The news that Graeme Smith is ending his early-season stint as Surrey captain because of his troublesome left ankle is a huge blow to the club's 2013 ambitions.
When he was ruled out of the end of South Africa's ODI series against Pakistan in March there was always a nagging feeling that it could cause him issues with the county season starting less than a month later. It seems the period of rest he gave himself wasn't quite enough to see off the problem altogether. It's probably a measure of Smith as a character that he was so keen to honour his Surrey contract that he risked further injury by playing on it so soon.
It seems the problem flared up in Surrey's YB40 win over Hampshire. I did notice him glancing anxiously at his ankle mid-way through his knock of 74, and he got off the mark with a very sharp single off Liam Dawson's left-arm spin which may have tweaked it.
That innings apart its hard to argue that Smith is leaving a big hole runs-wise. His early season form has been middling. However the runs would surely have begun to flow in all forms and he unquestionably leaves a gaping chasm in leadership terms. Although he'd been at the club only a short time he appears to have made a big impact, Gareth Batty calls him "magnificent" in this article and Adams has also been effusive in his praise.
Who steps into the captaincy breach will be interesting to see. Batty is the man who springs most immediately to mind given how adeptly he fulfilled the role at the end of last season. However he always seemed something of a reluctant captain and he may not actually want the job. I'm quite sure he'd do a great job but if he doesn't take up the role, to my mind the most suitable candidate would be Vikram Solanki. Yes I know I've called for him to be replaced in the side and yes I did question whether or not he was the best signing at the time...but there are few more respected players in county cricket and he has the necessary experience to take on the captaincy in Smith's absence.
There's also the question of whether or not Ricky Ponting's spell at the club could be extended. He has IPL commitments until late-May and although he's not actually playing for the Mumbai Indians they may still want to retain his presence (somewhat churlishly). Given that he's also committed to the new West Indian Twenty20 competition which will run from the end of July to the end of August, extending his stay at Surrey beyond our Twenty20 competition may be problematic. There is, I suppose, an outside chance that Surrey may look to sign an overseas replacement for Smith....watch that space.
While Surrey had not made a flying start under Smith he will be hugely missed. Apart from anything else it disrupts a batting lineup that was starting to look settled. Arun Harinath will presumably now move up the order and given his knock against Sussex batting at number three Gary Wilson could get another chance there. Though what happens when he's away with Ireland remains to be seen. Smith's departure does at least mean that Jason Roy will get a run in the side, but the batting reserves beyond him are now looking a little thin.