It took two deliveries on an autumnal afternoon at Aigburth, Lancashire’s Liverpool base, to end Steven Davies’s last sporting year. While for many 2012 is one forever savoured, for Davies and his Surrey team-mates it needs to be exorcised. Two balls and Davies was gone for a duck.
Fast forward to a chilly spring day earlier this month at another county outpost, the venerable St Lawrence ground in Canterbury. Surrey against Kent in a warm-up match for their County Championship campaign, which opens against Somerset at The Oval on Wednesday, and this time Davies was in the middle for 69 balls. They brought a bustling, busy century in the manner that as recently as the start of last season had seen him earmarked as Matt Prior’s long-term successor.
“I’ve got a good feeling about this year,” says Davies. The months in between Aigburth and Canterbury have involved little cricket, instead they have focused on getting that good feeling back after the darkest time of his life, a struggle to combat the depression that embraced him in the wake of the death of his friend and team-mate Tom Maynard. There was recuperation back home with his family followed by a less familiar path towards recovery, far eastern city hopping with pop star Elton John.
“It was surreal,” says Davies of his four-week trip to Beijing, Shanghai, Seoul and Hong Kong. Davies has known the singer since he came out two years ago – John sent champagne to The Oval as a mark of support – and last winter, hearing of Davies’ difficulties, he invited him on holiday.
“It was crazy when he got in touch,” says Davies. “He’s a lovely guy, really kind and generous. He knew that I was struggling with stuff so he invited me over. It was exactly what I needed. If I’d gone on another tour I felt like I would have given up the game.”
Outside the players’ viewing area at The Oval the square is swaddled in covers against the driving rain. Inside the mood is sunnier, a determined brightness that shall not be allowed to waver. From Davies, his team-mates, Chris Adams, team director, to the men who run the club there is a desire to look forwards, remember the past but move on.
Maynard was killed in June last year after being struck by a train while fleeing the police. In February the tragedy of the 23-year-old’s death was relived through the coroner’s inquest. “It was difficult,” says Davies. “It was closure for us, get it out the way and now we can really, really move on and concentrate on this year.”
Davies began last summer with an early hundred against Somerset, having spent the winter as Prior’s back-up in England’s series against Pakistan. But following Maynard’s death his form fell away. He averaged little over 20. “It was purely mental,” explains Davies. “I didn’t want to be out there. I didn’t want to play cricket. This year I do. I have found the love again.”
It will be a markedly different Surrey side that takes the field this morning. The brief experiment in youth has been checked by the events of last year. Gary Keedy and Vikram Solanki have arrived to play under new captain Graeme Smith. Ricky Ponting will stand in when Smith is on Champions Trophy duty.
“I couldn’t believe it when it was announced,” says Davies. “It is a dream come true. These boys have been through it all and for them to be in our dressing room and be able to pick their brains is a great honour.”
Davies has already sought to learn from South Africa’s captain. “I chatted to him in the nets yesterday about batting, what his methods are and how he goes about it. We have a great leader. I think we have everything we need to win the Championship. That’s our goal.”
There is another goal for Davies. It is two years since he last played for England, in a one-day international against Australia. While Prior has the Test spot under wraps, the one-day wicketkeeping position, currently belonging to Jos Buttler, is less secure.
“Initially it is all about playing well for Surrey,” says Davies, who has played eight ODIs. “I need to string some performances together and I’m sure if I do that I won’t be too far away.”
Davies turns 27 in June, an age where he should be moving towards his peak. At his best, his ability to score runs quickly allied to his keeping – a role he has taken since he began playing aged six – make him a potential England asset. But time moves on quickly on the sporting field.
“Personally it’s a big year,” he says. “I play the game to play for England and I want to get back to where I was. I had a very difficult time and I have come through that now. I feel positive, I feel fit, I feel strong and I feel good.”