Alec Stewart launched Surrey’s fight to regain the summit next year by defending his squad’s commitment.

Overwhelming winners of the Specsavers County Championship title in 2018, they slumped to sixth out of eight in Division One – winning just two out of 14 matches – when the season finally finished last month, their form in the white ball competitions even less impressive.

It was the first downturn since Stewart took charge following relegation in 2013 and he is desperate to reverse that trajectory at the first opportunity, a big year for Surrey given it will be the club’s 175th birthday and the new development at the Kia Oval – replacing the Lock & Laker Stand – will be taking shape to afford the ground an increased capacity of 28,000.

Any doubts that the director of cricket himself would be departing were ended when he ruled himself out for the job as England’s new head coach because of family concerns.

So what went wrong this year? “We haven’t played well enough for long enough and we all know that,” conceded Stewart.

“Everyone in the dressing room, including the management staff, can look at themselves and ask why.”

And despite the cruel toll of injuries throughout the season, which combined with the expected international calls to leave Surrey’s resources looking precariously thin at times, he added: “Everyone knows the quality of this side could have done better but it’s not through lack of effort.

“I will never doubt the commitment of this group because they wear the badge with pride. So many players made progress but collectively we weren’t able to do it.”

“We’ve had injuries and England call-ups but what we don’t do is hide behind those.”

The wedding of county skipper Rory Burns saw a number of the squad head to Italy last weekend and they will be making the most of a few weeks off before reporting back for training in November.

There will be at least one new face next season after confirmation of the signing of left-arm spinner Dan Moriarty on a two-year deal.

The 19-year-old, who has represented South Africa at U19 level, claimed 12 wickets in four second team matches last summer and his 6-71 to secure victory over Yorkshire at York was a fine advertisement for his skills.

Moriarty, who enjoyed a spell with the MCC Young Professionals, said: “I’m very proud and honoured to have been offered a contract with one of the most prestigious counties in the game.”

Also a useful lower-order batsman, he has a prime opportunity to push for the first team. Surrey released fellow southpaw Freddie van den Bergh during the summer – along with opener Arun Harinath – and the only alternative to off-spinner Amar Virdi is veteran Gareth Batty.