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A new campaign starts on Saturday May 11, as clubs across the county compete for honours in the AJ Sports Surrey Championship, the Premier Division crown having been narrowly won by Sunbury last season. Richard Spiller previews the next 18 weeks

Every fresh summer marks a new beginning but, as league chair Helen Ross points out in the league yearbook (available online), there is an end-of-era feeling this time as club cricket around the county moves towards a large-scale reorganisation.

Yet from now until early September, the focus – at least for players – will be success on the field.

Sunbury start as champions, their first title since 2016 won in a thrilling end-of-season duel with Guildford at Woodbridge Road. Eighth a year earlier, Rajan Soni’s side will miss Surrey off-spinner Amar Virdi’s services while he recovers from a finger injury suffered last month. Influential overseas recruit Matthew Arnold was unable to return but he has recommended experienced all-rounder – and fellow South African – Kelly Smuts who had a brief spell with Wimbledon eight years ago and has also played for a number of other English clubs. A formidable batting line-up including Colby Dyer, Middlesex’s Martin Andersson, former Surrey strokemaker Nico Reifer and explosive opener Sam Burgess should mean they are rarely short of runs.

They start with a trip to Weybridge, who struggled through much of last summer before finishing seventh and were expecting Will Pucovski to feature again. But the Australian’s latest bout of concussion, which threatens his career, has forced him to pull out and South Africa opener Sarel Erwee will make a return for 10 games.

Guildford were the surprise package last year, newly promoted and having only one top half finish in the Premier since 2006. Olly Birts and his men went remarkably close to the title and know they are likely to face a sterner test this time. They have Australian all-rounder Jono Merlo – limited to the first half of last season – back in harness and have recruited Wimbledon’s David Scott to strengthen the middle-order. In Adam Thomas, once free of school commitments, Guildford have one of the most exciting young strokemakers in the county. Birts’s 47 wickets at 15 made him leading Premier wicket-taker and he is likely to dominate the bowling again.

They open with a trip to Reigate Priory, fifth last year and having augmented their team with George and Tommy Ealham from relegated Cranleigh.

When East Molesey head to Wimbledon – third and fourth respectively last summer – on Saturday, both will have an unfamiliar look. Moles will be without seamer Andy Westphal, a key member of their attack, for the whole summer because of a knee injury. Jake Kings also awaits a date with the surgeon while popular Tasmanian Mac Wright is staying down under to recover from a knee problem as well. He is replaced by Pakistani Hussain Talat. Johnny Fawcett’s three wickets in a heavy win over Cranleigh in Saturday’s friendly confirmed his place in the side, forming a duo of left-arm spinners with Matt Tigg.

Explosive opener Nick Welch, having departed Leicestershire last season, has relocated from SW19 to Zimbabwe while skipper Jon Webb has headed to America. He is succeeded by Kiwi Jack Boyle, leading Premier run-maker last year with 820. David Scott’s departure to Guildford is offset by Michael Turner making the return journey up the A3.

Eleven wins from 18 outings sent Banstead up as Division One champions and they start at Ashtead – eighth last year and hoping to avoid another slog to avoid relegation – with Australian Patrick Rowe back to head their batting, having spent part of the winter playing in Zimbabwe. Ashtead have boosted their top-order with the arrival of Durham UCCE’s Pranav Khera.

Banstead are likely to rely on their phalanx of spinners again and were disappointment when their ambitious – and much needed – pavilion redevelopment scheme was rejected recently following objections by nearby residents.

While it took Banstead two years to fight back from relegation, Sutton did it first time but are desperate to avoid the tag of being a yo-yo team. To that end, they have recruited Australian opener Ryan Hackney and Kiwi batting all-rounder Chris Swanson – who doesn’t count as an overseas player – plus wicketkeeper Joel Walker, while hoping Fabian Cowdrey maintains his excellent form of last year with both bat and ball. Surrey’s Josh Blake and Conor McKerr will make them a tasty unit when available and they start at home to Esher, who faded after an excellent start last year to finish sixth.

Will Edwards steps down after eight years as Esher captain in which he re-established them as a Premier side and they could be proud of young bat Krish Patel’s breakthrough to the Surrey 50-over side, one of a number of highly promising young players at the New Road club.

Normandy and Cranleigh, having slipped down in 2023, start their bid for an immediate return, the former having had a considerable reshuffle and skipper Chris Jones looking back to form with an excellent 74 in a narrow friendly defeat at Guildford on Saturday. Malden Wanderers – third last year – plus Valley End and Spencer are most likely to push them hardest for a place in the top two.

And finally…

Cricket has been played on Mitcham Green since 1685, one of the game’s earliest hotbeds, yet never has it seemed under greater challenge. The club once competed with the best in Surrey but long ago slipped down the divisions and into the Surrey County League. The latest worrying development came last month when a fire badly damaged the Burn Bullock pub, which has been closed for many years. In that pub the Association of Umpires & Scorers was founded and its fate will clearly impact Mitcham CC’s pavilion next door. A fighting fund has been set up to protect the interests of cricket at the Green, available on the gofundme website.

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