Believe it or not, this weekend marks the start of the first-class cricket season. Never before have things got underway in March, so it will be really interesting to see what the weather is like. But don't be surprised if the much needed rain everyone is talking about arrives on Saturday. Surrey limber up against Bradford-Leeds MCCU before taking on Sussex in the County Championship. For quite a few of Rory Hamilton-Brown's men, the Sussex game will be their first taste of Division One. Nevertheless, the bestselling cricket magazine in the country has tipped Surrey to win the title. That the preview fails to mention the importance of Zander de Bruyn to the Ovalites batting, makes me think its author - the former Nottinghamshire batsman, Mark Wagh - hasn't done his homework. Maybe he doesn't want to put the mockers on his old team. I'm sure the majority of Surrey fans would be content with mid-table obscurity, providing the Lions challenge strongly in both of the limited-overs competitions. It's a mystery to me how they have missed out on a place in the T20 quarter-finals for the last five years. So, if you want a prediction, I think this could be Surrey's year in the Twenty20. In you are interested, they're currently 8-1 second favourites.

Last week, someone asked me what to expect at Surrey's Annual General Meeting, as they had never been to one before. I said they could be pretty turgid affairs, but that I go along out of a sense of devotion. The team were back in Division One, the first meaningful bit of silverware for ages was on display and the Club were announcing a £805,000 pre-tax profit. Cue backslapping? Hmmm... how does the saying go again? Something like: "You can please all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you can't please all of the people all of the time." When one member complains about the efficiency, or lack of it, of the ticket office, you dismiss it. But when members are, seemingly, queuing up to moan, not just about sorting out their tickets for the Oval Test, but their membership subs as well, it's fair to assume there's no smoke without fire. There weren't any problems with my subs and I don't go to the Test match, so it was news to me. The one gripe I did agree with, though, was the reduction in the number of complimentary tickets. I gather I'm now entitled to five comps, down from a dozen, which should be with me before the season gets underway. I hesitate to say this, since there's still a day to go, but I'm still awaiting their arrival. Still, look on the bright side, the season is here at long last. Here's to hot days and Surrey victories.

Even if Sussex hadn't been without Monty Panesar, Luke Wright and their overseas signing Steve Magoffin last week, I would still have expected Surrey to come out on top. Any team that can afford to omit the likes of Tim Linley and Jason Roy is brimming with talent. In my preview on ovalworld-online.com I tipped Sussex and Worcestershire, the two sides in Division One lacking strength in depth, to go down, so it was important the rain stayed away. The ECB's new regulations on the use of floodlights also took bad light out of the equation, except when they prevailed over the natural light. You may think that odd, but it's because not every ground in the country is kitted out with floodlights. After the match, Surrey's team director Chris Adams described Sussex as a "benchmark side". I can't help feeling much tougher tests lie ahead, but it's good to hear Adams saying: "I havenít looked any further ahead than the four Championship games we have scheduled in April. We'll reassess then." Surrey did have a bit of a wobble, when they were 55-4 in their second dig, but Rory Hamilton-Brown and Tom Maynard's fifth wicket partnership of 136 in 28 overs was the difference. That Maynard, who rarely takes a back seat, contributed just 44 of the 136 underlined the sort of nick Hamilton-Brown was in. Batting at five certainly seems to suit the skipper.

If a function of county cricket is to prepare players for the international stage, the current dominance of ball over bat is further evidence that the scheduling of matches needs a rethink. The wicket at Lord's, for last week's London derby, was the worst I have seen for years. As it was, the prevailing conditions would have loaded things in the bowlers' favour. But, throw in a damp pitch - clearly not everywhere is experiencing a drought - and the batsmen had no chance. If the tone set around the country in the first two weeks of the campaign continues, dozens of batsmen will be low on confidence going into the T20. The Twenty20, which, for financial reasons, is scheduled to coincide with the height of summer, is no place to be finding form as a batsman; at least not the form that's going to make you an England player. But it's not just the scheduling. Awarding 16 points in the championship for a win, compared with three points for a draw is also forcing counties down the road of preparing so-called result wickets. Since money seems to be the only way of focusing the minds of the chief execs, perhaps the ECB should introduce financial incentives for preparing decent wickets. The umpires rate each one, and a league table is drawn up at the end of the season. Why not attach some prize-money to it? As for last week's game, it may have only come down to three runs, but Middlesex bowled better than Surrey in the first innings. The turning point was having the North Londoners 129-7 only for them to add 127 for the last three wickets.

If proof were needed, there's nothing like a hosepipe ban to bring on the rain! Just 184 overs were possible in the championship clash between Surrey and Worcestershire at the Kia Oval, which ended in an honourable draw. But for the rain, the hosts might have lost a match in which they looked firmly in control going into the final day. I'm not someone who puts much store in early season averages, but one glance at Surrey's stats after three games underlines just how reliant they have been on Rory Hamilton-Brown. The skipper couldn't buy a run in pre-season, but he has certainly come to the party since then. So much so, he is responsible for a quarter of his side's output. Even some of the hacks in the press box who, in the past, have dismissed Hamilton-Brown as a bit of a dasher can now be overheard praising him for his temperament and shot selection. Accepting the Surrey captaincy at the age of twenty-two was a huge risk. Had he buckled under the pressure or allowed it to affect his batting, Hamilton-Brown might have seen a line drawn through his England aspirations at a very early stage. But, two years on, he's making a strong case for being included in the England performance squad as a batsman alone. Add in his leadership qualities and one cannot help feeling Hamilton-Brown has the potential to become England captain one day. Not yet, though. There's still the small matter of leading Surrey to a championship title, or three.

There is nothing more depressing for a cricket follower than the sight of a cricket ground, virtually empty, half covered in green tarpaulin, with large puddles forming on the outfield. The England and Wales Cricket Board have a lot to answer for, but those who criticise the schedule need to remember that a year ago, around the time of the Royal Wedding, the weather was ideal. Going back further, I remember male torsos being bared in the Peter May Enclosure on the opening day of the 2010 season. We've just been unlucky, that's all. Mind you, I've never had time for people who tell me we need it to rain, less so now given the quantity I watched descend on the Oval last week. What concerns me is that the ECB could use the weather we've been having as further justification for trimming the County Championship from 16 to 14 matches per team. I would much rather have sixteen games and take a chance, than have fourteen and see the eight days we would save filled with more T20 cricket. The Twenty20 has its place, but I question why it's only played in June and July, with finals day in August. The recent review of county cricket recommended that the T20 should be given a longer window. It only seems fair that all three competitions should be at the mercy of the English summer.

Surrey's Rory Hamilton-Brown and Stuart Meaker were the toast of the Sky commentary team last Friday. In Hamilton-Brown's case, I don't know why it has taken them so long to talk about Rory in terms of skippering the England Lions. Mind you, every domestic game they cover focuses on a couple of up-and-coming players. That's one of the great things about county cricket - getting to see the stars of tomorrow. Nasser Hussain also complemented the wicket at the Oval, which he thinks has helped develop Surrey's batsmen as well as bowlers like Meaker. It's just a shame that, these days, the wickets prepared for one-day and T20 cricket at the Kia Oval are better than the ones served up for four-day cricket. To some extent it isn't surprising, given the significance of positive outcomes in the County Championship. This week's championship fixture against Worcestershire was moved from Worcester to Kidderminster then back again. It's a good job I wasn't going or I would have booked a hotel, cancelled, located a new one, cancelled that and then found myself getting back in touch with the original hotel. I wonder if the players have the same sort of hassle?! Judging by the weather forecast, it's likely to make little difference; although there should be enough cricket for Kevin Pietersen to have a "net" ahead of next week's Test match at Lord's. No doubt KP will be relieved that Worcestershire, and, for that matter, the West Indies, are without a recognised left-arm spinner!

To borrow a footballing phrase, last week's championship clash at Worcester was a game of two halves. Overall, Surrey came out of it on top, but failed to land the killer blow. Consequently, the Oval outfit took a meagre six points from the game to Worcestershire's eight by dint of the hosts' lead on first innings. Only once, since the County Championship began in 1890, have Surrey won after following on. Last week marked the first occasion when they have declared their second innings after following on. Often in such circumstances it's better to be bowled out rather than have to come to a decision. Given that, after five games, 21 of Surrey's 39 championship points came from their victory over Sussex in the opening round, I was surprised Rory Hamilton-Brown didn't declare half an hour earlier and set Worcestershire in the region of 230 off 60 overs. On the positive side, George Edwards came to the party on his championship debut by taking 4-44. After the match, Chris Adams said that having so many in form seamers to choose from was a nice problem to have. The opposite is true when it comes to his two most experienced batters - Mark Ramprakash and Zander de Bruyn. The dropping of Ramps for this week's game against Somerset feels like the end of an era, or at least the beginning of the end.

Last season, Surrey acquired a reputation for being gung ho. The four-day game at Canterbury, in which the boys swung like a rusty gate to be bowled out for 127 and 104, still crops up in my nightmares. But, in recent weeks, we have seen a different Surrey, a more cautious and responsible Surrey. The key performances in the last couple of CB40 games have been conscientious knocks from Jacques Rudolph and Tom Maynard. Meanwhile, in the last two championship matches, pragmatism has taken precedence over positions from which Surrey might have snatched come-from-behind victories. I can't help feeling Surrey would have beaten Somerset if Jade Dernbach and Tim Linley hadn't been rested in favour of George Edwards and Chris Jordan. Edwards bowled brilliantly at Worcester, so had earned the right to be selected, but the Surrey attack lacked someone to back up Stuart Meaker and Jon Lewis. Meaks was outstanding. His 8-52 in Somerset's second dig was the best I've seen from a Surrey FAST bowler (sorry Bickers, that rules you out) for twenty years. It was reminiscent of Waqar Younis in his prime. I sense it won't be long before Stuart Meaker is pulling an England shirt again. Talking of shirts, I gather Meaks has been doing some modelling for a well known high street shirt retailer. It just goes to prove that Meaker's a smart cookie in more ways than one.

The most disappointing thing about the loss to Warwickshire was that a Surrey attack containing three England seamers, one past and two present, were found wanting just when Gareth Batty proved that he has it in him to be a match-winner. But once again, I have to question the inclusion of Chris Jordan. CJ gets in because he also offers something with the bat - yet so does Matthew Spriegel, who would have been an ideal foil to Batty on a turning pitch. I see that Spriegs took 7-80 for the Second XI in last week's victory over Sussex. I wonder if he was making a point. Looking at Surrey's season as a whole, though, it's the batting rather than the bowling that's under-performed in the County Championship. Just three batsmen are averaging more than 32 in four-day cricket. Mark Ramprakash has been axed, Zander de Bruyn has looked off-colour and Jacques Rudolph, who was described as a "world-class opening batsman" when his signing was announced back in February, ended up scoring six more runs than Jon Lewis during his stint as overseas player. I honestly felt Rudolph would do an excellent job. But it seems those members who, on the opening day of the season, were complaining to me that Surrey should have backed one of the youngsters were right and I was wrong. Anyway, Rudolph now gives way to Murali Kartik and I wouldn't be at all surprised if his arrival gives Surrey renewed impetus.

This week I was informed by Lois Dixon, who is head of marketing at the Kia Oval, that the Surrey Lions are no more. They're just simply Surrey, which is probably just as well, because neither of the manufactured nicknames used by the Club have sat particularly well. When they were first introduced, in 1999, Surrey chose to be known as the Lions, since a lion is pictured on the arms of the Earl of Surrey. In 2006, the Lions tag was dropped in favour of the Brown Caps (the Club's colours are chocolate and silver, but hey) and, two years ago, they reverted back again. I'm just wondering, though, whether the news is in any way related to Kevin Pietersen's decision to retire from international one-day cricket. During the winter, Pietersen said it would be great if his IPL team, the Delhi Daredevils, had a partnership agreement with one of the first-class counties. I hope it is coincidental. But KP's retirement from one-day international cricket could well mean that we see more of him at the Oval. A top order of Hamilton-Brown, Davies, Roy, Pietersen and Maynard in the Friends Life T20 would make for an awesome spectacle. Perhaps it's also coincidental that the odds on Surrey winning the FLt20 are now 6-1, down from 8-1 at the start of the season. Well, I did tell you to get on them at eights. Anyway, the T20 starts next week and I've just a got a feeling this could be Surrey's year.

When Surrey do lose, you can gauge the margin of defeat not by looking at the scorecard, but by measuring the time between the end of the game and when Chris Adams appears to give his post-match interview for Surrey TV. Last Saturday, it was as long a delay as I've witnessed in Adams's time at the Oval. The championship game at Horsham didn't tell us anything we didn't know already. Surrey are now expert when it comes to first innings batting collapses. With the bat, they have tried five opening combinations in four-day cricket and none of them have come off. Also, Surrey's attack can make light work of their opponents' top order, but not the tail, which invariably wags. It was hugely disappointing that they did not have it in them to bat out the final day at Horsham, nor did they look to set a target that Sussex would have found impossible to chase down in the time available. On my previous visits to the pocket-sized ground, I have seen the spinners deposited in the adjoining tennis courts. Not once was Monty Panesar hit for a maximum. Instead, Panesar bowled 33 overs, 22 of which were maidens. But to see Surrey's batsmen so troubled by James Anyon and Steven Magoffin, two seamers who had stints at the Oval and were found wanting, was even more galling. And as if that wasn't enough, when Dirk Nannes was having a shakedown, during the lunch interval, he pulled up feeling his right ankle. How does the song go? Things can only get better!

I had the privilege of meeting Tom Maynard a number of times. In addition to being a great talent, with a bright career ahead of him, he was, more importantly, a top bloke. He was one of life's good guys, which makes the news of his death all the more difficult to come to terms with. Tom leaves everyone at Surrey with so many memories. He hit four centuries, two of which not only remedied first innings ducks, but were as breathtaking as any hundred the county game has borne witness to in recent times. Perhaps his most crucial knock came in the final championship game of last season, when Surrey not only had to win in order to clinch promotion, but also needed to secure maximum batting points. Without Maynard's 123 on the opening day, the latter might well have been a step too far for Rory Hamilton-Brown's men, who finished just one point ahead of Northamptonshire. The first time I saw Tom, he could only have been a year or so old. Glamorgan were playing Surrey at the Oval and his father, Matthew was pushing him around in a buggy. I always meant to share that recollection with Tom, but never got around to it. That's how it goes sometimes. You never know what the future has in store. My condolences go out to his family, who must be absolutely shattered by what has happened. I pray they get through it. When I think back to the memorial services for Graham Kersey and Ben Hollioake, I won't ever forget the heartbreak etched on the faces of their families. My thoughts also go out to everyone at the Oval who knew Tom and held him close to their hearts.

Surrey returned to the cricket field last Friday, but the loss of Tom Maynard continues to dominate the thoughts of everyone connected with Surrey and Glamorgan. While it would have been fitting if both clubs had won their first games back, the outcome of a cricket match is irrelevant compared with the loss of such a special person. Perhaps some of you were surprised by the choice of picture, sitting alongside my main piece in last week's paper. But, in many ways, it couldn't have been more appropriate for I shall always think of Maynard attacking every ball, regardless of whether it was there to be hit; not to mention his shirt coming untucked as he summoned up every last ounce of energy in so doing. However, the one thing I'll never forget about Tommy is the way he played himself in. Basically, he didn't. For a purist like myself, it should have irked me that he looked to attack from ball one, but how could it? You just couldn't help but admire his audacity. Besides, Tom was only 23 and, at that age, if a batsman has all the shots, he can learn how to defend. Whereas if he's inclined to block, the worry is that he'll never develop the ability to hit the ball. Like the man who is likely to replace him next week, Kevin Pietersen, Maynard was a one-off. His passing will be felt not just for the rest of this season, but, I suspect, for many years to come.

Instead of going to Southampton last Saturday, I decided to watch Surrey's T20 game against Hampshire on the box. With feelings still incredibly raw following Tom Maynard's death, I wanted to see, from their expressions, how the Surrey players were coping with their loss. I really felt for Rory Hamilton-Brown, who was visibly preoccupied. I doubt he even heard Gary Wilson urging him to reclaim his ground. As a result Hamilton-Brown was run out for three, to leave Surrey in the mire on 9 for four - their worst ever start to a T20 innings. It came as no surprise, when I turned up for the re-match at the Oval on Monday, to be greeted with the news that Rory had been left out of the side on compassionate grounds. Word is that Gareth Batty will lead the team for the remainder of the season, which suggests Hamilton-Brown could be absent for quite some time. While it seems to have escaped everyone's notice that Steven Davies is officially vice captain, Surrey could not have a more resolute, wholehearted and shrewd leader in Batty. Chris Adams says the team have pulled together and are even closer than before tragedy struck. Now it's time for the supporters to get behind Gaz Batts, who has taken on the huge challenge of engineering an improvement in Surrey's fortunes on the pitch in the wake of Tom's death.

First of all, I think I should apologise to everyone who heeded my advice and backed Surrey to win the Twenty20. The less said about their FLt20 campaign the better. After scraping wins in the opening two games, things went rapidly downhill from there. Mind you, thanks to Kevin Pietersen, a run of seven successive defeats ended with victory over Sussex at Hove. As Russell Chapman (@reyhoopchip on Twitter) spotted, it was the first time Surrey had ever won a match without taking a wicket. Ah, the vagaries of Duckworth-Lewis! Attention now turns back to the County Championship. However, it'll be a bit like when, as a boy, I used to pull back the plaster on my knee to see if the scab had healed. Those of us brave enough to look at the fixtures to come, the Division One table and then contemplate ending the season without Hamilton-Brown, Maynard and, now, Ramprakash, have a pretty good idea what it must feel like to be the Greek finance minister. There's no hiding from the fact that Mark Ramprakash's batting average had plummeted in the last couple of years, but to discard him completely strikes me as a huge gamble. But I'll say this for Chris Adams, he is his own man and, unlike his predecessor, isn't afraid to make the really tough calls.

Last week, Chris Adams admitted the rebuilding process at Surrey has already started, hinting it was behind the decision to let Mark Ramprakash go. Adams said: "The time was right for him... Most people wait to the off-season to rebuild, but we will start now. We have a young group, with less knowledge, and I've asked the coaching staff to take a more hands-on approach." The last bit has raised a few eyebrows amongst the faithful, especially with Adams adding: "A month ago we had a team who had earned the right to have a bit of freedom with their preparation, but that dynamic has changed." Given that Surrey have the biggest coaching staff of any county on the circuit, one would have thought the players were in danger of being over-coached. The manager also confirmed: "We will definitely be recruiting." With a number of Kent players reaching the end of their existing contracts, a rich neighbour is likely to make their renegotiations somewhat protracted, if not disruptive. But, as a Surrey man, it disappoints me that we are continually looking to bring in talent from outside. Last week, not one Surrey player was called up to England's Under 19 squad. The club has always prided itself on the number of England players it has produced. It would certainly sadden me if they went the chequebook route yet again. If Surrey's grassroots game isn't producing, I would prefer to see more investment rather than paying a batsman an annual six-figure sum to come to the Oval to the detriment of youngsters like Zafar Ansari, Rory Burns and, looking further ahead, Dominic Sibley.

With Surrey's chief executive, Richard Gould revealing this week that the players are surviving on a diet of baked beans in order to pay for their top of the range cars, perhaps the championship form Surrey have shown, either side of the tragedy of losing Tom Maynard, isn't such a surprise. Unfortunately, Surrey are beginning to show the hallmarks of a club that's floundering - experienced players failing to produce the goods, key bowlers injured or coming back from injury and no real consistency, dare I say logic, in terms of team selection. Meanwhile, in the background, the rumour mill, which is as active as I've ever known it, suggests a plethora of comings and goings at the Oval this winter. One thing's for certain - Chris Tremlett will still be around next summer. The news that he is facing knee surgery, just a week after agreeing a new contract, doesn't look good. But this week's biggest eyebrow raiser was Gareth Batty, who has done a sterling job as Surrey's stand-in skipper, being dropped for the Nottinghamshire game in favour of... well it's not clear whom. Put it this way, Chris Jordan, Murali Kartik and Tim Linley were given the nod at Trent Bridge, but did little to justify their inclusion. Kartik, who only bowled a handful of overs, has, shall we say, looked less than threatening in his three championship games to date and Jordan's record of eight wickets at an average of 47.25 speaks for itself. It was good to see Surrey stick with the same opening pair, though. In nine championship matches they've used five combinations at the top of the order. It isn't quite 57 varieties. That said, Surrey have now fielded 50 different players in the County Championship since Chris Adams took charge at the beginning of 2009.

Given the choice of Birmingham or the Algarve, I know where I'd rather be. The wife and I had a great time in Altura last year - 10 nights full board in the resort's premier hotel. I hasten to add we went after the cricket season. Priorities and all that. Well, no freelancer can afford to turn down the prospect of work. Chris Adams, Surrey's director of cricket, was in the Algarve last week, though, and why not with the likes of Alec Stewart and Ian Salisbury to man the fort? If it were possible to send Grizz a postcard, and for it to arrive ahead of his return, it would read: "Battling performance against the title favourites. Youngsters really stepped up." I said as much to Alec, when we bumped into one another in the car park at Edgbaston. We agreed that, given everything that's happened, it couldn't be more encouraging. I also told him the more I see of Rory Burns, the more I like what I see. Alec said: "I first saw him when he was thirteen, and he's always found a way of making runs." Burns's opening partner, Zafar Ansari received the Hook tick of approval when he bowled Rob Key for 162 in last year's 21-run victory over Kent. Now he's doing it with the bat, and, moreover, against as good an attack as you'll come across at county level. If only Steven Davies, who, I'm told, has agreed a new contract, and Zander de Bruyn could bring their experience to bear, avoiding relegation would be a given.

What a funny competition the Clydesdale Bank 40 is. Three groups of seven are drawn out a hat. The Netherlands, Scotland and the Unicorns are there, as much as anything else, to make up the numbers. The campaign is stop-start affair, owing to a six-week pause for the Twenty20. The scheduling of matches is often determined by television. Bizarrely, only the winners of each group are certain of progressing to the knockout phase, which, when it gets to this stage of the season, means there are a number of dead matches. Nevertheless, the CB40 is Surrey's best chance of taking some silverware from a heart-rending season. Twelve months ago, I predicted (correctly as it turned out) who would win each group. However, 2012 has been far from predictable. Having said the Netherlands are only there to make up the numbers, they've won over half their matches and it wouldn't surprise me if they snuck into the last four. But it's still a cause of major embarrassment that I foresaw Surrey winning the T20. Of the teams that did make the quarter-finals, I thought Notts would go all the way. So, when they got knocked out by Hampshire, I told a friend to back them to win the CB40 on the basis that they would use it to make up for their T20 disappointment. Since then, Notts have lost to Surrey and Glamorgan! Mind you, I'm not complaining because it means Surrey are currently top of Group B. But, please, don't ask me to say how things will pan out from here.

If Kevin Pietersen's England career is at the crossroads then so, too, is Surrey's season. I was reluctant to bill last week's trip to the north east as make or break, but after being trounced by Durham in both games, time is running out on the South Londoners, and fast. David "Bumble" Lloyd accused Gareth Batty's men of going through the motions, which was a bit strong. However, their worst defeat in one-day cricket, in terms of runs, for over four years wasn't what Surrey needed with the Group B leaders, Hampshire up next in the CB40. But the championship run-in is the most pressing concern. Anything less than a victory against Middlesex this week will leave the Oval outfit needing results elsewhere to go their way. Even by Chris Adams's calculations, Surrey need to win two of their last four to stay up. The encouraging news is they've managed that five times in the last 11 years. But, leave the charge for the line any later and it's not looking good at all - Surrey have won two of their final three championship games just six times in the last 31 seasons. Returning to the saga that is KP. Should he end the campaign a Surrey player, redemption could be on the cards for both parties. But, as I said last week, you're not going to get me to make any predictions.

I now know why, following Surrey's victory over Sussex in the curtain-raiser, one player said to me let's see what the championship table looks like come August. After three years outside the top flight, I did get rather carried away with our win over what Chris Adams quite rightly described as a "benchmark" side. Indeed, the Martlets, who I thought would struggle, are now up to second. Perhaps the game at Horsham was as much a turning point for them as it was for Surrey. Given our record at Taunton, last week's second championship victory, over Middlesex, was priceless, especially with Durham hitting form. Now just Surrey, who are seventh, Lancashire and Worcestershire are in the mire. After the match, Gareth Batty said: "I dread to think what would have happened had we not won that game." Quite. Last Sunday's CB40 defeat to Hampshire was a hammer blow, though not in the same league, literally. It left Surrey needing to complete the group phase with back-to-back victories. The Tom Maynard tribute match was hugely emotional. Given the Welsh Dragons had no chance of making the semi-finals, the outcome was what Tom would have wanted. So, now, standing between Surrey and the last four it's Somerset, the team Surrey beat in last year's final.

Let's be honest, the summer of 2012 will not be one Surrey followers will recall with any fondness. The combination of the weather, the tragic loss of Tom Maynard, a marked downturn in performance since the end of May and the retirement of Mark Ramprakash has left the faithful clinging to one remaining hope - that Surrey can avoid relegation in the County Championship. It would have been nice to see the boys take their defence of the Clydesdale Bank 40 further, but when you look at the semi-final draw, you have to say both matches could be classics. I fancy Hampshire and Warwickshire, which means you can put your money on a Lancashire-Sussex final! While the 2012 season will be remembered for Kevin Pietersen's run-in with the England hierarchy, I do hope, in Surrey terms, KP won't be remembered for his first-ballers against Hampshire. As he showed at Guildford, he is arguably the most destructive batsman in world cricket. Having been smacked for 234 by KP, I don't suppose Lancashire are looking forward to the re-match. Surrey travel to Liverpool for the last game of the season, which, as things stand, could decide who stays up and who goes down. But let's hope it doesn't get that far. Surrey entertain Notts next week. Having left Nottinghamshire in acrimonious circumstances in 2004, Pietersen should be keen to make an impact.

Sadly, it wasnít Kevin Pietersenís imperious 163 or Arun Harinathís second championship hundred in as many matches that made the headlines last week, but the controversial running out of Somersetís Alex Barrow. On one hand, it isnít the done thing for a bowler to run a batsman out before delivering the ball. But, on the other, is it fair that a batter should get away with having to run half a yard less? Sometimes, in the heat of the battle, common sense goes out of the window. From what weíre led to believe, the umpires repeatedly asked Gareth Batty, the Surrey captain, if he would be kind enough to withdraw the appeal. However, he opted against doing so and Barrow departed, fairly and squarely according to the laws that govern the game. While it has been suggested that this area needs to be looked at again, I canít believe the incident at Taunton changes anything. Murali Kartik, the bowler in question, had warned Barrow that he was wandering out of his crease, which used to be a stipulation, but which, funnily enough, isnít any longer. Something else it doesnít change is Surreyís reputation for winning at all costs. I donít even know how it was acquired, but itís fair to say that those within the game generally have less time for Surrey than anyone else, which is why, if they do get relegated, there wonít by many tears shed in the shires.

Last week's championship clash with Notts had a real end of term feeling about it, especially with victory guaranteeing Surrey a further stint in Division One. It has become the norm for Surrey to award county caps during the final home game of the season. The latest recipient was Stuart Meaker, who, for me, has been Surrey's stand out bowler this season. The rumour mill was also doing overtime. Matthew Spriegel's move to Northants was rumoured on day one and confirmed on day three, along with the departure of Tom Lancefield. Others doing the rounds suggested that Gary Wilson is Gloucestershire-bound, Chris Jordan is on his way to Sussex, Rory Hamilton-Brown is looking for a fresh start elsewhere and that Rory Burns is stalling over a new contract. Somewhat disconcertingly, there was a distinct absence of speculated signings. Hopefully, the promise of first division cricket will now tempt those players on the move to throw their lot in with Surrey. But the key issue, which needs to be clarified sooner rather than later, is who will lead the side. Gareth Batty would get my vote, but I understand he doesn't believe he is cut out for it. Zander de Bruyn's return to form was welcome, but it would be risky giving the captaincy to someone who isn't guaranteed of his place in the team. Likewise, Jon Lewis, whose eight wickets since the end of May have come at a cost of 64.50. Surrey's Division One status has been safeguarded, but the problems continue mounting up for Chris Adams.

And so another county cricket season draws to a close. The summer of 2012, for what it was, between the showers, was overshadowed by the tragic death of Surrey's Tom Maynard. Wisden described 2008 as Surrey's annus horribilis. I think we can safely say 2012 marked a new low. Surrey avoided relegation and flirted with the prospect of retaining the Clydesdale Bank 40. But, in truth, there was a "before Tom" and an "after Tom" and the only redeeming features as far as the latter is concerned was the courage Gareth Batty demonstrated, by taking on the captaincy, and the form of Surrey's fringe players. The other day, I attended the cricket writers' annual shindig. Most of my colleagues said they can see Surrey struggling to stay in Division One next year as well. Almost as many felt the departure of Hamilton-Brown and Spriegel left Surrey incapable of challenging for silverware on the limited-overs front. One of the many whispers doing the rounds at the Plaisterers' Hall was that Chris Adams had approached two high profile Somerset players regarding the Surrey captaincy and that both had turned down an offer which would have made them the highest paid player in the county game. Consequently, a top order batsman with leadership potential has now become Surrey's priority on the overseas front. It is believed, therefore, that Murali Kartik, who took 27 championship wickets at 22.11 runs apiece, has only been offered a deal for next summer's T20. Yet another interesting winter lies ahead. As they say in cricketing circles, winter well.