Surrey, under the bold leadership of W. S. Surridge, broke all county cricket records by winning the Championship outright for five consecutive years. Here, Douglas Jardine, whom many people regard as England's shrewdest captain since the turn of the century, pays tribute to Surridge. Jardine himself played for Surrey and captained the side for two seasons, 1932-33.
Inspiration is the operative word.
Exactly what inspiration may mean varies too much for exact definition or analysis. Leave it, therefore, that most people would claim to recognise it when they see it, and what is quite as important, everyone appreciates the difference between being at the sending or at the receiving end of inspiration.
Having got his inspiration, Mr. Stuart Surridge was able not only to digest it, but to pass it on to each and every Surrey side from 1952 to 1956. In this, rather than in changing personnel, can be summed up the difference between the sides of 1948 to 1951.
To some extent Surridge's advent as leader may, from his own point of view, be considered to have been fortunately timed. It is no secret that during the years from 1948 to 1951 there was a very general conviction among players and members alike that there was present in the team, in good measure, all the ability and talent needed to win the County Cricket Championship. But the title continued to elude the County's grasp. The ability was never quite harnessed, or the talent fully and firmly exploited.
It is improbable that many recognised Surridge's inspiration for what it was. Few, however, could fail to appreciate his enthusiasm and the tautened determination springing naturally from it. The fielding had never been bad; no Oval crowd would tolerate that. But there was, nevertheless, a world of difference between the good workmanlike stuff served up before Surridge and the dynamic current with which he has charged it for the last five years. Don't drop a catch and you won't lose the match is an old and tried adage. It would be no great exaggeration to say that the majority of catches missed by Surrey were chances only because they were made into possibles by the fieldsmen. Surridge supplied the electricity close in on the off-side, while Lock did as much on the leg-side. To the unfortunate who had made nought in the first innings and was looking for a chance to get off the mark in the second innings, the Surrey in-field must have offered anything but an alluring prospect.
Not long ago a county captain stated, in effect, that he regarded his team as first and foremost public entertainers, and impressed that fact upon them. To an elder generation such a statement strikes an altogether false note. A first invitation to play for a county couched in such terms would hardly appeal to the individual recipient, or be calculated to enhance the best interests of the game. By the same criterion a Master of Foxhounds would be a public entertainer, though both imagination and language might prove quite inadequate to record his reactions to the role suggested.
Yet, to borrow a metaphor from the hunting field, Surridge would have been as popular a Master as he proved himself a successful captain. He showed great sport; he went for and achieved definite results, and the number of his kills was satisfactory to a degree.
In the course of doing this he undoubtedly entertained the public--but only incidentally. One knew that, had the fortunes of Surrey required it, entertainment would have been relegated to limbo.
A word now of Surrey and The Oval. For very many years Surrey has been singularly fortunate in the personalities, and incidentally the prowess, of its senior professionals. The results achieved could not have been compassed without a happy background and really first-class organisation. In all this both Secretaries, B. K. Castor and B. O. Babb, played no small part. Far more than the production of eleven or twelve of the best county cricketers is needed to win the Championship to-day.
At the start of his tenure of office, Surridge was able to lean of Fishlock and Jack Parker, two first-class men for their side, and Alec Bedser has stepped naturally and easily into their shoes as senior professional. Nor does the story end here, for throughout the period the quiet, albeit humorous, balance forthcoming from the scorer, Herbert Strudwick, was just what was needed in good as in bad times to guide the team to success.
Apart from the side itself, but behind it and reinforcing it, was the singularly fruitful nursery controlled by another great and loyal servant, A. Sandham. With Test Matches, nearly every summer, regularly depleting the first eleven for more than half a dozen matches of upwards of three of its leading performers, the need for worthy substitutes was vital. The nursery has met all such calls and twice in the past three years won the Minor Counties' Championship into the bargain.
Thus in due course we come to the question of wickets at The Oval, nursed and produced by the most successful groundsman in England, Bert Lock.
From a batsman's point of view no wicket has changed more radically since 1939 than that at Kennington Oval. Before 1939 centuries in the second innings were a commonplace; since then they have been rare indeed. Before 1939 no one could remember when Surrey last had a slow left-hand bowler as a regular member of the team.
It is no phenomenon, but merely natural, that wickets over a period not only tend, but do in fact produce just those bowlers best suited to them.
Australian wickets for years have eliminated the medium pace bowler, just as The Oval up to 1939 eliminated the slow left-hander.
Lock, at Kennington, has more nearly than anyone else achieved the four-fold ideal facing groundsmen to-day. That consists of producing a wicket which, while fair to batsmen, lends itself to definite results in three days while encouraging both speedy and spin bowlers. Neither Bedser nor Loader nor Laker nor Lock object to bowling on their home pitch.
In these four bowlers, backed by Surridge himself, lies the mainspring of Surrey's success, for like it or not, it is bowling, not batting which in the main wins championships. Where the majority of county captains were too often wondering whom they could or should put on next, Surridge was faced with the pleasanter but not necessarily easier problem of whom to take off in order to give X a chance.
By contrast with the Surrey bowling, the batting has been all too often unimpressive, to say the least of it. But the change of wickets is accountable for much of this. No side including P. B. H. May, and with a tail whose policy it was to hit and not poke its way out of a mess, could be other than dangerous opponents to tackle.
So let us return to Surridge at the summit of his success. The temptation to go on for just one more year must have been well-nigh irresistible; yet he has resisted it, and we can only applaud his voluntary breaking of his wand as he takes his bow with a peerless record as a county captain.
One may regret that he never had the honour of captaining the Gentlemen against the Players at Lord's; still more that he was never entrusted with the task of taking, and bringing on, an England A Team overseas. But Surridge was ever a county man, first and last, and as such can have few if any regrets.