Rory Hamilton-Brown is the proudest as well as the youngest county captain in the land after leading Surrey to the thumping County Championship victory against Leicestershire which he believes has revealed the real power in his new-look side.
Surrey were rock bottom of the second division table after a stuttering start to the season which began with two high-scoring draws but then a humiliating innings defeat against arch-rivals Middlesex at Lord’s.
Serious questions were beginning to be asked about Surrey, but the 215-run win against Leicestershire at the Kia Oval not only hauled them off the bottom – before the game they were the only county in the second tier without a win – but marks 23-year-old Hamilton-Brown’s team down as genuine promotion candidates.
Yet it was more the manner of the victory which has sounded out a warning to the other eight counties in the division. Jade Dernbach took 5 for 41 and Stuart Meaker 4 for 38 as the two young pacemen put the more experienced fast bowling duo of Ashes-winner Chris Tremlett and Pakistan’s Yasir Arafat into the shade on what became a final day in which Leicestershire were hustled out for 207.
Mark Ramprakash had also returned a month earlier than scheduled, following his winter knee surgery, to score 37 and 91 on a well-grassed pitch which made batting a little trickier than usual at the Oval, while Jason Roy, Zander de Bruyn, Steve Davies, Tom Maynard and the captain himself all made telling contributions with the bat over the three days that it took to see off Leicestershire’s challenge.
“It was huge game for us, given the situation we found ourselves in leading up to the match,” said Hamilton-Brown, “but, actually, I didn’t feel under that much pressure as captain because for the first time this season we were able to pick our eleven best and most in-form players.
“I just looked around the dressing room – with Chris Tremlett available for the first time this season, with Stuart Meaker fit again after missing the Middlesex game, and with Ramps back – and I really fancied us to be too strong for them.
“I also knew the tremendous spirit we have in that dressing room, and I felt that what had happened to us in the opening weeks of the season was just part of sport: sometimes things don’t go your way and, although we had played well in all but the Middlesex game, we had not got anything really to show for it.
“But then, to beat Leicesteshire in the way we did was just brilliant. It was an amazing feeling and there is such a great buzz about the team now.
“We have brought a lot of younger players into the Surrey team in recent times and many of these guys – Dernbach, Meaker, Roy and myself – are Surrey through and through. We all know what a great club Surrey is, and what we have to live up to, and I think you saw against Leicestershire how all the Surrey boys stood up and performed. Our hearts are utterly Surrey, and that shone through in the cricket we played.
“As for Ramps, he is simply remarkable. He’s 41 but the way he has worked to come back so early from what was a serious knee injury and operation is just incredible. Because it’s Ramps, though, I’m not really surprised! He’s an inspiration.
“The importance of this Leicestershire victory is not just the win itself, but the statement that it sends out. We were confident that we had the quality in the team to do well this summer, but after our start it was vital that we put in a performance that made people from outside realise that we are making the progress that we know we are making.
“To hear the Surrey supporters really getting behind us when we were bowling Leicestershire out to clinch the victory was a very special feeling.”