Surrey are sitting out this week's opening round of County Championship matches. One reason is the redevelopment of the pavilion. Down the years, the main pavilion at the Oval has undergone a number of changes; indeed, as many as a decade of underachievement have given rise to in terms of the Surrey squad. Rory Hamilton-Brown - who led the county to promotion and a one-day trophy in 2011, and in whom so much was invested - has returned to Sussex. Mark Ramprakash, who churned out 15,837 first-class runs in eleven years for Surrey, has hung up his pads and moved back to Middlesex as batting coach. But, perhaps the biggest void of all is the one created by Tom Maynard's death, last June. As Chris Adams, Surrey's team director, says: "Most teams have a set of players within their team that all provide a different role for the side: the guy who deals with humour, the who'll put an arm round a shoulder, the guy who rallies the team, the guy who likes to lead from the front, the guy who likes to sit back and wait for events. What we realised having lost Tom was that he was a little bit of all those." When he first took over at the Oval, Adams talked of a three-year plan. Within a few months, such was the overhaul that was needed, what he initially referred to as "Year One", Adams was calling "Year Zero". Four years on, the jigsaw Chris Adams had assembled so painstakingly has been thrown across the room. After picking up the pieces, one or two appear to be missing - the absence of a genuine all-rounder being the most obvious. The acquisition of South Africa's Graeme Smith, as overseas player and captain, is a real statement of intent. To have secured the services of Ricky Ponting, for the two-month period when Smith isn't around, is a huge bonus. But, with my head ruling my heart, I can't see Surrey getting their hands on any silverware this year. Middlesex, Somerset and Warwickshire all look stronger over four days, while, in the limited-overs arena, you can add Hampshire and Sussex to those three. But, assuming the weather improves, it should be a fascinating season. Back in 1898, the pavilion at the Oval took just six months to build. At times, the expectations are that Surrey, with all their financial clout, are capable of pulling off almost anything overnight.

There was quite a bit in the media last week about the County Championship being the lifeblood of the game in this country. On the field things appear to be very healthy. Indeed, it’s hard to recall the last time a player making his England debut looked out of his depth. Division One is particularly strong this year. Durham, who I tipped to be one of the teams to go down, turned over Somerset in the opening round of matches; adding weight to the sense of there being no easy games. The BBC extending its online ball-by-ball coverage is a welcome development, especially as, not very long ago, it appeared to be under threat. But other battles still need to be won. Coverage in the dailies has shrunk, most notably in the paper the ECB recognised as National Newspaper of the Year in 2011, The Times which, bizarrely, remains one of the ECB’s official media partners. For the hardy souls who come in through the turnstiles, ticket prices have crept up. Surrey, at £12 per day for adults and £1 for children for a day’s championship cricket, remain the cheapest team to watch. But that still means it’ll cost nearly £50 for a four-dayer, which, to some, is a lot of money. One hopes the loyal punter will be rewarded with weather to match the standard of cricket. Indeed, we can all do with some sun on our backs after the year we’ve just had in terms of rain.

As Graeme Smith said after last week’s draw, Surrey were arguably the better of the two sides on show, which is encouraging because I still think Somerset will be there or thereabouts come September. On such a good wicket, I felt Surrey were right to go with the extra spinner. The title isn’t won in the opening week of the season, but a defeat early on can leave a team looking down rather than up before the first furlong has been negotiated. I couldn’t get to along to day two, so was surprised to hear that Surrey had slipped to 87 for four in their first dig. But, with yours truly in attendance on days three and four, normal service was resumed; which just goes to show that Surrey should pay me to turn up! The final day promised very little, but when Stuart Meaker ripped out Nick Compton’s off peg, it seemed as if the bumper crowd might be rewarded with a memorable Surrey victory. Everyone remarked on the number of people who came through the turnstiles on Saturday. Perhaps they have read in the SLP how, during these austere times, the cost of going to the Oval has never been more appealing.

It was great to see Gary Wilson biff the ball to all parts last Wednesday. Batting at three for the first time in his Surrey career, his 124 was certainly reminiscent of another number three - one Mark Ramprakash, of course. For all the talk of positives after the Sussex match, the truth of matter is that the hosts would have been behind the eight ball at the end of day one were it not for Wilson. I was really surprised head groundsman, Lee Fortis prepared another flat pitch. Unlike the week before, against Somerset, I would have fancied Surrey to beat Sussex on a green top. It would also have prepared them for their visit to Lord's, which, you can be sure, is going to be seamer-friendly. Even without England's Steven Finn, Middlesex possess the best hard-ball attack in the country. So, with Finn likely to start, Surrey's batsmen will be tested; even though they have all enjoyed time in the middle of late. Bank Holiday Monday sees the South Londoners' Yorkshire Bank 40 curtain-raiser. Yes, the Clydesdale Bank 40 has been re-branded the YB40. Alas, it remains hopelessly flawed as a competition. Only the winners of the three groups of seven, along with the best second-placed side progress to the knockout phase. So, if a team loses their first three or four, interest soon tails off. The rascal in me wanted the CB40 to be sponsored by Ulster Bank. Unfortunately, Ulster Bank doesn't form part of the National Australia Bank Group, otherwise we might have ended up with the UB40! But, with so few games being played at the weekend, the competition could be in danger of being handed its P45 if it isn't given a face-lift ahead of next season, when, of course, it will be played over fifty overs for the first time since 2009. Back in the day, the 40-over competition used to be referred to by aficionados as the Sunday League. This season, just four of Surrey's twelve YB40 group games will be played on the day of rest; although three do fall on a Bank Holiday, which, I suppose, represents a small step in the right direction. It's no wonder county cricket followers are accused of not knowing what day of the week it is!

Last Friday, after having spent a day at Lord's, I sat down to watch the Essex v Hampshire YB40 clash on the telly. It was soon a case of: "Oh dear!" - partly because Essex were such an embarrassment and partly because they seemed to be playing the reigning champions right into form ahead of Monday's game at the Kia Oval. Talking to my Surrey press colleague, Richard Spiller before the Hampshire match, neither of us could recall another occasion when Surrey have gone into a one-day contest with five players over 35-years-of-age. So, when they held the champions to 228 all out, there was a welcome sense of astonishment. Earlier in the day, someone had Tweeted me to ask if I thought the game would be high-scoring. After doing some quick research, I calculated that the par score for the side batting first was 263. It was, therefore, looking very healthy at the halfway stage. But then Steven Davies and Graeme Smith took Surrey's performance to another level. Their stand of 162 in 21 overs was a club record for any wicket against Hampshire in one-day cricket. Although Davies quite rightly grabbed the headlines, one had to marvel at Smith taking just 36 balls to reach his half-century. The Surrey chairman, Richard Thompson talked about dominance, on the field, at this year's AGM. It was in relation to the Club's new three-year plan. Anyone who witnessed Surrey's first win of the season must have left thinking they had just seen an example of it. A feature of Surrey's cricket in recent years has been a slow start in the County Championship offset by a blistering start to the 40-over competition, which I still keep calling the Clydesdale Bank 40 instead of the Yorkshire Bank 40. Perhaps it's because the advertising hoardings at last Monday's game carried Clydesdale Bank branding. To be fair, the players' kit reflected the Yorkshire Bank logo. However, Surrey fans hoping to purchase said kit from the Oval Shop were apparently told: "Come back in a few days."

As I have mentioned before, Surrey are notoriously slow starters in the County Championship. So, in the week that saw Wigan Athletic relegated from the Barclays Premier League, it's worth making the point that playing catch-up (a la Wigan) carries a risk. Aside from a five-week purple patch at the end of the 2011 season, Surrey's fortunes under Chris Adams have been pretty hard to stomach for the members and supporters. But the county's penchant for endeavouring to finish on a high goes back a decade. Indeed, to when Keith Medlycott - who led the club to eight titles - was overseeing affairs. Since 2003, just 15 per cent of Surrey's championship wins have come in the opening quarter of their campaign, while half have been registered in the last seven matches. Relegation was avoided in 2004, 2007 and 2012 thanks to a spirited push for the line. But, Surrey weren't so fortunate in 2005 and 2008. In 2005 it cost Steve Rixon his job as manager, while Alan Butcher suffered the same fate four years later, when the Oval outfit failed to bounce back at the first attempt. In short, Chris Adams is under no illusion that his job is on the line should his side fall through the trap door, which goes some way to explaining why he was so critical of the Durham performance, both collectively and individually. What doesn't help, of course, is that, on press day, Adams described the current Surrey squad as the strongest since his arrival in 2009. It's not the sort of thing Sir Alex Ferguson - someone whom Adams has quoted in the past - would have said on the eve of a new season. Also, considering it is the first year Adams has been without the services of Mark Ramprakash, it would not be unfair to ask just who has filled Ramprakash's shoes? Graeme Smith might have done, but, at 32 - which, believe it or not, is how old Smith is - Ramps was averaging 49.72; and certainly not Vikram Solanki or Zander de Bruyn, both of whom are 37. It's worth remembering that when Ramprakash was in his 37th year, he averaged 103.54 in first-class cricket and 101.30 the following summer.

The news that Kevin Pietersen is a doubt for the start of the Ashes, on July 10, isn't just bad news for England; for whom Australia are likely to be a tougher nut to crack than New Zealand. It is also a concern for Surrey, who benefited greatly from Pietersen's expulsion from the England set-up at the end of last season. Andy Flower will almost certainly want KP to have a couple of games for Surrey under his belt before risking a premature return to the international stage. How the Oval outfit could do with his services right now, given the absence of another South African, Graeme Smith. Three of the four games since losing their new skipper to an ankle injury have ended in defeat for the South Londoners and the other was rained off. Failings with the bat have been largely to blame. But the most frustrating feature of Surrey's cricket, post-Smith, is that they have got themselves into good positions, only to concede the initiative. In the four-dayer at Trent Bridge, Notts were reeling at 181-7. However, the hosts recovered to make 274 all out in their first innings, which, in the final analysis - Notts went on to win by 114 runs - was the difference between the two sides. Even more puzzling was the Yorkshire Bank 40 loss at Old Trafford last Sunday. In reply to Lancashire's 176-9, Surrey raced to 65-1 inside ten overs. To cut a long story short, they failed to chase down a target of 180 or less in List A one-day cricket for the first time since July 1997 (if you ignore contests decided using Duckworth-Lewis). It's too early to say Surrey's season is at a crossroads, not least because the current game against Oxford University has no bearing on league position. But next week's championship clash with Derbyshire, who are propping up Division One, is absolutely massive. Even a win for Surrey is unlikely to ease the pressure on Chris Adams who, following the defeat at Trent Bridge, said: "We felt that we were - that we are - a genuinely competitive side in all cricket." If ever a sentence spoke a thousand words.

As a Palace fan, the thought of winning promotion to the Barclays Premier League was pipe dream territory at the start of the season. The same was true in 2003-04, when Iain Dowie marched us up the table from 19th, into the playoffs and beyond. There's nothing like seeing an underdog prevail, because it means that every ounce of potential has been extracted through a combination of clear direction, diligence, belief and, okay, a bit of luck. But what was it the golfer Lee Trevino once said? I think it was something along the lines of: "The harder I practice, the luckier I get." In county cricket, Surrey's financial clout means they are always expected to do well. The other day, their director of cricket, Chris Adams said: "I was a player for 22 years and I've been at the Oval for five. In every one of those seasons there have been big expectations of Surrey and this year is no different." In the past, Adams has been keen to manage expectations, so I was surprised when, before the first ball of the campaign had even been bowled, he remarked: "It's my fifth season here and I can say this is the strongest squad I have been able to compile and have available." One could argue this is the strongest Surrey squad Adams had had at his disposal, in terms of being good enough to remain in Division One of the LV= County Championship. But they aren't the force they have been in the limited-overs arena, not least because half of Surrey's current one-day line-up are the wrong side of 35. The arrival of Ricky Ponting brings renewed focus, but, I fear, a renewed expectation that Surrey will win game after game. They say the table doesn't lie and one glance at Division One suggests Surrey will not only have to win up at Derby, but also leapfrog the likes of Warwickshire and Somerset - last year's winners and runners up - if they are to remain amongst the elite in the County Championship. One positive that's already come courtesy of Ricky Ponting is news of Kevin Pietersen. Ponting has done a deal with a national newspaper, and in his first interview Punter revealed that KP is likely to make his return from injury for Surrey at Arundel in a fortnight's time. Ponting and Pietersen in full flow, now that would be worth watching.

Picking up where I left off last Friday, Surrey might not be your typical underdogs. But, boy, how they need to start thinking like underdogs. My trip to Derby made up my mind that Derbyshire are as good as down, so it's now a question, at the bottom of Division One in the County Championship, of which two from three will turn the corner first - the three being Somerset, Surrey and Warwickshire. Ignore the inflated salaries, ignore the vast support structures and, to an extent, ignore the strategists. It's time for Surrey to play as if their lives depend on it, because you can be sure of one thing - we won't be talking about a three-way battle to avoid finishing eighth (and going down with Derbyshire) forever. During their pomp, much was made of the so-called Surrey Strut. When you're carrying all before you, you can get away showing that you've a spring in your step. But when you play the way Surrey did at Chelmsford, last Monday, you just look silly. Nevertheless, it has to be said this is the quietest Surrey side I can remember in a long time. If, on the final day at Derby, you closed your eyes to allow the sunshine to do its worst, the only thing you would have heard would have been bat on ball. I'm not advocating that Surrey should start appealing for every fifty-fifty decision. It would just be nice to see the players geeing each other up. Nobody does quiet better than Chris Tremlett, who simply lets his bowling do all the talking. The only chance Surrey had of forcing a victory on day four at Derby was if Tremmers followed up his 5-95 with all ten wickets in Derbyshire's second dig. That has been the problem with Surrey in this season's championship. Just one bowler has been on song at any moment in time. It is often overlooked, but, like batsmen, bowlers also thrive in pairs.

There has been no lack of talking points in the last week. Mike Atherton, writing in The Times, lamented Surrey's lack of home-grown talent; describing the Oval outfit's inclination to turn to import experienced pros rather than back their own youngsters as a "betrayal". But as David Lloyd, who was covering the Warwickshire game for CricInfo, pointed out the eleven Warwickshire put out last week contained more imports than Surrey's. The point Atherton missed is that, if you look around the county scene, there are quite a few ex-Surrey players prospering elsewhere; which begs the question: "What are Surrey doing, developing players that end up leaving?" Another discussion point, at Guildford, was the number of batsman-friendly pitches we are seeing this season. The return of the heavy roller and better weather have played a major part. But neither are relevant when it comes to Woodbridge Road. which seems to get flatter and flatter with every passing year. Chris Adams can complain all he wants about the pitch at Guildford, but he knows and I know, it's a batsman's paradise. Were it not for the Festival's 75th anniversary, I would have preferred to see the fixture brought back to the Oval, or played at Whitgift School, which has generally provided a good balance between bat and ball. The current points system, which has been in place for a few years now, rewards teams that win, rather than draw their four-day games. None of us want to see 40 wickets falling in three days, but something needs to be done. I think the best cricket wicket Surrey have played on this season was the one for the championship match against Durham at the Kia Oval. That's right, the one Paul Collingwood described as a minefield. Sure, nobody made a century on it, but the game went well into day four. Some will say: "Well, Surrey's batsman didn't do all that well at Guildford." The reason for that lies behind the decision to push Stuart Meaker out of the dressing room door to perform nightwatchman’s duties. I have never really been a fan of nightwatchmen, particularly if, as was the case at Woodbridge Road, they're meant to be "protecting" the next batsman in on a pitch that’s as flat as a pancake. I have seen nightwatchmen fail in their objective all too often, with the upshot being that another wicket falls and the opposition's tails are up. Warwickshire really impressed me with the way they went about their business. Even when they were 398 for six, if Surrey had polished off the tail it would still have been a case of game on. But, yet again, just one member of the attack came to the party. This time it was Jade Dernbach. He may have arrived at the party late, having been released by England after the match had started. But his drive down from Trent Bridge was followed by his best spell of the season - three wickets for 16 in seven overs. Will Dernbach get my Best Player nomination this week? You'll have to find out on Friday.

I'd by lying if I didn't say the main talking point at Guildford was how much time Surrey's team director, Chris Adams has left to put things right. Woodbridge Road is much more intimate than the Kia Oval, so no end of Surrey fans popped by the Press Tent during the lunch and tea breaks to ask my opinion on a range of subjects. I tend to find myself telling people that I don't know any more than do, which they don't believe for one minute. But in answer to the question: "When is Adams going to get the boot?" - which was the one I was asked the most - my response was: "Even if Grizz is on his way out, it won't be until the end of the season." Unlike football, managerial changes occur during the close-season. It's very rare, in county cricket, for managers to relieved of their duties when there's still something to play for. Last summer, Northants sacked David Capel and the season before John Morris was ousted at Derbyshire. So, going on the last two years, there's only a one in 18 chance of Chris Adams being asked to stand down in the foreseeable. When, or perhaps I should say IF the Surrey fans accept this, hopefully they'll pay more attention to getting behind the team. I had the pleasure of sitting next to Brian Halford from the Birmingham Mail last week. Since he had little fear of being buttonholed by supporters, he took a number of tours around the Woodbridge Road ground, while the four-day game was in progress. Brian concluded that Surrey have the most pessimistic fans on the county circuit! You would think the constant stream of big name signings would fill the Surrey faithful with renewed optimism. First it was Graeme Smith, then it was Ricky Ponting and now they can look forward to seeing Australian all-rounder Glenn Maxwell in the Twenty20 and, when Ponting's time is up, South Africa's JP Duminy. Furthermore, Kevin Pietersen's return is said to be just around the corner. Put it this way, a number of hacks are already planning to be at Headingley next week, for when Yorkshire take on Surrey. I guess with quality signings and having the likes of KP around comes expectation. There's still time for Surrey to deliver on that expectation this season, but time is running out fast.

Surrey are currently enjoying a six-day gap between matches, which, in terms of county cricket's relentless schedule, is an eternity. If Surrey somehow manage to reach the last four in the Twenty20, this will be their longest in-season break. Maybe it is just as well, because June 18 marks the first anniversary of the Tom Maynard tragedy. This time last year I was covering Surrey's T20 game at Beckenham for the Press Association, the next day Maynard, who was playing in that match, was no longer with us. Like many deaths, the news just didn't seem real. The inquest into Tom's death, in February, helped to draw a line under what went on. But, sadly, Maynard was all but labelled a drug-addict by the toxicological evidence presented at the hearing. Like everyone else who had the privilege of meeting him, my abiding memories of Tom Maynard are nothing but positive. He was just simply a top bloke. Sincere and engaging off the field and a guy who would run through brick walls for the team on it. In the aftermath, Rory Burns and Arun Harinath have grabbed their chances with both hands. But, as satisfying as it has been to see two home-grown talents emerge, the Surrey team is still very much the poorer for Maynard's absence. When Tom was in full flow, like when he cracked a 67-ball hundred in the championship at Guildford a couple of years ago, anything seemed possible. If I am honest, Surrey lack that spark of brilliance. Perhaps we will yet see Kevin Pietersen and Ricky Ponting reproduce those match-changing moments of inspiration that Maynard, and the likes of the Adam and Ben Hollioake before him, were capable of sprinkling on a game. Heaven knows Surrey need to start winning matches. The Friends Life T20, which is just around the corner, can sometimes be a tonic or an unwelcome distraction. In 2011, it did for Northants' four-day season and Surrey capitalised. In 2004, four of Surrey's five championship victories came after the Twenty20 break. It'll be interesting to see how Australia's Glenn Maxwell goes in the T20 for Surrey. When I saw Maxwell take that catch at backward point, to dismiss Martin Guptill the other day, it reminded me so much of Ben Hollioake. Ben used to field in that position. As well as looking like Ben, both facially and in terms of build, Maxwell even celebrated the catch in the same way Ben used to - with a touch of swagger. It prompted me to check out some video of Maxwell's innings. Talk about uncanny. Maxwell even sets himself at the crease and plays shots like the slog sweep a la Ben Hollioake. Ben never got to experience T20 cricket, but Tom Maynard took to it like a duck to water. I'll never forget Tom's unbeaten 78 off 43 balls for Glamorgan against Surrey in 2010, which edged his future employers out of the hunt for a place in the knockout phase. If they play cricket in heaven, I've no doubt Tom and Ben are currently biffing it to all parts.

The timing of Chris Adams's sacking was a major surprise. The news came through just as we were putting Tuesday's edition to bed, hence this is my first opportunity to comment on it. One can only surmise, but the seamless handing over of the contractual and recruitment side to Alec Stewart suggests the decision had been coming for a while, thus making Adams's position untenable. With his own contract due to run out in December, perhaps Adams brought things to a head by seeking clarification over own his future. After all, it is was at this stage of the season, two years ago, when he received a vote of confidence in the shape of a contract extension. In recent times, only a couple of announcements have left me dumfounded - that one and Derbyshire's decision to recruit Rikki Clarke as captain. In June 2011, when Adams received the surprise backing of the new chairman and new chief executive (Richard Thompson and Richard Gould), it looked practically nailed on that Surrey would follow up two bottom half of the second division finishes with a third. Indeed, it still looked that way when they capitulated to Kent at Canterbury halfway through August. The programme for the Canterbury Festival carried an interview with Chris Adams in which he predicted Surrey were set to go "supersonic". That his side was bowled out for 127 and 104, left a rather large amount of egg on Adams's face. But, by some miracle, the Oval outfit rallied and just edged Northants out of second place to win promotion back to Division One. Sadly, Surrey's record since the end of 2011 has been woeful. The loss of Tom Maynard, and, with him Rory Hamilton-Brown, was a huge blow last summer. But, in truth, the shortcomings had already started to appear prior to Maynard's death. The bungling of what should have been Mark Ramprakash's swansong year then left a bitter taste in the mouths of those Surrey supporters who had remained loyal to Adams's vision. Others who, for example, had been dismayed by his decision to, firstly, demote Graham Thorpe to Second Eleven Coach and then allow him to leave for budgetary reasons, had already made their minds up. During his tenure, Chris Adams praised a number of his signings for being "low maintenance", which gave the impression that he struggled to tailor the way he dealt each of his players. Indeed, the lack of an obvious leader when Hamilton-Brown chose to take compassionate leave last summer highlighted that a squad of largely compliant characters has its drawbacks. But it would be unfair to list Chris Adams's failings. During his time at the helm, he did get make some good calls. He helped revive Chris Tremlett's Test career and the signing of Tom Maynard gave Surrey an added dimension. However, some of the comments Adams made in an interview for the Sunday Times last October were illuminating. In it, referring to Hamilton-Brown, who shared a house with Maynard, he said: "I'd noticed behavioural changes in Rory that suggested he was losing his way." Ever since then Adams has stated consistently that he did not preside over a partying culture at Surrey and that he had no knowledge of Maynard's drug abuse. Nevertheless, a few weeks later, at Surrey's end of season awards function in November, Adams was given a reluctant round of applause when he was invited on to the stage to present the players' player of the year award to Gareth Batty. From that moment on in the minds of the members and supporters, if not the powers that be (who were also in attendance), Chris Adams was living on borrowed time.

Surrey are now 40-1 to win Division One of the LV County Championship and 25-1 to win the Yorkshire Bank 40. Yet, surprisingly, the South Londoners are fourth in the betting, at 9-1, for the Friends Life T20, which gets underway this week. So, what am I driving at? Well, not only does the Twenty20 provide a way for Surrey to salvage something from their retched season, a break from the other two forms of the game can only be a good thing. Apart from their convincing victory over Hampshire in the YB40 curtain-raiser, the Oval outfit have not registered a win against county opposition this season (unless, of course, Yorkshire implode on the final day at Headingley!). So, one might make the mistake of assuming Surrey stand no chance in the FLt20. However, you would be wrong. If they can play with a bit of freedom and string a few wins together over the next week or so then anything is possible. Twenty20 cricket celebrated its tenth birthday recently. June 13, 2003 was when it all started. Somewhat fittingly, Surrey's first match was against their fiercest rivals Middlesex. The South Londoners won with four balls to spare and over the next year set the standard by racking up 13 successive victories. Adam Hollioake, the first man to hold the trophy aloft, said a few years later: "At Surrey, we had a definite strategy and we stuck to it. We targeted short boundaries and tried to hit sixes. When we bowled, instead of going for yorkers and containment, as some counties did, we tried to take wickets. It came off, but it helped that we had some bloody good players." Indeed, the Oval outfit, whose first defeat in T20 cricket came in the second final, were laden with top class names like Alistair Brown, Mark Ramprakash, Hollioake himself, Azhar Mahmood - who returns to the Surrey fold for this year's campaign - and Jimmy Ormond. You will often hear it said that Twenty20 cricket is a lottery. Not so. Sure, there are one or two unusual results, but the teams that, in the words of Adam Hollioake, are true to their strategy generally come out on top. Under Chris Adams numerous changes of personnel, from one game to the next, contributed to Surrey failing to reach the last eight. Indeed, not since losing in the semis in 2006, when Alan Butcher was their manager, have the Oval outfit managed to get out of their group. For me, Surrey's best T20 eleven right now would be: Davies (wk), Roy, Pietersen, Ponting, Maxwell, Solanki (capt), Ansari, Azhar Mahmood, Tremlett, Dernbach and Keedy. (12th man: Wilson). If Alec Stewart and Stuart Barnes are loyal to that nucleus, aside from the international call-ups and injuries that will no doubt get in the way, then I believe Surrey are more than capable of progressing. The top two in each regional group are guaranteed a place in the quarter-finals, with the two best third-placed sides taking the other two spots. In short, Surrey don't even have to top the South Group. So, which opponents are likely to stand in Surrey's way? Well, you can make a case for all six of the teams in their group. If the Yorkshire Bank 40 is anything to go by, Hampshire and Kent appear to be brimming with confidence. Just the other day, Kent pulled off a remarkable victory against Sussex at Canterbury, when they chased down a target of 337 with nine balls to spare thanks to a whirlwind 118 off 53 balls from Darren Stevens. Whether it is with bat and ball, Stevens is a key player for the Spitfires. But Sussex bounced back to end the only remaining unbeaten run in this season's competition, which had belonged to Nottinghamshire. So, even though the Sharks face an uphill task in the YB40, it would be no surprise to anyone if the seasiders left their mark on the Twenty20. New Zealander Scott Styris is back again as Sussex's second overseas player. But the likes of Chris Nash, the England wicketkeeper Matt Prior and Luke Wright are just as key to the Sharks. Momentum is everything in the T20, so Surrey's group matches home and away to Sussex, both of which come early in the piece, will undoubtedly set the tone. The reigning champions Hampshire - Surrey's first opponents - are also expected to be there or thereabouts once again. Winners in 2010 and 2012, not to mention semi-finalists in 2011, the Royals boast the likes of Dimitri Mascarenhas and Sohail Tanvir. Interestingly, Hampshire will just have the one overseas player (Tanvir) owing to Glenn Maxwell's decision to throw his lot in with Surrey. What does Maxell know, I wonder? Apart from when they won it in 2008, Middlesex have failed to turn up for the Twenty20, which is astonishing. The North Londoners have started the season strongly and if Tim Murtagh and Toby Roland-Jones get it together with the new ball, they too have a chance. Finally, there's Essex, who, of course, trounced Surrey in the YB40 a few weeks ago. That performance, as much as any other this summer, put a nail in Chris Adams's coffin. But if the Eagles are to progress, much depends on their two big hitting all-rounders - Graham Napier and Ryan ten Doeschate. At the start of the season I tipped Warwickshire for the title. But if you're asking me now, my advice would be to keep an eye out for Hampshire, Surrey and Sussex. Mind you, I did say Yorkshire and Durham would be relegated in the championship. Where are they? First and second respectively!

There is a saying in cricket that goes something like: "Players get better and better after they've retired." Perhaps the same can be said for managers and head coaches. In the last week a number of observers have sprung to Chris Adams's defence. On Cricket Writers On TV, both Mark Baldwin and Nick Hoult, who have covered Surrey a fair amount in the last year for the Times and the Telegraph, suggested Adams had left Surrey in better shape than he had found them in when appointed four and a half years ago. I beg to differ. Chris Adams inherited a county in Division Two of the County Championship, that had reached four Twenty20 finals days in six years, and left Surrey heading for Division Two having never reached the last eight in the T20 during his time in charge. Some have also pointed to Surrey winning the Clydesdale Bank 40 trophy in 2011. But, much as that was a fillip for the county, I would swap it for a batsman of Mark Ramprakash's ilk. A bit like North Sea oil, Chris Adams inherited a unique resource in Ramprakash, yet squandered it. Sure, Adams has bestowed Kevin Pietersen on his successor, but if everything goes to plan for KP, Surrey will see precious little of him. Now that the dust has settled, the names I'm hearing most in terms of Chris Adams's replacement are those of Mickey Arthur, Gary Kirsten, Tom Moody and Mark Robinson, while Graham Thorpe and Trent Woodhill are also being mentioned in relation to a return to the Oval, perhaps as first team coach. Surrey can clearly afford the best, but the best doesn't have to be the most high profile. When Dave Gilbert was Surrey's manager in the late 1990s he mentioned to me one day he was thinking of making Keith Medlycott coach of the second team. Gilbert could tell from my reaction that I was less than convinced, even though I was aware that Medders had led Northerns to cup success in South Africa. All I had to go on was Medlycott the player - a slow left-armer who over-attacked and often got collared and someone who, to be honest, never struck you as a disciplinarian. But how wrong I was. Surrey won six major trophies in five years under Keith Medlycott, who I would gladly welcome back tomorrow. Medders never pretended to be a great coach, but as a manager he just had that ability of instilling belief in his players. Nearly all of them would say how he wanted them to just to play their own game. Yorkshire's coach, Jason Gillespie is another who has surprised people with the way he has made the transition from player to overseer. Yorkshire are top of Division One, having been promoted last year, and just look at their production line. First it was Bairstow, then it was Root and now everyone is raving about Alex Lees. Even the likes of Surrey are looking on in envy. You never know, Australia appointing Darren Lehmann might even turn the Aussies' fortunes around. Gillespie, who was a team-mate of Lehmann's, said the other day: "I think Darren will bring a lot of enjoyment, a lot of fun to that dressing room. He keeps things very simple, is big on making sure the environment is strong and I don't think he'll put up with any rubbish." Gillespie could just as easily be referring to Dave Gilbert or Keith Medlycott. For Surrey to return to the top the players need to start expressing themselves again. But, more importantly, the Pemberton Greenish Academy should be where the Surrey players of tomorrow are nurtured.

If you're not at the Kia Oval this week or next, then I suspect you're an armchair cricket follower. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. CricInfo and the BBC's ball-by-ball commentaries both attract thousands upon thousands of hits on the internet. Leaving aside the subject of county cricket coverage for a moment, the reason why I'm saying, in effect, "get yourselves down to the Oval" is because this week's feasts of Twenty20 - against Sussex on Wednesday evening and Middlesex on Friday night - will determine whether Surrey can salvage something from what has, in overall terms, been a mediocre campaign thus far. The following week, Nottinghamshire's four-day visit to SE11 will be Surrey's fifth "must win" championship game on the trot. Okay, at least they haven't lost any of the previous four, but if time hasn't run out already, they really do need to beat Notts at home to have any hope of avoiding the drop in the LV= County Championship. Chris Tremlett could well be a key man. The other day I was interested to see he felt ready to answer the call if picked to play for England. Tremlett was quoted as saying: "I'm not far off my best now. Something clicked at Leeds. At Derby I took eight wickets and felt I bowled pretty well, but I felt better at Yorkshire." To be perfectly frank, it came across as a classic "come and get me" story. From what I have seen of Tremmers this season, I'm convinced fitness has been an issue. Chris says he felt back to his best at Leeds, yet he only picked up two wickets at an average cost of 63.50. On the final day at Derby, when he had nipped out three to give Surrey an outside chance of victory, Gareth Batty came over to where Tremlett was fielding on the boundary. It was immediately obvious he had nothing left to give after having bowled 12 of the 31 overs. It's also worth bearing in mind that Chris was only given a one-year extension by Surrey at the end of last season. When a player is in the final year of a contract, that's when you often see the best of them. As I say, in Tremlett's case I suspect just getting out on the park week in week out is an achievement in itself. Sixteen championship wickets at a generous 42.25 runs apiece does not strike you as the sort of haul that should warrant the attention of the England management and scouts. Indeed, one could argue it is the sort of form that is blocking the way for a young fast bowler like George Edwards, who took a match aggregate 9-99 for the Second XI last week. But on his day Tremlett is the sort of bowler batsmen hate having to face. His height means you never really how high the ball is going to come at you. Steven Finn is cut from the same cloth, as is Boyd Rankin, who now appears to have leapfrogged Tremlett in the England pecking order. Chris, like Surrey, still has it all to prove this summer. He has been left out of Surrey's last two Twenty20 games, which has been to everyone's benefit. He bowled okay in FLt20 curtain-raiser against Hampshire, but his fielding was far from electric. While Tremlett can biff the ball, it's better to play someone who offers as much if not more with the bat, while he focuses on the four-dayer against Notts. Besides, having a side that bats all the way down means it's possible to maintain momentum in the T20, even when wickets are falling. The flames of the rumour that Ricky Ponting is being eyed as a possible replacement for Chris Adams are being fanned by his continued inclusion in the Surrey squad, even when he is injured. A 15-man line-up was announced ahead of last Sunday's FLt20 win over Kent. I fail to see the point in naming four 12th men. It suggests Alec Stewart and Stuart Barnes don't know their best eleven. On this week's Cricket Writers On TV, Ali Martin of The Sun said the Twenty20 was all about flat decks and warm weather, which he felt didn't quite square with the decision to spread the FLt20 across the whole of next season. Some of the best Twenty20 games I have ever seen have been low-scoring ones. Furthermore, turning the competition into a Friday night bonanza will maximise revenue and fixtures will no longer at the mercy of the weather in the way it is now. Mind you, the start to this year's FLt20 has coincided with a mini heatwave. On Cricket Writers, Paul Allott asked why the T20 isn't covered by the so-called "red tops", especially as it is the most accessible form of the game. Stephen Brenkley of the Independent chipped in with: "I don't know who decides these things. Sports editors, I suppose, but what do they know?!" Brenks does make me chuckle. Ah yes, the issue of county cricket coverage. The decision taken by The Times to cut back is all the more laughable when you see they are sponsoring the television coverage. I cannot believe The Times are paying Sky less than they have saved from employing half the number of cricket writers. If the battle that needs to be won is with sports editors, please can someone give them complimentary tickets to this Friday's London derby at the Oval. Perhaps then they will see county cricket isn't just of interest to a handful of pensioners, but thousands of potential newspaper purchasers.

Say what you like about Twenty20 cricket. It's certainly not for the purist, hence the reason why so many of my fellow cricket journalists express their loathing for it (although never actually in print). But it's great from a fan's perspective, especially if your side is doing well. Twenty20 cricket is played when people can get along to see it, mainly at the back end of the working week, and the matches are nearly always done and dusted by 9.30pm. When Twenty20 first came in I was convinced it would fizzle out within a couple of years. Nowadays a summer wouldn't be complete without packed houses on mid-season Thursday and Friday nights at Lord's and the Oval. Surrey have taken an early lead in the South Group, which is the so-called "group of death" owing to the fact that it has thrown up five of the last six winners. Sadly, the South Londoners have not gone through to the knockout phase since 2006. However, that appears set to change. Steven Davies and Jade Dernbach have been outstanding in the T20, with bat and ball respectively. Even at the age of 38, Azhar Mahmood continues to show why he is in demand the world over as a Twenty20 specialist. But the surprise packages have been Zander de Bruyn and Jon Lewis, two more "been there, seen it, bought the t-shirt" cricketers, whose guile with the ball have banished the likes of Meaker and Tremlett from the first choice eleven. Surrey's welcome change in fortunes has also coincided with the Second XI excelling in their Twenty20 competition. The comparison doesn't end there either, for it has come on the back of three losses out of three in the Second XI Championship. Led by the much under-rated all-rounder Tom Jewell, Surrey's Second XI have reached the corresponding Twenty20 finals day, at Arundel on Friday, 12 July, which is a day off for the first team. I'm not entirely sure what the current regulations say, but it used to be possible to field as many uncapped players as you liked in Second XI cup tournaments. The advantage Surrey have is that only a handful of the squad have been awarded their caps. I don't expect Surrey to put out a near first team at Arundel, but even the sides that have got them to where they are have regularly included the likes of Jade Dernbach, Jason Roy and Gary Wilson. A criticism the Surrey faithful used to level at Chris Adams was that they never saw him at a Second XI game during his time as cricket director. But it's not hard to see why. So much of schedule overlaps with that of the first team. I have only seen the seconds when they have been playing at Whitgift School, which is just down the road from me. I'm so glad to see Whitgift return to the fixture list, albeit for two second eleven matches, which take place between 16-19 July. However, I gather the school is in talks with Surrey with a view to staging a first team game there next season, most probably a 50-over contest. Coming back to the Second XI T20 finals day, I won't be able to make it as I will be attending Dicky Rutnagur's funeral. As some of you will know, Dicky was a cricket correspondent for the Daily Telegraph for forty years. His last season with the Daily Tel was in 2005, although it doesn't seem quite as long ago as that. Since then Dicky, who had the foresight to live in Pimlico (which meant both Lord's and the Oval were within striking distance) used to pop into the press box time to time; doing what he called "a busman's". Like Christmas, his arrival was always welcome. It is no exaggeration that Dicky never had or made any enemies. I will be more than satisfied if I end up being half as good at my job as he was at his. It seems hard to believe, but in his day county cricket was afforded two whole pages by the national broadsheets. He was old school in as much as he telephoned his copy through at the end of the day's play. I can't ever remember him struggling to get his laptop to work and I certainly don't know what he would have made of Twitter. I'll never forget the time we were both doing a balmy day-nighter, between Sussex and Surrey. Even at night the former press box at Hove was devoid of oxygen, so we slid the windows back as far as they could go. As the match was nearing its conclusion, a gust of wind blew Dicky's copy out of the window. We all roared with laugher as be stuck his head out and shouted: "You, boy, would you be kind enough to pick up my match report?!" They simply don't make them like Dicky any more.

The shift in Surrey's fortunes since the departure of Chris Adams has been so marked, I see Warwickshire fans have started turning on their team in the social media. Not all that long ago the Oval World messageboard was a hotbed of "opinion" (to put it mildly) as to the reasons behind Surrey's failings. If someone had said to me back in April we would be sitting between Somerset and Warwickshire in Division One of the LV= County Championship heading into the second half of the campaign, I would have assumed that Surrey were pushing for the title. Instead, last year's champions and runners-up are battling relegation. Both have achieved something Surrey haven't managed this summer, namely winning a championship game. But the losses column explains why the South Londoners are still hanging on in there. Four successive wins in the Friends Life Twenty20 has seen Surrey shoot straight to the top of the South Group. Meanwhile, Warwickshire have lost all three of their T20 games. Indeed, the Bears have tasted victory only twice in all competitions and only the once since April 20, when they edged past Sussex in an rain-affected Yorkshire Bank 40 game at Hove at the end of May. On paper, the reigning county champions look as good as anyone. Having seen them get the better of a draw against Surrey at Guildford, I can confirm the Bears also look pretty good where it counts most - on grass. This week, while Surrey are taking on Nottinghamshire over four days, Warwickshire are at Uxbridge, playing Middlesex. The sense that it's crunch time at the bottom of Division One could not be more palpable. Ricky Ponting, who recently confirmed his retirement from all cricket in October, is currently making his final first-class appearance, in the Surrey-Notts clash that got underway yesterday (Monday). The 38-year-old, whose stint at Surrey runs out at the end of this month, needed a further 48 runs when the game started to reach the dizzying mark of 24,000 in first-class cricket. To date, the man known affectionately as "Punter" has averaged 56, with the aid of 81 hundreds and 106 fifties. It's a shame only a fraction of the 20,000-strong crowd that packed into the Kia Oval last Friday will witness the former Australia captain bow out of first-class cricket. Still, with three more Twenty20 home games to come, Punter's Corner - just down to my left, as I look out of the press box - can give him a rousing send off. Mind you, it will be interesting to see if the crowd at the Oval still hold Ponting in affection if Australia make a good start to the Ashes. To be honest, I don't think they will, but you never know with England. Just when you expect them to assert their superiority in Test cricket, that's when things start to unravel for Alistair Cook's men, like against Pakistan at the start of last year. They were also extremely fortunate not to lose the Test series out in New Zealand a few months ago. Australia's eleventh hour change of manager could yet prove inspired. But if Johnny Bairstow, Stuart Broad and Kevin Pietersen all have a good series, I fancy England will hold sway. Bairstow is an under-rated cricketer, but what worries me is he has seen precious little competitive action in recent weeks. If England did start off on the wrong foot, the tensions, surrounding Pietersen, that arose last summer could easily resurface. But, for me, the biggest concern is Broad, who rarely delivers with the bat in the way a number eight should; while, with the ball, he can look a million dollars one day and spray it around like a garden hose the next. The last time a British mens tennis player won his first Wimbledon, Australia began a 19-year stint of holding the Ashes. Let's hope Andy Murray's superb victory on Sunday isn't a bad omen. I would prefer to look at recent events this way - Sebastien Vettel has just won his first ever July Grand Prix, a Brit has won Wimbledon, so that must mean Surrey are set to record their first championship victory of the season!

It was back to the struggle to avoid the drop in the championship for Surrey this week. Four successive victories in the Friends Life T20 counts for very little in Division One of the LV= County Championship, which, I think I’ve said before, is as competitive as I can ever remember it. I honestly felt Surrey were capable of putting in a good performance against Nottinghamshire, who finished mid-table last year and look as if that’s where they are heading this term. Gareth Batty did the right thing by winning the toss and electing to bat, but Surrey left themselves with a mountain to climb by getting bowled out for less than 200 on the first day. The bowlers attempted to claw things back, but, try as they might, the Surrey attack could not prevent Nottinghamshire posting a huge first innings lead. A few people have said they thought my comments on Chris Tremlett were a bit unfair. Tremmers continues to look the part with the ball in his hand, and he bowls his fair share. But it is rare to see him get through more than six overs in a spell. On day two of the Notts game, Surrey could really have done with Tremlett bowling unchanged from one end, in the way James Ormond used to a decade or so ago. Jade Dernbach used all his variations in an attempt to outfox the Nottinghamshire batsmen, but with no third seamer to speak of, Surrey resorted to more spin than they might have liked. Like Tremlett, Jimmy-O used to get a lot of stick for being unfit, but in every season between 1999 and 2004 Ormond got through at least 380 overs in first-class cricket for Leicestershire and, latterly, for Surrey. Incredibly, in 2004, he sent down in excess of 600 overs. In the end, the workload told. Jimmy had operations on both knees and he was never the same bowler after that. This summer the responsibility of bowling first change has fallen to Zander de Bruyn, but even a cursory glance of Surrey’s bowling averages will tell you he has been more miss than hit with the ball. De Bruyn is one of the least demonstrative cricketers on the county circuit. So, when one sees him concede four overthrows off his own bowling, through a fit of pique, you know the threat of relegation in the County Championship is starting to get to the Surrey players. Sadly, their season is looking very much as though it’s Twenty20 or bust.

I am under no illusion that I'm highly privileged to be doing the job I do. But, at times, like at the Oval last Thursday, it's an even greater privilege when one witnesses events that simply don't come around all that often. Watching Ricky Ponting go past 24,000 first-class runs one day, sign off with a century the next and then get to interview the great man afterwards... put it this way, I'm in two minds as to whether I should include July 11 when I invoice the Press Association next. Whenever I'm asked to name the best batsman I have ever seen, I always say Sir Vivian Richards. And when I'm then asked to justify why I think he was better than the likes of Lara and Tendulkar - which is the standard comeback - I point to Viv's record in Lord's finals. The sign of a great player is being able to turn on the style when it matters. That's precisely what Ponting did in his final first-class innings, against Nottinghamshire. It almost seemed inevitable that he would make a century. Apart from the period leading up to stumps on the penultimate day, when he and Harinath were batting for the close, Ponting was at his fluent best throughout. There were just two "moments" in his innings of 169 not out, when it looked as if he might be denied a hundred. On day three, his fellow Australian David Hussey, playing for Notts, feigned to run Ponting out at the non-striker's end when he backed up too far. The other was when Harry Gurney had a concerted LBW shout turned down by umpire Mark Saggers about ten minutes into the final morning. When Ponting made his Surrey debut, up at Derby, and racked up 192, Derbyshire's coach Karl Krikken got into hot water for suggesting the former Australia captain had been allowed some slack by the umpires. I don't for a moment believe he was, but he didn't go leg before in any of his four championship appearances. So, South Africa's JP Duminy, who will be Surrey's overseas player when their bid to avoid relegation in the championship resumes up at Durham on August 22, has some pretty big boots to fill. Indeed, it must be a real concern that Surrey failed to win a four-day game while Ponting was around. Anyway, I don't know why I'm talking almost exclusively in the past tense, because Ponting will be around - until the end of the month, for the remainder of the Twenty20 group phase. Six wins should guarantee Surrey a place in the last eight of the FLt20, which means just two more victories from the five remaining group games ought to be enough. But for Surrey to be assured of home advantage in the quarters, Hampshire, who are the only unbeaten team in the competition, need to start losing. Friday night at the Kia Oval was already destined to be a sell-out. The fact that it will play host to Surrey and Hampshire, the two best sides in the South Group, just gives it that added spice.

A couple of weeks ago the only name I was hearing in terms of Chris Adams's long-term replacement was that of Mickey Arthur. But, since then, it's all gone quiet. Perhaps it has something to do with Arthur's potential wage demands. The South African is currently suing Cricket Australia for the equivalent of over £2m, for being dumped as Australia's manager with two years to run on his contract. The grounds for the claim are said to include racial discrimination and scapegoating. Still, £2m suggests Arthur's services wouldn't come cheap. Surrey can afford to buy the best, but, as has been seen in a number of sports, high profile managerial signings are no guarantee of success. Furthermore, even Surrey, with all the resources at their disposal, have to be looking to achieve a return on their investment. Quite frankly, there simply isn't enough prize-money on offer or sponsorship available to be employing a director of cricket for more than £250,000 a year. I'm told the club captain, Graeme Smith, will have a big say. Talking of Smith, we could well see him back before the end of the season, though, sadly, not as an opener. Smith, who is currently in South Africa, recovering from an ankle operation, is in negotiations over a four-week stint as non-playing captain. There is no shortage of specialist coaches around. What there is a shortage of, though, is inspirational off-the-field strategists. If only Surrey could turn the clock back to 1996. That was the year Surrey appointed David Gilbert as head coach. Unfortunately, they made the mistake of only giving Gilbert a two-year deal. At the first Surrey cricket forum he attended, a member summed up everyone's initial impressions by asking Gilbert if he would consider committing himself to a longer contract. Gilbert's response was: "But you might be glad to see the back of me in two year's time!" They weren't. In 1996, Surrey won the Sunday League for the first time and the following season they picked up the Benson & Hedges Cup. In 1998, Gilbert was lured away by Sussex, who made him their Chief Executive. Thankfully, Dave had paved the way for Keith Medlycott, Surrey's second team coach, to take over a tight-knit and ambitious squad. The rest, as they say, is history. It was good to see that the Second Eleven won their Twenty20. On finals day there were one or two moans from Gloucestershire, whom they beat by 85 runs in the semi, and Middlesex, who lost the final by six runs, that Surrey had gone against the spirit of the competition by picking the likes of Jon Lewis, Jason Roy and Gary Wilson. I couldn't see what the problem was, to be honest. All three have spent a fair amount of their time this summer playing reserve team cricket and making a case for increased first team opportunities. Wilson starred in both of the games at Arundel last week, making 52 in 32 deliveries against Gloucester and 57 off 44 balls in the final. When Gary has played this season, he has come in below Vikram Solanki and Zander de Bruyn. I would stick Wilson in at three. When he batted at three, in the second championship game, Gary scored 124 against Sussex. Okay, so he has only made one fifty since then, but if Surrey showed more faith in him I've no doubt he would repay it with interest.

From looking like a shoe-in for a place in the Friends Life T20 quarter-finals, Surrey now appear to be heading for a winner takes all clash with Essex in the last round of South Group matches. Essex refer to their base as Fortress Chelmsford, and for good reason. Surrey have never tasted success there in Twenty20 cricket. But if the Oval outfit play their cards right this week, they might not need to go to Chelmsford wishing to buck that trend. Victories over both Middlesex at Lord's, on Thursday, and Kent at the Kia Oval, on Friday night, should just about be enough to see Surrey progress. However, based on the evidence of last week's back-to-back defeats to Essex and Hampshire, you would be reluctant to put money on it. Surrey have batted first in all seven of their FLt20 matches - the effect of winning the toss prior to six of them - but the South Londoners have only posted a total in excess of 150 on two occasions. Last Friday, they made a paltry 126 for six. After the match a number of Surrey followers took to the social media, not to complain about the performance but the volume of the music. It did seem as if the chap in charge of supplying the "razzmatazz" was trying to make up for the lack of atmosphere. The biggest cheers of the night were reserved for the beer snakes in the crowd. Why? Well Surrey were just... flat. In three of their four FLt20 victories, the bowlers have worked miracles in getting their side over the line. Hampshire claimed the spoils with ten balls to spare to retake top spot in the South Group. Ten deliveries may not sound much, but in Twenty20 terms that's a pretty convincing margin. I did strike me as bizarre that Kevin O'Brien, who has replaced Glenn Maxwell, was given the role of a non-bowling number seven batsman. A couple of years ago O'Brien, who made his name in Ireland's victory over England in the 2011 World Cup, in which he hit a 50-ball hundred, made a T20 century opening the innings for Gloucestershire. In Surrey's line-up I would seriously consider batting O'Brien at three. I would open with Jason Roy and Steven Davies. Should Roy go first I would put O'Brien in at three; Ricky Ponting if Davies goes. Ideally you should aim to have hitter-nurdler combo. Whatever happens, I would ink Gary Wilson it at five since he's the most adaptable batsman in Surrey's T20 line-up. As Alec Stewart said last Friday, qualification for the quarters is still in Surrey's hands. But what must be a worry for the former Surrey and England captain is how quickly the confidence seems to ebb away. Four successive wins in the T20 was followed by a disappointing display against Essex. Better sides would take longer to develop a fear of failure. True champions are capable of putting blips out of their minds, focusing instead on the string of victories that went before. But, for Surrey, one loss becomes two. It's time for them to show, not only their fans but themselves, what they are made of.

When I was doing my research on Kevin O'Brien, I was surprised to see that he has taken 59 wickets for Ireland. Indeed, when the Irish recently secured qualification for the next World Cup, courtesy of a win and a tie against the Netherlands, O'Brien claimed 4-13 and 3-52 with the ball. Given Zander de Bruyn's bowling form of late, perhaps it's worth giving O'Brien's medium pace a go in his two remaining Twenty20 games for Surrey. But, more than that, he has to be promoted up the batting order. After all, the guy holds the record for the fastest hundred in World Cup history - a fifty-baller against England no less. I was delighted to see Surrey hand contract extensions to Arun Harinath, Tim Linley and Gary Wilson last week. All three are wholehearted cricketers who have had to tolerate more than their fair share of second eleven cricket in recent years; thus making them prime targets for those counties that aren't in the fortunate position of possessing an established production line. Thanks to sponsors such as Nescafe and now Pemberton Greenish, Surrey have had no shortage of new players filtering through. Unfortunately their lack of succession planning has seen the likes of Michael Carberry and Tim Murtagh prosper elsewhere. Warwickshire's Laurie Evans is the latest example of Surrey's readiness to spread their love around. I'll never forget, following an innings defeat to Middlesex in 2010, when I asked Chris Adams if he could see Laurie breaking into the Surrey first team. Adams said: "Laurie is one player whose performances in the last month have been exceptional. He's gone away and been asked to work on a few things and he's done exceptionally well." Evans had just made 186 and 152 not out in a second team game against Northants. Imagine my surprise, therefore, when the next time I saw Laurie's name crop up was three weeks later - when he was making his second team debut for Warwickshire! This year Evans has made 519 first-class runs at 43.25, which, had that been for Surrey, would currently put him second in their batting averages. Having dispensed with the services of three bits and pieces cricketers at the end of last season, Surrey are now rumoured to be courting a number of soon to be out-of-contract all-rounders in a bid to plug a gap that, again, was largely of their own making. The names being mentioned include Jim Allenby (Glamorgan), Adil Rashid (Yorkshire) and David Willey (Northants). Willey, who is having an outstanding T20, would be a real difference-maker; which means there's absolutely no chance of luring him away from Wantage Road, where his father Peter is seen as a legend. With Allenby and Rashid, we're not talking about world-beaters. But who would have predicted that Chris Jordan would put four years of under-achievement at Surrey behind him and make an immediate impact at Sussex?