Fighting Talk

The formalities of an AGM, a cricket forum and then booze – it can only mean one thing: the new cricket season is about to start at The Oval once again.

Cripes.

The Oval

The Surrey Members’ gathered in the England Suite on Wednesday evening, to hear Surrey Chairman David Stewart confirm that the Arora hotelshould be open in 2012,” although funding “is still being finalised.”

The “travesty of the ECB fixture list” took a battering from the blazer wearing officials; the club confirmed that it is exploring partnerships with overseas clubs. On the pitch and promotion from the second division of the County Championship is the aim for this season.

Oh, and there was a spirited call for pom pom girls to liven up matches in SE11, which at least drew a considerable round of applause from the first team squad that was in attendance.

But first off, the AGM paid a fitting tribute to Surrey legend, Sir Alec Bedser, who passed away at the age of 91 last week. Stories of Surrey old were re-told, with the grace of Bedser seeming a distant age from the IPL cricket circus that now dominates the game.

Outgoing President Mike Soper reflected on his past twelve months at the club, describing his period in office as “the highlight of my cricketing career,” before leaving the Members’ with the warning shot of:

“More County clubs are going to the wall, despite the high expectations that Twenty20 has brought to the game.”

Chairman David Stewart set the goals for the forthcoming season in South London:

(i) Take the first steps to make Surrey a real force in County cricket once again.

(ii) Club development, both County players, and producing talent for England.

(iii) Developing The Oval to become a world class ground.

(iv) Committing to the Membership culture and ethos.

All fine principles, but also all points that should be ongoing, and not introduced as a new set of aims for this season.

Stewart confirmed the introduction of the salary cap for all Counties, and highlighted how Surrey and Middlesex are handicapped, as the scheme doesn’t recognise a London living allowance.

The ECB was the target of Stewart’s tirade against the “travesty of the fixture list.” Essentially the schedule is all over the place for this summer. County games start on a different day each week, with a concentration of home games for the first two months of the season, before Surrey effectively go on tour for the summer. “A review is underway,” Stewart confirmed.

The accounts for the year revealed that the club is in profit off the field, despite an incredibly poor season cricket wise. “Surrey is the strongest County financially,” boasted Stewart, much to the muttering of Members’ discomfort when the results for the past season are considered.

The relief was clear to see when Stewart addressed the issue of the Arora hotel, and the lengthy planning permission process that has finally been resolved. The four-year delay actually helps the club, as building costs have been reduced during this period. The word of caution though is that the Arora group is still trying to finalise funding for the development.

With figures showing that the Members’ generated only 4% of the total income last season, you can see why the club needs the cash cow of a hotel within the ground.

Chief Executive Paul Sheldon then addressed the AGM by putting his faith in Cricket Manager Chris Adams and his plans to “mastermind the re-building process.”

Partnerships with overseas clubs are being explored, but Stewart was keen to stress that “the club won’t sell its soul to an IPL franchise.”

With the formalities of the AGM attended to, the top table then switched to Chris Adams, Cricket MD Gus Mackay and new Club Captain Rory Hamilton-Brown.

Mackay confirmed that nine players have been released over the summer, along with four backroom staff. All players are now on twelve-month contracts, in a move that more or less said put up or shut up on the ptich.

Promotion to the top tier of county cricket is the aim, with Mackay recognising that six wins are required to achieve this – a staggering 700% performance improvement from last season.

Twenty-two year-old club Rory Hamilton-Brown spoke of his plans for the summer. I emphasise the age of the new club captain, as this was an issue that one of the Members queried, uncertain as to how such a young player could command the respect of Ramprakash et al.

Rory HB spoke with incredible maturity, giving the Members’ fighting talk for the summer ahead. If he can reassure a room full of sceptical coffin dodgers that the future is bright in Surrey, he should be fine in the dressing room.

Chris Adams then spoke of how “the healing process is underway,” thanking the Members for their patience, and describing the team as “fragmented” when he first arrived last summer.

Questions from the floors asked about the departure of Ali Brown, and the notorious batting friendly Oval wicket. No plans are in place to dig it up, with Head Groundsman Bill Gordon being given the remit of “producing pace for seamers, and a pitch that spins after three days.”

That 700% improvement rate seems a mighty high task to achieve.

Listen!

Booze followed. Plenty of booze. I asked Chief Exec Paul Sheldon about the possibility of giving Members access to the Brit Oval WIFI signal that we can pick up in the Pavilion. This is a possibility when the Long Room is refurbished as part of the hotel deal. Two PC’s will be made available to Members in the meantime.

Mmmm…

A quick handshake and good luck to Rory HB before the booze set in, and that was about your lot.

C’mon the ‘rrey!

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