By Matt Somerford
Surrey director of cricket Alec Stewart has admitted his young side are ahead of schedule as he plots a return to the top table of the LV= County Championship.
After a slow start to the season, Surrey have catapulted themselves into the promotion picture with three wins in their past four games.
They host Kent at Guildford this week with just a five-point gap behind second-placed Hampshire, who are not in championship action for almost a month.
Surrey can therefore head into their own break from the four-day circuit by pushing themselves into the top two.
It is a scenario that has slightly surprised Stewart after beginning the year looking to build the foundations to secure top-flight status, and stability, in the seasons to come.
Indeed, even those plans could have been derailed by the loss of skipper Graeme Smith to a season-ending injury, but in his absence young players such as Jason Roy, Zafar Ansari, Rory Burns and Matt Dunn have stepped up to the plate.
"We're probably fractionally ahead of where I thought we'd be at this stage of the season,” Stewart exclusively told ecb.co.uk.
“We've got some great young talent. When we lost Graeme Smith that was a blow especially with an inexperienced side where consistency can be a factor.
“You can get some success and some mistakes made because of youth.
“But they're learning quickly. There's a strong structure and if we go up we want to be there to compete not to yo-yo."
While Stewart would welcome promotion, he insists it will not be the defining factor on a season he re-iterates has been about establishing a strong core of young players first and foremost.
"You're never going to turn it (promotion) down, don't worry about that,” he said.
“At the start of the season it was more about progress, but with progress anything is achievable. I'm not going to stand here and say we didn't want to get promoted because I want to be in the first division.
“If we continue to make progress you can end up anywhere. I'm not going to start shouting we have to go up – the progress chart is going in the right direction.
"We have good support from the hierarchy, committee and members because they know that's what we're trying to do.
“They can see our plan and they are able to be more understanding and patient.
“We're trying to promote from within and it's working. We're trying to do it in a quiet, understated way and when you say 'Surrey' and 'understated' immediately people laugh, but that's how we're doing it.
“We've got good people at the top who are making sure everyone keeps their feet firmly on the ground.
"We want to build strong structures. We want firm foundations and then to build on it. If we get back in the first division we don’t want to just survive we want to compete."
Standing immediately in the way of Surrey’s recent progress is, however, a Kent side that have overcome Derbyshire and Leicestershire in their past two outings.
They now find themselves in the promotion shake-up, too, and have their own designs on leapfrogging Surrey this week at a venue the hosts have not won at for 12 years.
Kent have made just one change to their squad, Calum Haggett replacing Adam Ball, and head coach Jimmy Adams is hoping they can keep up the recently-gained momentum.
“It was a good performance against Leicestershire and nice to string two wins together,” he told the club’s official website.
“To be serious contenders we have to maintain this sort of form. Surrey have been playing well so this is a good challenge for the lads.”
Tillakaratne Dilshan is back in Surrey's 14-man squad after returning from Sri Lanka's one-day international series against South Africa while Stuart Meaker and George Edwards are also included.
Derbyshire have named an unchanged squad for their clash with Glamorgan at the 3aaa County Ground.
A six-wicket win over Gloucestershire last time out was Derbyshire’s second of a difficult campaign since slipping back from Division One.
And they have named a party that includes their match-winner and veteran West Indies star Shivnarine Chanderpaul.
Glamorgan, meanwhile, should hand James Harris a second debut for the club after he arrived on loan from Middlesex.