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Stewart: Leaving Surrey the toughest decision I’ve made

Alec Stewart says stepping down from his role as Surrey’s director of cricket was the “toughest decision” he has made, but has plans to stay in and around the sport.

The 60-year-old, who has overseen three County Championship title wins, will leave at the end of the year.

Stewart won six trophies in 23 years as a Surrey player, including three Championship titles. He also captained England between 1998 and 1999.

“I love this job and it’s probably the toughest decision I’ve made,” Stewart said on the Sky Sports Cricket Podcast.

“The main reason is my wife has battled cancer for the last 12 years and I’ve always promised her from when I packed in playing that I will give her some of my time, and then I took on this role and I haven’t done that, so that is the main reason.

“I still want to stay in and around the game and although I am stepping down from this role, if there is still work to be had then I want to look at these opportunities.

“Probably by mid-January next year she will be fed up with me and I will be looking for a job.”

Last year Surrey retained the County Championship, winning the title for the 22nd time in their history and becoming the first side to retain the title since Yorkshire’s back-to-back victories in 2014 and 2015.

However, the domestic game continues to be threatened by the continuous growth of franchise leagues around the world and Stewart has faced these challenges first hand at Surrey.

Surrey retained the County Championship and won the title for 22nd time in their history
Image: Surrey retained the County Championship and won the title for 22nd time in their history

“Franchise cricket is the biggest challenge. This winter we had seven players here full-time, the rest were playing franchise cricket and we sent five out to Australia to play grade cricket there,” Stewart said.

“This summer is going to be the most challenging because from the Indian Premier League we go straight into the World Cup and we won’t know who we will lose.

“You can second-guess what your squad will look like when your provisional squad is named. There’s a lot of guesswork and you have to plan accordingly.

“We allow everyone to go into the IPL auction but if they are contracted to us and not the English Cricket Board then after February 28 they can’t go as a replacement.

“It may sound harsh, but you have to put the club first at all times.”

Striking a balance between letting cricketers play in franchise leagues and demanding loyalty to their domestic club has been a difficult task for Stewart.

Rory Burns led Surrey to the County Championship Division One title in 2023
Image: Rory Burns led Surrey to the County Championship Division One title in 2023

“I don’t look at the next six months but instead work in three-year cycles in this role,” Stewart explained.

“So the players can take the money now, but if they are fatigued at the start of the season or when England start playing in June they probably won’t get picked so I ask them if it is wise.

“Should they take the short-term money when they could be looking at long-term gain? That’s the type of conversations we’ve had.

“If you’re at the back end of your career, go and get the money, that’s absolutely fine, but if you are in your early twenties and have ambitions to play for England in all formats then you have to have a think.”

Gus Atkinson toured with England during their winter Test series against India but didn't feature
Image: Gus Atkinson toured with England during their winter Test series against India but didn’t feature

Surrey quick Gus Atkinson travelled with England for their tour of India last month but didn’t bowl at all during his time in the sub-continent.

The 26-year-old withdrew from his IPL contract with the Kolkata Knight Riders in February with the ECB keen to manage his schedule following a busy winter of international cricket.

Atkinson was included in England’s squad for the 2023 Cricket World Cup and also travelled to the Caribbean in December for a white-ball tour against West Indies.

“He has made a really grown-up decision for the good of his career,” Stewart said.

“If he plays some red-ball cricket for us then he is pushing his case to be a Test cricketer and [to be] included in the squad when the West Indies and Sri Lanka tour later on this summer.

“Pulling out of the IPL has cost him a couple of grand for now but when he is a fully-fledged cricketer he will be earning good money.”

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