Gus Atkinson hopes trophies and Test debut can give Alec Stewart a farewell lift

Gus Atkinson has no shortage of motivation to win a Test debut this summer, but one of his driving factors is to put another feather in the cap of Surrey stalwart Alec Stewart.

Stewart announced in March that he would leave his role as director of cricket at the Kia Oval club at the conclusion of 2024 following more than a decade in the job.

Atkinson is one of several Surrey academy graduates to have paid back Stewart’s faith and while the 26-year-old has made his England white-ball debut over the past 12 months, he is eager to win red-ball honours for a man who backed him during multiple stress fractures of the back.

“Hopefully we can win a few trophies to see him off,” Atkinson told the PA news agency.

“There is no one else really who has done more for me. He was here when I signed my first contract at Surrey and he probably saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself.

“I went through a few seasons with stress fractures and to keep backing me, to keep sticking with me…to be here now and played for England, played for Surrey, yeah I owe a lot to Stewie.

“I can’t speak for him but I am sure he loves seeing players that he’s seen come through at Surrey go on and play for England. It is probably what his job is all about, so yeah I am sure that would be amazing (if I could be another).”

Atkinson hoped to follow in the footsteps of Ollie Pope, Sam Curran and Will Jacks when he was named in England’s Test squad for the five-match series in India earlier this year, but was overlooked on several turning wickets.

Nevertheless, he “learned a lot” during his two months in the subcontinent and especially from back-of-the-bus pal Mark Wood, another bowler to make the transition from speed merchant on the county circuit to a point of difference in the Test area after the pair bonded during the 50-over World Cup last year.

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Atkinson said: “We were back of the bus in the World Cup, me, Woody and Toppers (Reece Topley).

“We lost Toppers through injury so it was just me and Woody there at the end. Then obviously back in India for the Test series, we were back of the bus crew.

“Woody is such a good lad and he’s not shy to ask me if there is anything I think he could be doing differently when I am running on a drink. He is asking me if I have seen anything and it’s nice that he can do that. He is such an easy guy to speak to as well.

“Obviously I would have loved to have played but I still feel like I learned a lot on the trip.

“I tried to get as much out of it as possible and I hope I left a good impression.”

That certainly appeared the case when Brendon McCullum, England’s red-ball head coach, tipped Atkinson for a summer Test debut at the end of the India series.

England name their Test squad for the July series with West Indies next week before they play Sri Lanka in three matches across August and September to round off the home summer.

Atkinson, who clocked 95mph in the 2023 Hundred, has been carefully managed during recent months after it was decided he would not compete in the Indian Premier League.

Jofra Archer’s return saw him miss out on the T20 World Cup, but the fast bowler has taken 14 wickets in the Vitality County Championship this season to help Surrey sit at the summit ahead of Sunday’s home match at the Kia Oval with Essex, which doubles up as the club’s festival of red-ball cricket day.

Another eye-catching display by Atkinson will aid his twin 2024 goals of sending off Stewart with more silverware and becoming his latest fledgling to play red-ball cricket for England.

“I want to play for England as much as I can this summer and in the future,” Atkinson admitted.

“Playing Tests in the summer is definitely something I want to do and to play in front of an English crowd in England would be pretty amazing.”