Stuart Surridge © Getty Images
Stuart Surridge © Getty Images

Keeping an eye on the clock and another on the barometer on August 25, 1954, Stuart Surridge won a match for Surrey inside 88 overs the following day at The Oval. Abhishek Mukherjee recollects an incident typical of the man.

England had dominated cricket throughout the 1890s, and fought neck-to-neck with Australia for the rest of the pre-War era. Don Bradman ruled the period between the Wars. Then Len Hutton became, not without opposition, the first professional to lead England. Hutton helped England regain The Ashes in 1953 and retain it in Australia in 1954-55; and Peter May retained it in 1956.

Between 1950-51 and 1958-59, England won 10 series and drew 4 without losing a single one. It remains the only period since the expansion of cricket they were the undisputed number one side in world cricket. And almost throughout this span, from 1952 to 1958, Surrey won seven consecutive County Championship titles; they remain the only county to do so. At this point Surrey were probably superior to most international sides.

They had an excellent bowling attack, with Alec Bedser, Jim Laker, Tony Lock, and Peter Loader forming the core. Eric Bedser, whose Surrey appearances were limited due to Laker’s presence, but he made his way up the order, even opening batting at times. In Peter May, Ken Barrington, and Micky Stewart (and for a short while, Raman Subba Row) they had a decent batting line-up.

They were a bunch of very talented cricketers who needed the intervention of an astute captain who would go all out for wins every time he took field. And they found that man in Stuart Surridge.

Surridge averaged 29 with ball for his 506 wickets. He bowled seam, sometimes taking new ball. He was an outstanding fielder, often standing perilously close to the bat. However, his real legacy lay in his leadership that transformed Surrey into an all-conquering side.

There must be something in the Surrey climate that bred aggressive captains, just like the long stream of opening batsmen and left-arm spinners of Yorkshire or the numerous world-class Kent wicketkeepers. Surridge was a true successor of Percy Fender and Douglas Jardine, a firm believer in taking huge risks to decide matches. In 1955, for example, Surrey finished the Championship with 23 wins and 5 defeats but without a draw.

Surrey didn’t have the greatest of starts in the 1954 Championship. They were languishing at eighth spot at one point. Then they started an incredible run, winning 8 out of the next 9 matches; in the other, they declared at 193 for 5 and bowled out Middlesex for 51 before rain washed out the rest of the match. Five of the matches were won inside two days.

Surridge knew he had to give his bowlers enough time to bowl out oppositions twice. So he took risks, declaring on 233 against Essex, 193 against Middlesex (mentioned above), and 185 against Leicestershire, winning all three matches.

If there was a chance of weather intervening, Surridge jumped into prompt action. Just like Fender, he remained in constant touch with the meteorological department. There have been others, too. Emmott Robinson, for example, gifted his protégé Bill Bowes a barometer for the latter’s wedding: “Tha’ wants to look at it night and morning. It’s nice to know when there’s a sticky wicket in t’offing.”

One wonders how the likes of Fender, Robinson, Bowes, or Surridge would have responded when Kapil Dev’s India, set 126 in two sessions at Melbourne in 1985-86, crawled their way to 59 for 2 in 25 overs before the predicted rain intervened for good.

A win in the Worcestershire match would have given Surrey their third consecutive title (they still had the Lancashire match in hand). Surridge was in no mood to wait till the last match of the season. It had rained the night before and on the morning of the match. And when a two o’clock start was announced, Surridge had no hesitation in putting Worcestershire in at The Oval.

The innings lasted just over a hundred minutes. Alec Bedser took out the openers; Laker struck twice; and from 16 for 1, and later 20 for 2, Worcestershire were bowled out for 25 in 28.3 overs, in which the spectacularly named Ladislaus Frederick Outschoorn top-scored with 9. Lock led the rout, finishing with astonishing figures of 5.3-4-2-5.

Surrey scored at a brisk pace. May (31*) and Bernard Constable (29) both outscored Worcestershire on their own. Then, at 92 for 3 in 24 overs, without much of a warning, Surridge decided that he had enough and declared.

The Surrey cricketers were stunned. Bedser spoke on their behalf: “Skipper, you’ve got to remember that somebody else can play this game as well as us.”

“Nonsense. We’ve got enough,” came the response. Surridge had checked the weather and studied the batsmen, and had faith in his bowlers. Sure enough, Worcestershire lost Don Kenyon and Outschoorn by stumps, finishing the day at 13 for 2, still 54 in arrears.

Laker quickly removed Peter Richardson on the second morning. At the other end Bedser kept coming at the batsmen, getting them to lift off a length. One of these hit Louis Devereux on the finger, forcing him to retire. And Noel Hughes hit his own wicket.

Worcestershire slumped to 26 for 8 before wicketkeeper Hugo Yarnold (14) took them to 40. Bedser (3 for 7) and Laker (4 for 25) did the most damage, while Lock had figures of 10-7-3-1.

The entire match lasted 87.1 overs and amounted to 157 runs. It remained the lowest post-1900 match aggregate till Quetta and Rawalpindi forfeited their first innings in 2008-09. Then Quetta collapsed to 41 and lost easily, which meant that only 85 runs were scored in the match.

Brief scores:

Worcestershire 25 (Tony Lock 5 for 2) and 40 (Alec Bedser 3 for 7, Jim Laker 4 for 25) lost to Surrey 92 for 3 decl. by an innings and 27 runs.