Alec Stewart successor ‘must understand’ level of expectation at Surrey

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Surrey may not advertise for a direct replacement when Alec Stewart leaves his post as director of cricket, reflecting both Stewart’s stature and legacy at the club and the ongoing changes in the wider English game.

Surrey will learn this month whether their bid to host and run a Tier 1 club in the new women’s domestic structure has been successful, and chairman Oli Slipper has made clear his desire for greater involvement in the running of Oval Invincibles, with ongoing discussions around changes in the Hundred’s ownership model.

When Stewart steps down at the end of the calendar year, Surrey will consider a restructure in their cricket department. Gareth Batty, their head coach, has labelled Stewart “irreplaceable” and that could be laid bare by a new job description for Stewart’s prospective successor when they advertise publicly later this year.

Surrey will consider appointing an overall head of cricket with responsibilities for both men’s and women’s teams, equivalent to a sporting director role at a football club. They do not intend to make a firm decision until they have more clarity on the domestic structure for 2025 and beyond.

Stewart has advised Surrey that any new hire should be someone who “understands the club” and is not overawed by the level of expectation at The Oval. He has been in post since 2013 and has been associated with the county since birth, following his father Micky in representing them as a player.

“You’ve got to understand this club,” Stewart said. “That is a big thing: the expectation, the size of it, the perception of this place. Therefore, if you have been in and around this place… I think it gives you a real headstart, if you understand everything that is expected of Surrey and the Kia Oval.

“The Kia Oval is the home of Surrey, but it is also the conference and events business – which is flying – with the size of it and expectation of it. If you can deal with all of that, then you’ve got a good chance.

“But it can eat you up if you don’t understand it or [if you think], ‘Jeez, it’s as big as this?’ It can eat you up pretty quick, whether you are an administrator, employee, player or whatever it may be, because of what, historically, the club has achieved.”

Vikram Solanki, who spent 18 months as Surrey’s head coach, is in his third season at Gujarat Titans’ director of cricket. He would be the frontrunner if he applied, but may be reluctant to leave his IPL franchise. The same is true of Kumar Sangakkara and Ricky Ponting, who played for Surrey during Stewart’s tenure but are Rajasthan Royals’ director of cricket and Delhi Capitals’ head coach respectively.

Tom Moody, who coaches Oval Invincibles and is director of cricket at Desert Vipers in the ILT20, would be another strong contender for a role similar to Stewart’s. A possible internal candidate is Surrey’s assistant coach Jim Troughton, who recently completed a masters degree at the Institute of Sports Humanities, co-founded by the former England selector Ed Smith.

Stewart has told the club’s hierarchy that he will “assist in any way they want” with managing his exit after 11 years in his role, though does not expect to sit on the interview panel. “Will they ask me who I might think from whatever list they get down to? I think they probably will,” he said. “Will they listen? No idea.”

He believes that counties have become more ruthless since he returned to Surrey, though is not convinced that is a good thing. “The necessity to win has got greater. You see more turnover of coaches and DoCs over the last decade. It’s almost got that football mentality of, ‘If you don’t win, we will move you on and bring someone else in.’

“What is county cricket? Yes, trophies are easy to judge success on. But also, what is your academy and pathway looking like? How many players are you bringing through onto your staff, and are they going on to play for England? What is success for one county may be different to what is success for another county.”

Stewart, who turns 61 next week, has made clear that he is not retiring but will take a break from the game as he continues to care for his wife Lynn, who is battling cancer. “If I can still stay in and around the game in some capacity, then that’s what I’d like to do,” he said. “But this job demands 100% attention, and that’s the reason why I told the club I would step down.”

Surrey start their County Championship season away at Lancashire on Friday as they chase a third successive title. “We were good last year, but I didn’t think we were great,” Stewart said. “We take nothing for granted. Yes, we might be favourites, but it means nothing. We all start on zero points… England will come and raid us, we’ll have injuries, and it’s [about] how we cope and react.”

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98

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