Graeme Smith inspiring new era at Surrey, says Stuart Meaker
By Oli Burley - Sky Sports Oli. Last Updated: 15/04/13 9:35am
Fast bowler Stuart Meaker is used to keeping pace with change at Surrey.
The 24-year-old - like Jade Dernbach, Jason Roy, Arun Harinath and Zafar Ansari - is one of a glut of players to graduate from the club's academy to first-class cricket in the years since the Oval outfit last won the County Championship, way back in 2002.
But as Surrey prepare for their opening four-day match of this season, at home to Somerset from Wednesday, the spotlight is firmly on the club's latest high-profile recruits - South African skipper Graeme Smith and former Australian captain Ricky Ponting. Smith ready for challenge.
Smith will lead the side in up to 10 Championship matches after signing a three-year deal, while Ponting will pitch up mid-season on a short-term contract and could play alongside his former South African foe - and England's Kevin Pietersen - in Surrey's Twenty20 campaign.
Ponting set for Surrey
It's a mouth-watering prospect and Surrey, seventh in Division One last season, have even been installed as favourites for the pennant in some quarters on the strength of their signings but Meaker, who made his first-class debut in 2008, is quick to point out that success is by no means guaranteed.
"Never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd be playing with Graeme Smith and Ricky Ponting - two of the greatest captains the game has seen - here at Surrey," he said.
"It's unbelievable to have those guys in a changing room that already has a number of internationals and it's filling us with a lot of energy and anticipation for the season.
"Everyone outside of the club seems to feel that having brought in these big names that Surrey should automatically win but at the same time there are a lot of fresh faces, including experienced players like Vikram Solanki and Gary Keedy, so it may take us a while to gel as a team.
"There's a great base there from previous seasons and those guys that have come in will only add to that. Of course, it would be great if we could walk away with the trophy but it's hard to say right now that that's how it's going to pan out. It would be nice, but who knows?"
Ramps: A tragic loss
Meaker's stock is back on the rise after a traumatic 2012 county season riven by the death of talented batsman Tom Maynard in mid-June. Tom Maynard inquest.
Barely a month earlier Meaker - capable of bowling at 90mph - had taken career-best figures of 8-52 against Somerset at the Oval and he'd go on to finish with an impressive 44 Championship wickets, so when cover was needed for Steven Finn at the start of England's tour of India the selectors turned to the England Lion.
But the seamer admits that Surrey's survival, rather than international honours, were uppermost in his thoughts last summer as the devastated squad came to terms with Maynard's death. Adams calls for focus
"After everything happened with Tommy, I changed my focus from self-ambition and putting my name forward for England recognition to doing everything I could for Surrey to try and help keep the guys together," he reflected.
"We all gelled and became very close and the priority became just keeping the team going - day by day, game by game. Our performances as a team slipped but we made sure that we stayed up and dealt with the scars as best as we could.
"We'll never forget Tommy and we have to start over again this year. I want to take shed-loads of wickets and throw my name into the England hat again because there is a lot of international cricket coming up this year and I want to be part of that."
Pope faces Meaker
This summer Meaker could get the chance to add to his two ODI caps, the last of which came against India in Kolkata in 2011, following his inclusion in England's provisional 30-man squad for the ICC Champions Trophy.
Beyond that the tantalising prospect of putting the wind up Australia's troubled batting line-up in back-to-back Ashes series awaits.
"Realistically there is a lot of tough competition - there are a lot of guys in that squad already who are rightfully keeping their places and there are a lot of guys coming through too," he said.
"Chris Wright had a decent time out in Australia with the Lions and continues to perform well for Warwickshire, then there are guys like James Harris and Chris Woakes making their case - and Rikki Clarke has thrown his name back into that hat too, so it's down to me to perform and justify my place in that squad.
"Last year was a long year - and this winter was quite demanding too so I needed to put a bit back into my body in pre-season but the pace is still there: there were a few thunderballs being thrown down against Gloucestershire twos this week!
"I felt incredibly close to making my Test debut in India this winter - I was as nervous as hell every time I rocked up to one of those Tests - so as long as I keep performing well, I might just get that opportunity."
Sky Sports will show each county at least three times, with 60 live fixtures from the Yorkshire Bank 40, LV=County Championship and Friends Life t20.
In addition, our cameras will be at Essex when they host the England team for their Ashes warm-up match. Click here for more details.