Chris Waters: Salute to Surrey captain Stuart Surridge - the man who ensured Yorkshire were bridesmaids
MENTION the name Stuart Surridge to modern cricket fans and they would probably fix you with a puzzled look.
At least those modern cricket fans who live a good distance away from Vauxhall Bridge.
But Surridge, who led Surrey in the 1950s, was statistically the most successful captain in the history of the County Championship.
Under his guidance, Surrey won the title in each of his five seasons as captain from 1952 to 1956, the club going on to take seven titles on the spin in what remains an unprecedented sequence.
Surridge’s achievements were marked on the opening day of Yorkshire’s County Championship match at The Oval, when the Surridge Gates were formally opened at the Pavilion End of the ground.
The ribbon was cut by Surridge’s son, also Stuart, who played briefly for Surrey in the 1970s, in a ceremony watched by Surrey and Yorkshire fans.
It was particularly fitting that Yorkshire were in town, for the White Rose county were the perennial bridesmaids in the 1950s to Surridge’s side.
Yorkshire were runners-up in three of the five seasons in which Surridge was captain, despite having a team which, on paper, was up there with any that they have had in their history.
To this day, arguments rage as to whether Yorkshire “under-achieved” in the 1950s because of dressing room squabbles, or because Surridge’s Surrey were simply too good.
The Yorkshire dressing room of the time was a viper’s nest of conflicting personalities, and many felt that the affable captain, Norman Yardley, struggled to handle the combustible elements.
On the other hand, Surrey boasted a formidable bowling attack that included Alec Bedser, Peter Loader, Jim Laker and Tony Lock, who thrived on helpful conditions at The Oval.
In contrast, Yorkshire had to take what they were given pitch-wise when they played in the Broad Acres in the days when they played on numerous out-grounds.
What cannot be disputed, however, is that Surrey were a great side and that Surridge – who came from a family of famous bat-makers – played a significant part.
When he officially became captain in 1952, having previously led Surrey on an irregular basis, Wisden observed that “he took control of a side which was rich in talent but needed to feel the smack of firm government to do itself real justice”.
Surridge provided that smack and inspired players with his enthusiasm and energy.
He also fostered a strong sense of togetherness, whether by fielding close to the bat in dangerous positions (a la Brian Close), by sharing ideas with players, or by abolishing the antiquated accommodation and travel distinctions that then prevailed between amateurs and professionals.
Surridge was a modest cricketer. In 267 first-class matches, he averaged 12.94 with the bat and took 506 wickets with bustling fast-medium at 29.89.
First and foremost, he was a leader of men, with the legendary Douglas Jardine, one of his predecessors at Surrey, pinpointing “inspiration” as his greatest gift.
Wisden wrote that Surridge combined Jardine’s combativeness with Percy Fender’s imagination and that, on the field, he had “a strong streak of aggression”, with Surridge always preferring to take the attacking option. He died in Derbyshire in 1992, aged 74, his name now immortalised by the Surridge Gates.