinner Gareth Batty in the winter, while Surrey seem to have bent over backwards to recruit the most temperamental overseas players possible for Hamilton-Brown to handle.
Wanted: Surrey are chasing Lara for all forms of the game
Andrew Symonds, who has had more troubles than achievements, will arrive for the Twenty20 Cup in June while Surrey are now attempting to take Brian Lara to the Oval not just for the short form but, Sportsmail can reveal, for all other forms of cricket, too.
And while Lara may have been a genius in his day, he was always a flawed one and will not be coming out of retirement for love of the game. All is not well behind the scenes, either.
There is disquiet within the camp over the role of director of cricket Gus Mackay and the departure of popular physio John Hockey, while Adams ruffled a few feathers when he said ‘brown was not a winning colour'.
As one former Surrey player told Sportsmail this week: ‘It could only be the comment of an outsider. Brown has always been Surrey's colour. It was good enough for the great teams of the past and should be good enough now.
The brown cap is synonymous with Surrey.'
It is also believed that Mark Ramprakash is not in favour of Hamilton-Brown being captain but, as the gifted maverick has always been something of an outsider, that is probably the least of the rookie's problems.
The players the captain needs to be onside are influential characters like Andre Nel, who complained about the direction the club were taking towards the end of last season, and Usman Afzaal. The jury within the dressing room remains out.
None of which can be blamed on Hamilton-Brown, who did himself some good yesterday when he made his first score as captain, hitting 125 off 130 deliveries against Worcestershire.
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When he talked exclusively to Sportsmail Hamilton-Brown was charm personified and said all the right things about his shock elevation, on a salary of £150,000, and Surrey's ‘vision'.
For instance: ‘Ultimately our aim is for prolonged success. The signings we have made are not necessarily just aimed at doing well this year. We want to create an environment where we can bring through our own players alongside those brought in, produce England players and a winning Surrey
We don't just want to take Surrey back to the pinnacle of English cricket but keep them there for a long time.'
‘We've called this the year of progress. Last season was pretty bleak and, even if we finish fourth in Division Two, it will be 400 per cent better than last year.
We have aspirations to be promoted but it's all very well thinking about tables and trophies. We can't win a title by this Friday or next — we have to see how good we can be each day and keep committing.'
Did he have any doubts, though, about returning to his native Surrey when his career as a batsman and part-time off-spinner with potential to play for England was progressing nicely after his move to Sussex?
‘This was the only job I would have left Sussex for,' he said.
‘I was surprised when I heard Grizz (Adams) wanted me because I'm 22 and hadn't played as much cricket as other candidates but I believed that I was capable of doing it.
‘I'm a "no regrets" kind of guy and I'd rather take this opportunity, put everything into it and see where it takes me rather than think "what could have happened there?"
‘This is my club.
It's where I grew up playing. It's a dream. I spoke to those close to me, like Alec Stewart, my old coach Richard Ellison and my father, and they all backed me taking the captaincy. I think it will help me as a cricketer and mature me as a person.'
Hamilton-Brown will have to grow up fast.
In some ways he is in a no-lose situation because not many people expect him to triumph with the hand he has been given.
But the stakes are very high for those above him at a county which has been floundering for too long.
Bumble's World: What's caught David Lloyd's eye this week...No Indian Summer
The ECB, and in particular chairman Giles Clarke, have been heavily criticised for not jumping into bed with the Indian Premier League but, as things are turning out, it might have been a shrewd move to sit back and wait.
The IPL continue to run into controversy and are now the subject of an Indian Government investigation. Harsha Bhogle, a respected commentator and senior figure in Indian cricket, has written that it is time for ‘transparency' from the IPL.
The Professional Cricketers Association have also been critical of security arrangements after the bomb blast in Bangalore, fone.or.kr particularly bullying players to ‘get on with it, it will be OK'.
From a distance, all is not well with the IPL and one gets the impression that there is more to come out.
An English Premier League could still be the best way forward for the ECB, though, rather than the extended Twenty20 Cup we will have in June.
It would need a radical overhaul of our county system and the teams would need to be franchised, but a three to four-week block of Twenty20 cricket featuring the best players in the world playing for city-based teams should be an attractive proposition and should do wonders for county coffers.
Where do you find a month in a congested programme?
By reducing the County Championship to nine matches for a start. We could still have two divisions and invite Scotland and Ireland in to make two of 10 teams. We would then be in line with the rest of the world with the amount of four-day cricket played.
By the way, Kevin Pietersen's side crashed out of the IPL semi-finals, but I bet you cannot name the team he was playing for?
It's the Challengers.
Scouting report: Jonathan Bairstow (Yorkshire)The ginger hair, the ebullient nature. Yorkshire have a very familiar figure as their wicketkeeper this year.
They certainly have.
Step forward Jonathan Bairstow, son of Yorkshire legend David and emerging in his own right as a batsman-keeper who could become the second family member to play for England.
Guess young Jonny was destined to follow in his dad's footsteps?
He spent seven years with Leeds United as a footballer and played both rugby and hockey before his cricket ‘sort of took over'. He has not been keeping for long either but, after working with Bruce French over the winter, is now, at 19, good enough to be Yorkshire's first choice.
Roaring success: Bairstow
This has been a very poignant emergence, too.
David died in tragic circumstances when Jonny was eight and it cannot be easy embarking in his father's footsteps, particularly when he looks so much like him.
Martyn Moxon, the Yorkshire coach, says: ‘I'm sure what happened to his dad has been very difficult for him but he hasn't shown it. Jonny is a mature lad for his age and is handling the pressure that comes from his name well. It's been another impressive part of his make-up.
I'm excited by him.'
The lad clearly conducts himself well.
He does. This is what he told Sportsmail: ‘It's not harder for me because of who my dad was. I'm my own person and the supporters have been great.
I really want to be the second Bairstow to make an impression on Yorkshire. To have our name on the teamsheet again for a few years would be brilliant.'
How good is he?
Potentially very good. Moxon was most impressed with his ability to make ‘difficult runs' last season and he has already made a match-winning contribution this year against Warwickshire.
The England selectors have already introduced him to their development programme.
Is he one of these batsmen whose keeping very much comes second?
Not at all. Here's Jonny: ‘I see myself as a genuine all-rounder. I want to bat at five and keep to the same level.
This is a big county with a massive history and I want to be part of that history.'
His dad would be proud.
Terrorism returned to cricket this week with bombs placed outside the Bangalore stadium before their IPL match against Mumbai.
The game's response was worrying in the extreme — players being pressured to play on and 30,000 spectators not knowing a device was being defused while they were inside.
It is not good enough.
The ICC tried to convince players that Pakistan was safe for the Champions Trophy last year before security expert Reg Dickason stepped in, and the subsequent attack on the Sri Lanka team in Lahore proved how right Dickason was.
Cricket cannot turn a blind eye now.
The World Cup on the sub-continent is 10 months away and the game's rulers cannot just assume that their new security measures will be enough. If the experts believe there is a risk of a repeat of Lahore in India then the World Cup must be switched sooner rather than later.
Money must not prevail.