Turning up at last week's press day at the Oval, it soon struck me how much has changed since last September. For a start, Surrey's home is now called the Kia Oval. Paul Sheldon, chief executive for the last 15 years, has moved on to be replaced by Richard Gould, whose time at Somerset won him a number of plaudits. On first impressions, Gould seems to be a breath of fresh air, as does the new chairman Richard Thompson, who was waiting to greet the East Surrey and Sussex News and Media trio of Daniel Jones, Simon Osborn and myself, when we arrived. Thompson spoke passionately about "Surrey-fying" the Oval and improving links with the grassroots game throughout the county. Last Friday, his first innovation, a lunch where members could meet the players, whilst not unheard of, went down extremely well. Equally, certain things haven't changed. I would be worried if the lads weren't upbeat heading into the new campaign. Indeed, there was no shortage of optimism. From the manager, Chris Adams, down to the players I chatted with, everyone predicted that Surrey would win promotion in the County Championship this year. I can see them collecting some silverware in the limited-overs competitions, but, for me, they lack balance in two key areas when it comes to the four-dayers. Without Mark Ramprakash, who is set to miss the opening six weeks with a knee injury, the top order will be as full of stroke-makers as it will be short of batsmen capable of digging in should the need arise. Also, if Surrey are to haul themselves up from seventh in Division Two, which is where they have finished the last two campaigns, their duo of front-line spinners will need to take wickets at a cost considerably less than 39.60 runs apiece. Finally, Kevin Pietersen is now a fully-fledged Surrey player, but he was unavailable for interview on press day and ducked out of the meet the players event. All I will say is that not many of us were surprised.

Surrey are notoriously slow starters in the County Championship. Admittedly, in recent years they have tended to start slowly and get slower, but there are a number of positives that Rory Hamilton-Brown's young charges can draw from the opening encounter with Northants. The skipper's touch with the bat, Zander de Bruyn's ability to pace an innings, Tim Linley's superb display of seam bowling on day two and Stuart Meaker's ferocious pace, which, at one stage on the final day looked as though it would hasten the Oval outfit to victory. But then Andrew Hall and Niall O'Brien dug in, putting on an unbeaten 43 for Northants' sixth wicket to ensure the match ended, much as it had been throughout, with honours even. It now means Surrey have only recorded one win in 15 championship curtain-raisers. When Northants collapsed to 163-7 in response to 322 in the first innings, the contest appeared to be there for the taking. It was clear from the faces of the faces of the Surrey players as they headed home after the game that, next time, their opponents won't be allowed to wriggle off the hook. Competition for places will stand them in good stead. Surrey have the largest professional staff in the country, so much so they are right up against the salary cap, which is threatening to undermine negotiations with their soon-to-be out of contact players, one of whom is Jade Dernbach. With Ramprakash and Dernbach to come back in, and Pietersen and Tremlett no doubt playing their part when England commitments allow, Chris Adams is sure to be faced with a few selection posers. He even had one the other day, when to most people's surprise, Jason Roy was left out. I pity Essex's second eleven attack when they bowl to Jason this week!

Last Sunday, as I was watching the Arsenal-Liverpool game, on telly, drift towards what looked destined to be a 0-0 bore draw, I thought to myself - why do people love their sport? My question was answered in injury time - because of its unpredictability. The opening two weeks of the new cricket season have also been full of surprises. Essex and Surrey, who, going into the campaign, were supposedly the two strongest sides in Division Two of the County Championship are now the only teams in the bottom flight without a win. In Division One, who would have backed Warwickshire to beat Somerset by an innings and plenty? Also, who could have foreseen that Essex's Reece Topley would currently be joint leading wicket-taker, and that, not far behind him, would be Gloucestershire's Liam Norwell? What's of little surprise, though, is that the wicket at the Oval remains a challenge for any bowler. Surrey's manager, Chris Adams, fearing that he might upset the groundsman Bill Gordon, insists, whenever asked, that the wickets at the Kia Oval are not flat but "true". Just as Lancashire diehards will tell you that one of the reasons why they haven't won the championship outright since 1934 is the weather in Manchester, Surrey fans are now beginning to fear that playing over a third of four-day games at the Oval will not help their side escape from Division Two. So far, there have been eight matches in the second division and only one has ended in stalemate - Surrey's contest with Northants. With 16 points on offer for a win and just three for a draw, it doesn't take much working out that the teams with the most victories will be top of the pile come September time. This summer, if you see any headlines referring to cap-less Surrey, it's not a typo. Last week, after almost 130 years, Surrey went into a County Championship match without a single capped player. When Usman Afzaal was released, Mark Ramprakash became the Oval outfit's sole capped player. A knee injury to Ramprakash means that Surrey could be cap-less for some time. Jade Dernbach's services cannot be far from being recognised, after all he has taken 245 wickets in all competitions for the club. As it has been announced that, in future, all cap presentations will take place in front of the members' pavilion at the Oval and only on County Championship match days, Jade will have to wait at least until May 4, when Surrey play host to Leicestershire.

Although we are yet to see the best of what Surrey's attack has to offer, it is also fair to say the pitches served up in the opening couple of matches are likely to be the flattest they will encounter this summer. It may appear to be hyperbole, but the current showdown at Lord's could prove influential in terms of Surrey's aspirations in the County Championship. The manager, Chris Adams hasn't just predicted that the Oval outfit will gain promotion this term, he has said they will win Division Two. Last year's visit to headquarters finished a day early, with Surrey losing to Middlesex by an innings. For many a Surrey fan, that defeat still gives them nightmares. History demonstrates that promotion often goes hand in hand with a prominent showing from the overseas player. So far, Yasir Arafat has sent down 67 wicketless overs costing 241 runs. A big positive is that Surrey's fielding has been top drawer. But, conversely, it means hardly any chances have been shelled. Of those that have, I don't recall any being off Arafat. Bottom line? Arafat has looked good, in conditions that have not suited swing bowling, but he has not bowled as well as his home-grown contemporaries in the seam department. Chris Adams hasn't said it yet, but if the manager comes out and says how good Arafat has been in the dressing room, then Surrey followers can start to worry. The club has not had an overseas player deliver on the pitch, where, after all, it matters most, since Harbhajan Singh's six-match stint in 2007, which kept them up that season. Nevertheless, every overseas signing since has been commended for their input behind the scenes - even Shoaib Akhtar, who was thrown in at the end of 2008 only to bowl so short that the opposition batsmen could opt for which balls to play and which to leave. It was reported that Surrey were paying Shoaib £10,000 per match, which probably explains why the so-called Rawalpindi Express was such a picture of happiness during his short time at the Oval.

The observations I make in this column can sometimes return to bite me on the bum. After highlighting Yasir Arafat's indifferent start to the season in last week's Hook Report, I then witnessed Arafat reduce Middlesex to 28-3 on the first morning at Lord's. Sadly, from that point onwards, only one team was going to win the London derby and it wasn't Surrey. A second defeat by an innings, in less than a year, to Middlesex will not have gone down at all well with the Surrey faithful. When the Lions then collapsed to 45-5 against Hampshire on Bank Holiday Monday, I feared for the ride manager Chris Adams would get at this week's Members' Forum. Perhaps Jason Roy's brilliant innings of 76 at the Rose Bowl, in the Clydesdale Bank 40, has saved Adams's bacon. The national press have not wasted any time putting the boot into Adams. One article reported that a dressing room lock-in followed the debacle at Lord's. Take it from me, obtaining post match quotes didn't take any longer than usual. Given they were bowled out for 203 and 200 by Middlesex, you might be surprised to hear that I consider Surrey's batting line-up to be the most potent in Division Two of the championship. This week, with Mark Ramprakash expected to return to the fray and Roy pushing for a place in the four-day set-up, having snatched victory from the jaws of defeat against Hampshire, I would not want to be a Leicestershire bowler. (Actually, I would, because I would have given anything to be a professional cricketer.). Assuming those words don't come back to haunt me, it's extremely heartening because my fear going into the season was that the loss of batting coach, Graham Thorpe, to a job with the ECB, would have an immediate impact on the pitch. Thorpe was also Surrey's second team coach, but I gather the club is set to announce that Thorpe's successor will be Adrian Birrell, who managed Ireland in the 2007 World Cup.

There is a real sense that Surrey have turned a corner. Seven days after stumbling to an innings defeat against Middlesex, Rory Hamilton Brown's battery of fast bowlers literally blew away Leicestershire in the championship, to win with a day to spare. When hostilities resumed on Sunday, the Lions maintained their one hundred per cent record in the Clydesdale Bank 40. It was just as well Surrey impressed, because Chris Adams missed last week's Members' Forum. Another bad performance and it might well have been construed that the Lions' manager was dodging his critics. But who would dare to criticise Adams now? Despite going into the four-day clash with no recognised openers and just one spinner, the manner in which Surrey dismantled Leicestershire was fearsome. A couple of journalists said to me afterwards it was almost like watching a Test attack at work. Tremlett, Dernbach, Meaker and Arafat doesn't make the hairs on the back of one's neck stand on end like the mention of Roberts, Holding, Garner and Marshall, but there was no respite for Leicestershire's batsmen. James Taylor, who, mark my words, will play for England one day, got a real sense of what it would be like batting against top-class fast bowling. As well as being felled by a bouncer from Jade Dernbach, he took a couple of blows on the hand for his trouble. If anything, Chris Tremlett asked the fewest questions. Perhaps the big man was just rusty after his enforced lay-off. Next week, the Oval outfit decamp to Whitgift School in Croydon. Beating Leicestershire is one thing. The real test for Surrey's strike force will be Essex's Alastair Cook and Ravi Bopara. With a gap needing to be found in the hosts' line-up to accommodate Kevin Pietersen, some are suggesting that Gareth Batty might be the man to make way. That would leave Surrey without a front-line spinner. My question would be, will Surrey miss one if Pietersen helps them rack up 400 in their first innings?

Had last week's match against Cambridge University been played a year from now, it would not have been deemed a first-class fixture under proposals currently being considered. Perhaps the ease with which the students disposed of Surrey will prompt the England and Wales Cricket Board to change its mind. Perhaps, also, it will give a wake-up call to some of Surrey's fringe players, who were handed the opportunity to impress, that they need to up their games considerably before they can think about commanding a regular place in the first team. But every black cloud has a silver lining. Like me, I'm sure a number of Surrey fans were taken aback when Chris Adams's response to his side's dismal showing at Cambridge was "good". The Surrey manager was commentating on Sky, which must have also raised a few eyebrows given that the Oval outfit were in action elsewhere. But his reaction was prompted by Zafar Ansari's figures of 5-33, which helped peg the visitors to 234 in their first innings. The 19-year-old left-arm spinner is on Surrey's books, and on that showing he will walk straight into the second team when term finishes. The much-maligned MCC Universities system has also brought another Surrey youngster to the fore in the shape of 22-year-old opener Simon Barrett, who made 168 for Leeds/Bradford MCCU against Derbyshire a fortnight ago. Unlike Surrey, Derbyshire managed to scrape a draw in that match, but, again, it suggests that the universities are deserving of their place at the top table; moreover, that the first-class counties would be wise not to under-estimate them.

A couple of weeks ago, I said I felt that Surrey had turned a corner, but bowling sides out twice in the championship remains an issue for Rory Hamilton-Brown's men. In the first innings at Whitgift, Essex's last three wickets produced nearly 200 runs. Second time around, a dogged ninth-wicket partnership between Tim Phillips and Chris Wright held the hosts up for 21 overs. If Chris Adams's prediction that Surrey will win Division Two is to be realised, they will need to win at least six of the 11 that remain. If Grizz reads this column, it pains me to remind him that Surrey's last six championship wins have come in 33. To be fair to Adams, the side is a lot more experienced now, and is should be capable of producing the goods on a more consistent basis. Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of last week's display against Essex was Chris Tremlett's contribution. It seemed to me he was holding something back. I've no problem with Tremlett being used in short bursts, but when he does have the ball in his hands I would like to see him averaging a lot less than 42.00 for Surrey. Tremlett should have had a wicket early in Essex's second innings, when Jaik Mickleburgh was caught at long leg. But, alas, it came off his ninth no-ball of the match. Most disappointing of all was the way he dropped Napier, on 118, after ambling round from long-on. Jade Dernbach was awarded his Surrey cap this week. It must be the hardest earned Surrey cap in recent memory. Dernbach has taken nearly 140 wickets in 52 first-class appearances for the Oval outfit. Tremlett's 53 from 14 would suggest that the former Hampshire man is due to be capped mid-way through 2013.

These days, if there's one thing more frustrating than watching falling rain, it's watching Surrey trying to bowl sides out in the championship. After the opening day of the Glamorgan game, I bumped into a much-revered former Surrey player. He asked: "Okay then, how have you written up today's events?" I replied: "In so many words, that we've had better days." His response to that was: "Yeah, we were rubbish, weren't we. What we would have given for a Martin Bicknell out there." The truth is that when Stuart Meaker has been out injured, Surrey's attack has looked Division Two. Barring an astonishing reversal of form, the Oval outfit will be plying its trade in the championship's basement in 2012. So, with the Twenty20 starting this week, Jason Roy's maiden first-class hundred has come at an ideal time for both Roy and for Surrey. The Lions' manager, Chris Adams said to me he thinks Jason will kick on now that he's hit his first championship ton. As the First Test in Cardiff proved, you should never write-off the last day of a rain-affected match. Admittedly, many peter out, but others throw up some "I was there" moments. One of them came last Friday when it looked as though Surrey might pull off a thrilling victory, in spite of being set 395 to win, when Jason Roy and Rory Hamilton-Brown set off like a train. The more I see of Jason, the more I am convinced he is a serious talent. Not only was his unbeaten 106 off 109 balls chanceless, he also hit the ball harder than I have seen it hit for quite a while. Only one shot was in the air - the six that took him to three figures. Jason Roy - watch out for the name.

Heading into the season, Chris Adams confidently predicted that Surrey wouldn't just gain promotion in the County Championship, they would top Division Two. At the same time, however, a significant proportion of the faithful were forecasting that the manager would be sacked if results didn't show a marked improvement. Even Wisden, cricket's august and objective 'Bible', decried Adams's record in charge at the Oval, although it fell short of saying his days were numbered. But, just eight weeks into the new campaign, and six months before it was due to expire, Adams has been handed a two-year contract extension. Assuming the decision wasn't made on the spur of the moment, one has to question whether the club has suddenly lowered its sights. But for the incredible volte-face at Derby, Surrey would still be in the bottom half of the championship's basement division. Even now, the Oval outfit need to win five out of their last nine to be certain of promotion. The club's press release spoke of "evident progress", which it then qualified as being a number of England calls and five wins out of five in the Clydesdale Bank 40. It mentioned nothing of impending promotion in the championship, just that it was "keen to regain Division 1 status". While I remain convinced that Surrey will do well in both of the limited-overs competitions, let's not forget that two of the CB40 wins came against Scotland. Furthermore, Yasir Arafat and Dirk Nannes are yet to buck the trend set by Adams's overseas signings to date of either lacking fitness or failing to make an impact. Although I am not anti the decision, I do question the timing, and I'm sure I'm not alone. At the end of 2009, Adams said to the Surrey members: "We're on the crest of something that will be special. I can see the future. You'll hate me for saying this, but be patient." The supporters remain patient, one only hopes the club hasn't been hasty.

The fifteen times World Professional Darts Champion, Phil (the Power) Taylor was at the Oval the other night. Speaking on commentary, for Sky, he said: "I've never been to a proper cricket match before." Sorry to tell you this, Phil, but Twenty20 isn't proper cricket. Who knows, though, it could be Surrey's salvation this summer. Essex have been the Lions' bogey team in the T20, so the visitors started very firm favourites. When everything clicks, Surrey are very very good; when it doesn't, Surrey are very very bad. The T20 is such a lottery that, often, the best approach is to play fearless cricket. That's exactly what Rory Hamilton-Brown's men have done in limited-overs cricket this season. Although it was a great team performance against Essex, one couldn't help being impressed by Zafar Ansari, who, if he doesn't go on to major in geography, certainly majors in making early impressions. Last season, he took a wicket in his first ball as a Surrey player, against Sussex in the CB40. This year, he came to everyone's attention by joining a growing queue of slow left-armers to chalk up a 'kill' against Kevin Pietersen. Ansari went on to take 5-33 for Cambridge University that day, against the Oval outfit at Fenner's. But if the Lions are to be seen as serious threat in the T20 they must start winning matches away from home, beginning with their visit to Taunton. A victory there and everyone who raised an eyebrow at Chris Adams's contract extension will be silenced. On that subject, I gather the General Committee were told that Adams would be given a six-month rolling contract. So, when it was announced that he had been handed a two-year extension, it was as much a surprise to the committee as it was for the rest of us.

The other day I went back over this season's Hook Reports. If I referred Chris Adams's prediction that Surrey would win Division Two of County Championship once, I must have mentioned it about five times. So, for fear of starting to sound like a scratched record, let's draw a line under it by making a prediction of my own - Surrey will still be playing second division cricket in 2012. Where does one begin to dissect the championship performance against Gloucestershire? Given that Surrey only lost by four wickets, you might think it came down to a couple of defining moments or a touch of bad luck. If only it were that simple. There were dropped catches, but Gloucestershire spilled their fair share. In percentage terms Gloucestershire looked better simply because, obligingly, more chances were served up. At times Surrey's batsmen swished the bat as regularly as a garden gate swings in a gale. Twelve of Surrey's wickets were either caught behind, caught in the slips or chopped on. Don't get me wrong, runs were hard to come by, but that then begs a question as regards team selection. A tail of Dernbach, Linley and Dunn left Surrey exposed, unnecessarily so given that Matt Dunn bowled just five overs. At tea on the final day, a spectator told me that one of Surrey's senior players had been shouting, from his position on the boundary: "Bowl Dunny!". Hamilton-Brown's blanking of the 19-year-old couldn't have done anything for his confidence or, for that matter, the mindset of some of the second eleven guys knocking on the door. Perhaps that's it - they're knocking on the door rather than breaking it down, by way of performance. For the fifth year running the end of June finds Surrey at a crossroads. The lock-in after the match - the game ended at 4.54pm and by the time I left the Oval with quotes on my tape recorder it was gone six - suggests that Chris Adams sees it that way too. The next fortnight will define Surrey's season.

It was clear from Chris Adams's winter signings that if Surrey were going to return to winning ways this summer, it would be in the limited-overs arena. The Lions have made an excellent start in the Clydesdale Bank 40. But, as was the case in 2010 - when they just missed out on a place in the Twenty20 quarter-finals - the Oval outfit seem incapable of putting a run together in the shortest code of the game. When the competition first began the Lions went 14 games unbeaten. But since 2007, ignoring abandonments, their best run has been three wins on the spin - two at the end of last season's tournament followed by a victory in this year's curtain-raiser. Surrey's home form in the T20 has been encouraging, but it's worth pointing out that the Lions are yet to play host to the cream of the South Group - Hampshire, Somerset and Sussex. People talk about the T20 being a lottery, but how does that explain why the teams in Division One of the County Championship fair significantly better? I'm sure it's no coincidence. The last two T20 finals have been contested by sides in Division One of the championship. Indeed, only one of the eight finals has been between two teams from Division Two. As things stand, the first division representatives in Surrey's group occupy the top three places, and three out of the first four in the North Group are currently in Division One. There are no quick fixes. Target top flight status in the championship and everything else will fall into place. A lesson for next year, definitely.

There's no more galling a feeling than losing to a team you're expected to beat. So, I suspect Sussex fans will regard their side's T20 defeat at the hands of Surrey in much the same way as the Oval faithful are still grieving over the loss to Kent at Beckenham. The Sharks lacked intensity in the field and should have made more use of Chris Nash with both bat and ball - not that I'm complaining. Now that a single point separates second spot from sixth in the South Group of the FLt20, nobody can afford any more slip-ups. Kent, Surrey and Sussex have a game in hand over Essex and Somerset, so it's key they make it pay. Next up, for the Lions, is a trip to Lord's to face Middlesex, who are propping up the table. Last Monday, Mark Butcher said: "If Surrey lose that one, they don't deserve to qualify." But it's far from being a formality. The Panthers have got a decent bowling attack, plus nothing gives Middlesex more pleasure than tripping up Surrey. The following day the Lions are due to play host to Hampshire. The Royals are running away with the South Group, which, I hope, means they will be prone to complacency. Even though he came in for a bit of tap against Sussex, it's great to have Chris Tremlett back. Tremmers was far and away Surrey's best bowler in last season's Twenty20 and I'm certain he will put in a man-of-the-match performance in one of the four remaining group matches. Like a number of contributors to the forum on my website, I have to agree that Tim Linley should have featured more. That said, the over Stuart Meaker delivered with three to go at Whitgift was massive. Finally, I can't finish without saluting the job Whitgift School have done, playing host to Surrey this season. It's close to where I live, but even if it wasn't I cannot think of many nicer settings for county cricket.

At long last, the Lions' rollercoaster season is making a sustained ascent. After their championship loss to Gloucestershire, I wrote that the Oval outfit were at a crossroads. Three weeks on, how could I possibly have been so sceptical? The other day someone pointed out to me that, of the eighteen first-class counties, Surrey have lost the fewest number of matches in all competitions this summer, which surprised me. Even in the wake of that defeat against Gloucestershire, I felt the only player in their line-up who might push for inclusion if he were able to play for Surrey would be Alex Gidman. So, clearly, the recipe is right, but, for whatever reason, it hasn't always been followed. You certainly can't say that now, though. There's still an issue of having two middle order batsmen at the top of the order in the County Championship, but with Mark Ramprakash at three and Zander de Bruyn at four there's a backup plan should a wicket or two fall early on. To be fair to Jason Roy and Rory Hamilton-Brown, they are both averaging over thirty-five, which a side like Kent would be more than happy with. Also, they will become better batsmen for having had a stint facing the new ball. I make particular reference to Kent because the hop county looked like a side who, even in though it's July, were going through the motions, until Surrey allowed things to slip in the championship game this week. Kent were without Azhar Mahmood and James Tredwell, which, I doubt will be the case when the Spitfires face up to the Lions in what is an all-important T20 clash for both parties. As Surrey's chief executive Richard Gould said at the Cricket Forum on Monday night, this week is one of the most important the club has faced, on the pitch, for quite some time. Let's hope next week I'll be able to report that the Lions are through to the last eight of the T20 and still unbeaten in the Clydesdale Bank 40. Finally, I cannot sign off without wishing Jason Callaghan and Julie Blakesley all the best for the future. Between them, Jason and Julie have worked at the Oval for over fifty years, primarily in the ticket office. I think I speak for the vast majority of members when I say they will be a tough act to follow.

Not only had I hoped to be reporting that Surrey are now through to the quarter-finals of the Twenty20, I didn't think for one moment that I wouldn't be. For fear of the Hook Report being re-named 'Chris Adams's predictions and how wrong they are', the Surrey manager said, going into the season, he expected the Oval outfit to be in the last eight of the T20. As I know from my horse racing tips, forecasting can be a embarrassing business; mind you, I haven't had any come back of late, so I must be doing something right. But, on this, I have sympathy with Adams. The signings he made over the winter, made the Lions a much stronger one-day outfit. Going into the last two T20 group games the team were flying, everyone seemed to be in form and Surrey had just beaten Kent in the County Championship. So, to then hit the buffers is massively frustrating. Last summer, Surrey finished fifth in their T20 group and seventh in Division Two of the County Championship. Last week's results saw them match last year's T20 finish and they currently lie sixth in the second division of the championship. Adams is in the results business and, on the face of it, progress remains slow. But, Zander de Bruyn and Tom Maynard have proven themselves to be excellent signings. Rory Hamilton-Brown has shown great leadership by taking on the job of opening the innings in the absence of a viable alternative. Dirk Nannes has, at long last, bucked the trend of under-achieving Surrey overseas players. Tim Linley and Stuart Meaker have led the attack superbly, often in the absence of Jade Dernbach and Chris Tremlett. And to see the likes of Zafar Ansari, Matt Dunn and Jason Roy making the step up from second team cricket, and making it look as though they have been playing county cricket for three or four years, is extremely encouraging. What Surrey's supporters must be asking themselves, however, is when will Adams's vision ever be realised?

At a recent Cricket Forum, Chris Adams conceded that the loss of Graham Thorpe, Surrey's batting coach, to the England Performance Programme last winter, has been a massive blow. Adams told the members: "It's nice to lose people upwards, but the financial element, to replace him, is no longer available within the budget." In the absence of a full-time Second Eleven coach, Adams added: "I think we need to expand our coaching representation in several areas." Having received a vote of confidence from the Oval hierarchy in the shape of a two-year contract extension, Adams clearly hopes the club will now back him financially. But, the consensus is that Surrey's backroom staff is, if not the largest in the country, then certainly the most impressive in Division Two of the County Championship. So, if the support network did grow still further, what would that leave Adams doing? As breathtaking as Tom Maynard's 141 against Middlesex was, it also underlined that Surrey's batsmen only seem to know one way to bat. It's also no coincidence that, without a specialist batting coach to turn to for advice, no one in the Second Eleven seems to be putting pressure on the top order. But the same could be said of Middlesex and yet, at Guildford, Jamie Dalrymple, in the first innings, and Sam Robson, on the last day, both showed it was possible to construct an innings. I can't really remember what it felt like when we last lost to Middlesex at home and away in the same championship season, back in 1983. Looking on the bright side, the Lions' CB40 season remains on course. Also, the last time this week's championship opponents, Gloucestershire completed a double over Surrey was in 1885!

Not only was the decision of umpires George Sharp and Nigel Llong to send Mark Ramprakash on his way for Obstructing The Field last Saturday ludicrous, it also sets a dangerous precedent. If Surrey had gone on to lose the match we wouldn't now be regarding it as an amusing oddity - there would have been an uproar. With Surrey seemingly cruising to victory, I was in the middle of writing my match report. But, fortunately, my eyes were peering over the brow of my laptop when Jason Roy called Ramprakash through for a second run to square leg. Ramprakash is not as nimble on his feet as when he appeared on Strictly Come Dancing, due to the knee injury he picked up playing football last November. So Kane Williamson's throw was always going to be aimed towards the non-striker's end, which was being manned by Ian Saxelby. As so many batsmen seem to do these days, Ramprakash ran in-between the fielder and the stumps. The ball did not hit him or his bat, neither was he ball watching, but Saxelby complained to the umpires, who then got together and, after a brief discussion, gave Ramprakash out. While I don't condone the dissent shown by Mark, by questioning the umpires' judgement, I can understand why he felt so aggrieved. Law 37 states that "either batsman is out Obstructing The Field if he wilfully obstructs or distracts the opposing side by word or action." The only accusation you could level at Ramprakash was that instead of attempting to run his bat in, he was holding it out in front of him. If the ball had struck his bat, Mark would have had to have gone, but it didn't. Saxelby has said since that Ramprakash distracted him. He probably did, but I have seen numerous similar incidents, particularly in one-day cricket. If what Ramps did constituted Obstructing The Field, expect a lot more appeals for it from now on.

Surrey have been here before, in this season's Twenty20, but, barring a sudden reversal of fortune, the Lions are on course for the knockout phase in the Clydesdale Bank 40. That said, they were made to work for their last two victories. The next seven days will have a big say in terms of whether they'll be contesting a semi-final on September 4. Defeat to Surrey effectively ended the chances of next week's opponents - Northamptonshire and Warwickshire - of progressing to the last four. So, all being well, the Steelbacks and the Bears will field weakened sides; choosing, instead, to keep their powder dry for the closing weeks of the County Championship. There's every chance that the CB40 semi-finals will see the Lions pitted against Somerset or Sussex - two of the best one-day outfits in the country. Assuming they are, Rory Hamilton-Brown's men cannot allow sides of that calibre to be in with a sniff with five overs to go. That was the case against Warwickshire, at Guildford, and against Northants, under the lights at the Kia Oval last Wednesday. I covered both games for the Press Association, which meant that my 400-word match report had to be fired off within ten minutes of the contest finishing. Frantic re-writes were necessary on both occasions, but, to Surrey's credit, they found a way of winning. More importantly, they coped with the pressure. Sadly, that's not a trait one has associated with the Lions since Mark Butcher was forced to retire. While Hamilton-Brown still lacks Butcher's tactical nous, he is starting to show that, like Adam Hollioake, he's prepared to take the game by the scruff of the neck. Rory's final spell against Northants, which conjured up three vital wickets in the space of eight balls, had all the hallmarks of Adam's 'never say die' approach. Such performances will leave Hamilton-Brown's team-mates believing he's capable of anything. As a leader, that's a powerful quality to have.

Following Surrey in recent weeks has been a surreal experience. Having now seen a batsman being dismissed for Obstructing The Field, I witnessed something equally as rare at Canterbury - Kent's Darren Stevens taking seven wickets in an innings. It moved the Lions' fast bowling coach, Martin Bicknell to Tweet: "Stevens 7 fer... is it time to make a comeback?" Given the manner of Surrey's 265-run defeat, during which the phrase "throwing in the towel" came to mind on more than one occasion, I have to admit I didn't give the lads a hope of chasing down 297 at Northampton in the CB40. But thanks to Chris Schofield, who has been written off more times than Ozzy Osbourne's quad bike, the Lions totally redeemed themselves. Perhaps Schoey, who now heads Surrey's one-day and four-day batting averages, has the benefit of not being scarred, emotionally, by any of this summer's losses in the championship. Surrey have been held to a draw in all three of his four-day outings this term. Kent's programme for Canterbury Week ranks as the best I've seen in a very long time. But there must have been more than a few guffaws amongst the Kent members when they read the interview, therein, with Chris Adams, in which the Surrey manager said: "As long as we keep building, I can't help but feel the club will go supersonic." Having recorded their worst first innings total at Guildford since 1958 a few weeks ago, Surrey's second innings total at Canterbury was their lowest, in any championship dig, since July 2001. Not so much supersonic, more like the Worthing International Birdman competition. As Adams said after the match: "Only one batsman in the game looked as though he could handle the conditions and that was Rob Key." With rumours doing the rounds at Canterbury that this could be Key's final season as a Kent player, he can't have done his chances of a move to Surrey any harm at all, if that's what he wants, by making yet another high-quality hundred against the Oval outfit.

As I write this, it’s threatening to rain at Grace Road. If it does, Surrey's championship contest with Leicestershire is unlikely to produce a positive outcome. As well as being a poor drying ground, the wicket at Leicester tends to favour the batsmen. But nothing can dampen the buzz in the Surrey camp. While all the talk here is about Leicestershire reaching Twenty20 Finals Day, the visitors are equally cock-a-hoop after securing a home semi-final in the Clydesdale Bank 40. Cynics, like me, will point out that such euphoria glosses over the failings of both of these teams in the County Championship. Mind you, with four victories, Surrey have already achieved as many four-day wins as last summer. So, Chris Adams is entitled to talk of progress. Last week, following the debacle at Canterbury, I mocked Adams’s prophecy that Surrey are on the brink of going supersonic. But credit where it’s due, the Lions’ annihilation of Northants, Warwickshire and Leicestershire in the CB40 points to a very bright future. From day one of the campaign there’s been a strong sense of camaraderie, but only now do the players appear to have an unshakable belief in each other. When Surrey last ruled the roost in county cricket, it seemed that every post-match interview with their manager, Keith Medlycott made reference to one of the lads “putting his hand up” or “stepping up to the plate.” But, when I look back, it was invariably the case that if the top order failed, the tail would wag; or if Saqlain Mushtaq was off colour one of Bicknell, Tudor or Salisbury would be amongst the wickets. A sign of a great side is the belief that someone will always “come to the party” (another Medlycott-ism). While I’m all for doing more to promote the County Championship, I see little mileage in Surrey’s suggestion that some of the matches should be floodlit. With the former ECB chairman, David Morgan looking into the financial health of the eighteen first-class counties, Surrey have proposed that the hours of play in four-day cricket should run from 3pm to 10pm to make games more accessible. Surely, given the current employment situation, it would be better to target those who are between jobs or retired. If I had my way I would introduce an affordable match ticket. Astonishingly, some counties (not Surrey, I hasten to add) are currently charging £15 per day – and they wonder why hardly anyone turns up.

In last week's Hook Report I said that I felt the spirit in the dressing room was now evidencing itself on the pitch. There was no clearer indication of this than the CB40 contest with Durham last Monday, when most people wouldn't have given Surrey a hope of getting within forty runs of the Dynamo's 325-9. While it would have been pleasing to see the Lions equal their best ever run in one-day cricket - of twelve successive victories - it's far better they lose a group game than a semi-final. It is five years since Surrey were involved in a semi-final and ten since they reached a Lord's final. So, this Sunday's showdown against Sussex is a key milestone on the path to glory projected in Chris Adams's five-year strategy. Amazingly, the Lions are still challenging, not just in the CB40, but on two fronts. Last week, in the County Championship, the weather played into their hands. Three days was sufficient to overcome Leicestershire, but not enough for the top-of-the-table battle at Northampton - just 40 miles down the road - to obtain a positive outcome. With the points for a draw being little more than you get for a defeat, it meant that Surrey have now closed the gap on second spot to 23 points. At the start of the campaign I confidently predicted that seven victories would be enough to clinch promotion. If the weather treats us kindly between now and the end of the season, eight wins might be the requirement. It means that Surrey need to finish with a flourish. But, right now, I am beginning to believe that anything is possible. As Leicestershire demonstrated at last weekend's T20 finals day, if you've got nothing to lose, you just never know. There's no side better than giving it a shot than Surrey.

In terms of silverware, Surrey have not won anything of significance since 2003 - the year that Concorde was mothballed. Chris Adams has said that sees this Surrey side going supersonic. To me, supersonic means Concorde. By way of a happy coincidence, the Save Concorde Group announced this week that plans are afoot to return Concorde to life in time for next year's Olympic Games. A return to the air will take longer, but it's a romantic thought - as is the prospect of Surrey rounding off the season by winning not only the Clydesdale Bank 40 but promotion in the LV County Championship. Since crashing out of this season's Friends Life T20, the CB40 seemed to be Surrey's only chance of achievement. But their back-to-back championship wins against Leicestershire and Northants have blown the race for the second promotion spot wide open. Northants will be praying it rains, because Surrey and Gloucestershire are poised for the kill. The arrival of Pragyan Ojha has been a huge bonus for Surrey. I have to admit, I did wonder whether Ojha would be any good if he couldn't get into India's Test team. But in just two championship outings the slow left-armer has taken 11 wickets at less than nine runs apiece. Rumours abound that he is being lined-up as Surrey's overseas player in 2012. But, right now, all the faithful are concerned with is getting hold of a ticket for the Clydesdale Bank 40 final on September 17. Assuming the final will come too soon for Chris Tremlett, who is recovering from a back injury, and that Kevin Pietersen and Mark Ramprakash won't be called upon, all but two of the Lions' line-up - Rory Hamilton-Brown and Yasir Arafat - will be appearing in their first Lord's final. Somerset, the team they will be facing, have bags of experience when it comes to finals... and losing them. They booked their place by overcoming Durham, whose skipper, Dale Benkenstein put his side's exit down to fatigue. It was noticeable how up for it Surrey were in comparison with Sussex. There's no getting away with it, it has been a long season, but the Lions' body-language, in the other semi, screamed that they are determined to raise their game to another level between now and the end of the campaign.

What a great time to be a Surrey fan. A one-day final to look forward to on Saturday and, at the time of writing, everything going to plan in terms of promotion in the County Championship. I certainly didn't envisage a promotion push when I drove away from Canterbury just over a month ago. The weather tends to be a factor at this time of year, but, more significantly, Surrey hadn’t won four championship matches on the trot since 2000, which was the equation facing them following their suicidal batting display against Kent. At that stage I confidently predicted that the Lions would face one of Durham, Somerset or Sussex in the CB40 semis, but, if I’m honest, I thought the policy of just two front-line seamers and a plethora of spinners would be our undoing against the top one-day sides. I only hope I’m not on the point of being proved right. Marcus Trescothick and Nick Compton are undoubtedly key players with the bat for Somerset, but whether their possible absence, due to injury, justifies Surrey’s favouritism with the bookmakers, I’m not so sure. Whereas the Lions’ strength has been their batting, Somerset’s is with the ball. Just as Alfonso Thomas showed when the second T20 semi-final went to a “golden over” there’s arguably no better exponent in limited-overs cricket, plus Murali Kartik knows all about playing at Lord’s, having spent time at Middlesex. But the surprise packages have been two 19-year-olds - Ireland’s left-arm spinner George Dockrell and all-rounder Lewis Gregory, who is an England player in the making if ever I saw one. Talking of guys who shouldn’t be under-estimated, I was speaking with Surrey’s Matthew Spriegel the other day and I said a concern of mine was our lack of experience. His answer told me all I wanted to know. He said: “I don't know how many of us will have played in a semi-final and we came through that with flying colours. We're not a side that's fazed by the big occasion. One-day cricket is all about momentum and we've got great momentum going into the final.” Whatever happens on Saturday, it has been an exciting end to the season.

What an unbelievable end to a season that, ultimately, delivered considerably more highs than lows. At times, Surrey's inability to kill sides off in both the championship and the T20 suggested that 2011 would go down as yet another summer of ifs, buts and maybes. So many turning points come to mind, but if I had to pick out just two they would be the Lions' exit from the Twenty20 followed by their abysmal batting display, in both digs, at Canterbury. One couldn't help feeling sorry for Somerset, but having challenged on all three fronts this season it was noticeable how weary they looked last Saturday. As is tradition, the losing captain kicked off the post-final press conference. I don't think I have ever seen a player so crushed by defeat as when Marcus Trescothick was thrust forward, in the hope that he might provide some original answers to some blindingly obvious questions. So, as disappointing as it was to see Surrey miss out on a place in the T20 quarter-finals, perhaps their perkiness in the closing weeks was due, in part, to them having only two competitions to worry about. As for Canterbury, one thing that still sticks out in my mind was Jason Roy's tweet after the match, in which he said: "Just one of those weeks. Come back stronger and forget all the negatives." When I read it, I admit saying to myself: "That's what all the lads say when they've had a poor match." But credit where it's due, the following week Roy took the Lions' form in the CB40 to another level by hitting 65, 101 and 131 and the momentum just kept on building from there. It's a good job I didn't tweet Jason back, but, knowing that his mum reads this column, I get the feeling I've just shot myself in the foot. Upon Surrey clinching promotion in the championship, drinks at the Oval were reduced to half price. I'm teetotal, but the unprecedented scenes in the Long Room were intoxicating nevertheless. All the players came down to share their joy with the members. Surrey's librarian Jo Miller worked out how to switch on the microphone and a number of personalities addressed the assembled throng. Stuart Meaker came out with a classic when he said: "As a fast bowler myself it was great to see one of the slow bowlers doing well, so congratulations to Tim Linley on having such a great year!" But Alec Stewart aptly put things into perspective when he said: "We mustn't forget that we have only finished eleventh out of eighteen, but next year we have the chance of finishing first." I'll drink to that, even if mine is only a sparkling water.