22 years after his first appearance for Surrey at The Oval, Gareth Batty has accepted that Thursday’s T20 Blast quarter-final against Kent could be his last.
It would be foolish to rule out the possibility of him extending his playing career, not least after a Blast campaign in which he has conceded a miserly 6.31 runs per over and recovered from a hamstring injury within two weeks. But at the ripe old age of 42, with his contract up at the end of the season and a coaching position at the club on the table, this may be his final week as a player.
“We’ll get to the end of the season and then we’ll have a sit down,” Batty said. “I have a coaching role [already] so it’s about what is right for the group moving forward. We have to move forward as a club and if that means the claw replaces the pretty average old offspin, so be it.
“If we do decide I don’t play, we’ll be going out for dinner. I’ll buy Vikram [Solanki] and Stewie [Alec Stewart] a slap-up meal for the first time ever, we’ll have a glass of something and I’ll say thanks, to move forward. The exciting bit is that whatever happens, I’m winning.”
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In the absence of the injured Jade Dernbach, Batty captained Surrey for the first seven games of their Blast season before his hamstring problem. They began the tournament with a threadbare squad due to injury and international call-ups, but the number of available players has swelled since: Laurie Evans and Jamie Overton arrived on loan ahead of permanent deals next year, while Rory Burns, Jason Roy and Ben Foakes are back from England bubbles and Hashim Amla arrived from South Africa.
“We played an intra-squad practice game yesterday and I think at one point we had 21 players all fit and available for selection,” Batty said. “It’s a bit of contrast to six weeks ago when we were scrambling around for 11.
“There will be some disappointed boys, but hopefully it stands us in good stead – if we can get over the line tomorrow – with three games in three days. That is pretty full on, so having bodies available and ready to go – and obviously they are quality players – is an advantage for us.”
There will be a dilemma at the top of the order, with a decision to make over who bats where between Roy, Amla, Evans and breakout star Will Jacks, while youngsters Jamie Smith and Gus Atkinson may be squeezed out in order to accommodate more experienced players.
“If some old sod manages to get a few wickets you’ll see a smile on his face; even if he doesn’t, there will still be a smile”
Gareth Batty insists he will be grinning regardless of performance
Batty has been particularly impressed by Overton – whom he dubs Surrey’s “own Andre Russell: bowls rockets, and smacks it out the ground” – since his move from Somerset, and quipped that after a lean summer with the bat in international cricket, Roy has been saving his best for his county.
“He knew he’d get back at some point and thought he’d save them for the good lads,” he laughed. “In our last game he showed what a good player he is: he’s world-class. When Jason plays like that you can count on one hand the better players in the world.
“It’s obvious, but four into three doesn’t go so, someone will bat fractionally out of position. It will be covered off with that player, and no stone left unturned. We are very fortunate to have four exceptional players in the top order, and someone will have a change of role.”
Surrey’s record in T20 has been underwhelming in recent years – they have not reached Finals Day since 2014 – but things have been different this year. They have exploited home conditions to their advantage, playing on used, central pitches to create enormous square boundaries to support their spinners and allow their seamers to bang the ball in, and are on a seven-match winning run heading into Thursday’s quarter-final.
Batty was effusive in his praise for Solanki, and in particular the pre-match planning and preparation that he has put into place in his first season as head coach, and insisted that regardless how he fares against Kent, he will be playing with a smile on his face after wondering if he would step onto the pitch at all this year.
“Whenever I get on the cricket field now it feels like a day out,” he grinned. “[Covid-19] puts things into perspective, it really does. I’m very aware that I’m pretty much done, but it’s nice that you can still contribute in a positive way.
“There’s been some really good cricket played [this season] and there’s been a progression in how people are playing the game. People are learning from how different competitions around the world are accelerating T20 cricket. It’s not the same old mundane ‘he’s going to do this, he’s going to do that’, [teams are] trying to move the game forward.
“Kent are a very dangerous team. We’re very aware of that. They’ve got some very fine players who tore it up with England this year, on a bit of a high. Hopefully we’re all going out there to fulfil our roles and help Surrey over the line. If some old sod manages to get a few wickets you’ll see a smile on his face; even if he doesn’t, there will still be a smile.”
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