Alec Stewart has warned that the next 10 weeks could decide whether his Surrey side can retain the Specsavers County Championship title.

They went into this week’s clash against Somerset – runners-up last year and leading Division One by 11 points – hoping that a major injury crisis which wrecked their Royal London Cup campaign is finally waning, losing all but one of eight 50-over games.

Director of cricket Stewart knows what a fight awaits the champions if they are to have a chance of recapturing the four-day form which saw them take the title so convincingly last year, putting together a run of nine victories.

He said: “It’s going to be a real challenge for everyone, players and management, and also for the strength and conditioning staff and the physios. First and foremost, whether you have a large squad or a small one, you have to perform well – but we will also definitely be looking to manage our squad so that players do not get fatigued.

“That’s especially the case in terms of our faster bowlers. We have deliberately built a squad with the number of quicker bowlers we feel we need to deal with injuries, drop-offs in form or England calls.”

Richmond and Twickenham Times:

Surrey had hoped that they would have England all-rounder Sam Curran back after his spell at the Indian Premier League only for the ECB – who awarded the 20-year-old a central contract following his man-of-the-series exploits against India’s last year – to decide he should be rested.

But that was offset by the early return from dislocated finger, suffered last month, of Rikki Clarke who at 37 remains a key figure. Also back is Scott Borthwick, who was hampered by a side strain while hitting a century in a pre-season friendly against Durham MCCU and has been out since then.

Centuries for skipper Rory Burns and South African Dean Elgar gave Surrey a solid start to the encounter at Taunton, where they have not won in the County Championship since 1986.

Surrey, who drew with Essex in their only four-day outing so far, travel next to Beckenham to play Kent from Monday, followed by Warwickshire (Edgbaston, May 27). They host Somerset (June 3) and Yorkshire (June 10) at the Guildford Festival, entertain Warwickshire (June 23) at the Kia Oval with Yorkshire again at Scarborough from June 30. Kent’s return (The Oval, July 7) and Nottinghamshire (Trent Bridge, July 13) also come in quick succession.

After that there is a break for the Vitality T20 Blast, with Surrey announcing the recruitment of leg-spinner Imran Tahir. He will team up with Australian opener Aaron Finch, Elgar taking a break until the Championship resumes in August.

Tahir, 40, has played 20 Tests, 98 one-day internationals and 38 T20s for South Africa, and is cricket’s version of Alan Whicker. He has already enjoyed spells with seven other counties in various formats, plus a host of domestic teams around the globe.

Stewart explained: “Imran is a proven matchwinner and with his vast experience of international, county and franchise cricket, he will be a huge asset to us.”