Friday, 2 December 2011

The worst kept secret: Murali Kartik signs

The signing of Murali Kartik, first mooted around the time of the CB40 final in September, possibly even before that, was duly announced on the Surrey website yesterday. The former Lancashire, Middlesex and Somerset left-armer will be available in all formats for most of the 2012 season (more of that later).

Adams has made a virtue of a "mystery" spinner, specifically one that turns the ball away from the right handed batsman. Kartik certainly fulfills the second of those requirements, I'm not sure he can be considered a 'mystery' though. His formidable county pedigree - 319 wickets and counting - coupled with his ability to hold the bat competently make him a solid signing.

Pragyan Ojha, Kartik's countryman and late-season hero in 2011, will be the hardest of acts to follow, Ojha's recent exploits (20 wickets at 22 apiece) in India's recent series against the West Indies ought to herald a lengthy run in the national side. However, Kartik has proven a matchwinner in the past, 2011 was no vintage year as he only played 8 Championship games, returning 26 wickets but 2010 was far better. In 11 matches for Somerset he took 45 wickets at less than 20 each, and bagged five 5-fors in the process.

Hopefully he can rediscover his best form, 591 First Class wickets doesn't happen by accident. His presence will be a positive thing for the development of fellow left-armer Zafar Ansari, and other young spinners like Spriegel and Freddie van den Bergh. Though with Gareth Batty also scrapping for a place, it will be interesting to see how Adams builds his teams. Presumably 2011's spinner-heavy limited overs sides will be replicated next year.

His precise availability is by no means certain and the announcement on the official site has undergone something of a refinement. From declaring that Kartik will be available for the pre-season preparation, and a quote from Chris Adams stating that he'll be available "for the entirety" of the 2011 season, there is now considerably less certainty. On his own Twitter feed he has said he'll join after the IPL (he played for Pune Warriors in 2011 and presumably will do so again next year) which ends on May 27th.

This is par for the course for any top-quality overseas spinner these days, but it does seem odd that the announcement should be unclear on that note. It remains to be seen whether a short-term replacement will be sought, but because of the record-breaking early start this year, it does mean we are potentially without an overseas player for seven Championship matches and three CB40 matches.

In short, Kartik's signing is very positive news. An attacking spinner, provided he can find his best form, is hugely valuable as we know only too well. Further action on the player signings front may well be very limited from now on, but 2012's squad is taking shape rapidly.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

2011 - better, but how much better?

How long has it been now? Seven, eight weeks of mandatory mourning for the end of the cricket season? It feels like it's been an age in any case. There's been a steady drip of new contract announcements, surprise call-ups and debut training sessions since that momentous day at Lord's, so where do we stand with Division One cricket looming large on the horizon?

It doesn't take a genius to work out that 2011 was substantially better than 2010, we got promoted and won a trophy, neither of which happened in the previous season, need I say any more? Well, probably not, but that wouldn't make a very good blog.

Broadly speaking you can say two things, the bowling was better and our batting stayed pretty much level (and in some respects fell back slightly). For all the agonising over our opening pair, it was actually the equal second most successful partnership of the lot. In 2010 the average opening partnership was 25, with only five scores of 50 or more and no hundred partnerships, this year the average was 38 with ten scores of fifty or more, including three hundreds.

The news is less good at the fall of the first wicket though, this partnership did almost exactly the reverse of the openers. In 2010 the average second wicket partnership was 38, this year that was 26. This can partly be put down to Mark Ramprakash's patchy form, which will hopefully turn around in 2012. The rest of the batting was pretty constant from 2010, although our average first innings score was down on last year by 30-40 runs.

So it's the bowling where we improved substantially. In almost every case the average opposition partnership for every wicket was lower than last year (the eighth wicket being the exception, more of which later). This can be attributed in part to the consistent excellence of Tim Linley, and the late season fireworks from Pragyan Ojha.

However, similarly it's not all good news here, we are still letting teams off the hook far too regularly. The cases of Kent (where 87-6 became 250 all out) and Northants (where 163-7 became 376 all out) stick most prominently in the mind, but there are others. In general opposition tail ends were allowed to plunder far too many runs. The number eight, nine and ten partnerships added, on average just shy of 70 runs. Some of the worst examples were that early-season game against Northants where they added 213 for the final three wickets, twice in one game Essex's lower order added 190 and 123, against Glamorgan it was 118 and at Lord's it was 117.

This area is one in which there is a clear pre and post-Ojha split, for the millionth time making clear how important an attacking spinner such as he is. Before Ojha arrived the average eighth wicket partnership was 26, with him in the side it was just 12. The story is similar for the rest of the tail, with Ojha present opposition tail ends typically added 30 fewer runs than without him.

Over the course of the last two seasons captain fantastic Hamilton-Brown has proved an effective tosser, winning 19 and losing 13. However in 2011 there was a split between choosing to bat and choosing to bowl, and it's one area where the bowlers fell down. Hamilton-Brown won the toss and batted five times, ending with an average first innings score of 404 in those instances. The average opposition first innings score in those games was over a hundred runs shy of that. When we win the toss and bat, generally we put ourselves in a strong position.

However, there is a down side. On the four occasions where Hamilton-Brown won the toss and bowled, three of those resulted in opposition scores of 400+, and the total was never less than 300. The old adage of "nine times out of ten, you bat first, and the other time you think about bowling but still bat" seems fitting here.

So there's plenty to be pleased about but, perhaps encouragingly, there are still areas where we can improve significantly. One thing that is certain is that if we are to prosper in Division One in 2012, everyone will need to step it up a gear. However three areas hold the key, first: Mark Ramprakash, second: an attacking spinner and finally: decisions at the toss. Over to you Mr. Adams!

Sunday, 25 September 2011

The Unofficial 2011 Awards

After a season which brought promotion and a one day trophy, there is much praise to be dished out - the whole team did a magnificent job.  Here's my take on the individuals most worthy of praise.

Player of the season: Tim Linley

No one else at the club stood so clearly and consistently head and shoulders above the rest this season.  Linley took over a quarter of all Surrey's wickets in the Championship, and he very nearly tripled his career haul of wickets.  He doesn't have express pace and he doesn't swing it round corners, though he did appear this season to have an extra yard of pace on 2010.  He does just enough with the ball and bowls it in uncomfortable areas for the batsman.  His economy rate in the Championship of 2.78 was bettered only by Pragyan Ojha and incredibly he bowled 22% more overs than the next most frequent bowler, Gareth Batty.  He will have a harder time of it next season with better batsmen and a less bowler-friendly ball than the Tiflex he bowled with this season, but I don't doubt he'll go away in the winter and work even harder on his game.

Batsman of the season: Zander de Bruyn

This one was almost as much of a no-brainer, de Bruyn scored a third as many runs again as the next highest scorer, Hamilton-Brown.  Adams would have signed him with an eye on him being the steady pair of hands in the middle order, and he was just that all season long.  He averaged over 50 batting at number three, four and six, wherever he came in he could be relied on to come up with the goods.  His bowling was also more than useful in all formats, he was even called on to open the bowling on a couple of occasions late in the season and was never profligate when required to turn his arm over.  It was a huge relief when he signed an extension to his contract and I don't doubt that he'll continue to reassure us all in 2012.

Bowler of the season: Tim Linley

What more can I say?  I toyed with giving someone else the award just to share it about but such was the quality of Linley's bowling this season that wouldn't have been fair. Honourable mention for Stuart Meaker who had he not been injured mid-season would unquestionably have passed the 50 wicket mark.  The few televised games that he played confirmed that he is still a 90mph+ bowler and when he gets his radar right his yorker is absolute dynamite.  He suffers occasionally in limited overs because of a slight lack of variation but I'm sure that will come with time.

Fielder of the season: Zafar Ansari

Jason Roy and Tom Maynard, both of whom often took catches leaping salmon-like in the outfield, would have been worthy recipients but Ansari deserves an award.  A couple of his diving stops on the boundary really stick in the mind, one in the T20 against Sussex at Whitgift and one in the CB40 final at Lord's.  He is extremely quick across the ground and his hands are as safe as houses.  He will be a pleasure to watch as his game develops over the next few years.

Innings of the season: Tom Maynard 123 vs Derbyshire

Again this was a tough call to make, because late-season efforts will always stick in the mind more readily.  However Maynard's third hundred of the season was without doubt the most important.  If he'd given his wicket away early I doubt if we would have made the 400 mark that we desperately needed.  But he didn't and although he didn't shepherd the side all the way there he hung around until we were within 18 runs of the mark.  The pace at which he scored his runs, at a strike rate of almost 80, meant we got to the 400 mark with overs to spare.  Another honourable mention, this time for Chris Schofield for his knock of 72 in the CB40 game at Northants.  This was the game where Adams chose to debut his Schofield-as-pinch-hitter strategy and a fine debut it was too.  Schofield forged partnerships of 72 and 88 with Roy and Maynard, both at better than 7 an over.  If we hadn't successfully chased Northants' impressive total of 296 it could have precipitated a late season slump in form (just a couple of days before we'd been thumped by Kent), as it was we went on a roll after this game and never looked back.

Spell of the season: Stuart Meaker 5-37 vs Northants

Was this the moment we all started to genuinely believe promotion was going to happen?  We'd been bowled out for a less-than-dominant 269 and Northants were cruising at 174-3, looking more than likely to take a handy first innings lead.  Stuart Meaker had other ideas though and with a spell of four wickets for six runs in seven balls he ripped out the heart of the Northants batting and precipitated a collapse to 194 all out.  The promotion bandwagon rumbled on.  Another honourable mention, from the same game Pragyan Ojha's incredible spell of six wickets for just eight runs which consigned Northants to the biggest runs defeat in first class cricket in England in 2011.

Most improved: Tim Linley

Seriously, what more can I say?  38 wickets in his career prior to April the 8th 2011, 73 wickets since then. Enough said.

Opposition player of the season: Rob Key

There was really only one contender in my mind for this, he averaged 112 in four Championship innings against us this season.  His knock of 162 in the second innings took Kent to within 21 runs of winning the game, it was a herculean effort.  His second innings 110 at Canterbury, in a match where the next highest score on either side was 49 was no less impressive.  He is still one of the finest county batsmen around.  One final honourable mention: Lou Vincent for his 14 off 19 balls at in the Twenty20 at Whitgift. An innings with a strike rate of 73 - no one else who passed ten in the game scored at a strike rate of less than 130 on the postage stamp-sized ground. Vincent came to the crease with Sussex cruising at 118-2 off 11 overs, well up with the required rate but Vincent's stuttering effort allowed us back into the match.

That's it for another year, the next six months are going to drag on and on but there's so much to look forward to in 2012, and this far from the last you'll hear from me in 2011, there's plenty still to come!

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Season Review: The 'allrounders'

And finally, the allrounders get their turn, here follows an appraisal of how Surrey's crop of bowling-batsmen and batting-bowlers did in 2011.  And there's a fair few of them, only four players slotted into this category last year, in 2011 there are six.

Gareth Batty
LVCC: 36 wkts @ 33 & 532 runs @ 26, CB40: 13 wkts @ 23 & 29 runs @ 7, T20: 8 wkts @ 33 & 24 runs @ 8

As those number show, Batty was only to be considered an allrounder in Championship cricket, but his importance to the side is without question.  When you watch a side with Gareth Batty in it, there's no doubt about who is the beating heart of the side, the one who peps everyone up when heads start to drop (it doesn't necessarily always work).  He must be an intensely irritating person to play against, he's always buzzing around getting in everyone's ears, and that's part of what makes him important.  That's not to say his cricketing abilities are negligible, in both the CB40 and the Championship his contributions were hugely important.  His strike rate and economy were an improvement on last year and in the CB40 he was the most economical bowler of all, giving away just 4.7 runs an over.  His value was never more apparent than during his spell of 2-35 in the final.  He also had a canny knack of breaking partnerships, and coming up with runs when the team needed him most, his 49 in the first innings against Essex is a great example.  His county cap during the final game at the Oval was richly deserved.

Matt Spriegel
CB40: 11 wkts @ 27 & 424 runs @ 53, T20: 16 runs @ 5

Spriegel: Crucial
Spriegel was perhaps unlucky to miss out completely on Championship cricket in 2011 - and I hope rumours that he will soon sign a new deal at Surrey prove correct - but he has become a key cog in our 40 over side.  He has not missed a game over the past two seasons, in that time he's scored almost 700 runs at an average of 46, and a strike rate better than 100, only Davies and Hamilton-Brown have scored more.  His batting was more accomplished this season, and more powerful too - his 82 against Scotland was spectacular and his 86 against Durham nearly shepherded us home to an unlikely victory.  In a side packed with look-at-me players, Spriegel has become a reliable and high-class presence in the middle order.  He also captained the Second XI from time to time and should Hamilton-Brown decide the job was not for him, the coach could do a lot worse than look in Spriegel's direction.

Chris Schofield
LVCC: 5 wkts @ 46 & 179 runs @ 59, CB40: 17 wkts @ 23 & 246 runs @ 35, T20: 3 wkts @ 61 & 37 runs @ 18

Schofield: Gradual improvement
After distinctly average performances in the Championship, a poor T20 campaign and three wickets and only 88 runs in his first 7 CB40 games, Chris Schofield's future at Surrey looked likely to end as the curtain fell on the 2011 season.  However, Adams kept faith and in the final month of the season Schofield repaid him in spades.  He scored 158 runs at an average of 31 in a 'floating' role in the CB40, and took 13 wickets at 14 apiece in the last six matches.  He can be a slow starter as a batsman so the decision to push him up the order as a pinch-hitter was a gamble, but once he does get going he hits the ball in unusual areas and is tough to tie down, largely it worked.  His bowling wasn't at its best this year but he remained a useful option for Hamilton-Brown to turn to.  I think his opportunities in the Championship will be limited again next year and it may come down to whether he wants to remain at the club when he's only likely to play the one day matches.

Zafar Ansari
LVCC: 6 wkts @ 26 & 43 runs @ 7, CB40: 4 wkts @ 42 & 47 runs @ 23, T20: 4 wkts @ 55 & 108 runs @ 36

I wrote at the start of the season that I was particularly interested to see the progress of Ansari after his impressive debut against Sussex in the CB40.  I couldn't have hoped that he'd be as good as he was though, and the fact that he'll be missing from the early part of the season to continue his studies at Cambridge is a real shame (not for him, obviously).  He only played three Championship games but if there was a more vital wicket this season than Ansari's wicket of Rob Key as he was ushering Kent towards victory, I can't recall it. He saved his most impressive performances for the Twenty20 during which he was the second most economical bowler and played some very important knocks with the bat - only Davies scored his runs faster. His returns in the CB40 weren't so good but his bowling in the final confirmed what the T20s hinted at - he has the coolest of cool heads, hugely impressive for a 19 year old.  He's also one of the best boundary fielders around.  Another at the club from whom there is so much more to come in the coming years.

Chris Jordan
LVCC: 11 wkts @ 48 & 228 runs @ 28, CB40: 1 wkt @ 92

Jordan
A return to cricket having lost a full year to injury was always going to be tough, and so it proved for Jordan.  Another, along with Schofield, who redeemed himself with a couple of performances towards the end of the year, but he still doesn't look like he's back to his 2008 vintage.  There was talk that Jordan was heading away from Surrey but I hope not given how much the club have invested in him and his recovery.  A fully fit and firing Chris Jordan would be an invaluable asset - fast bowling (if not the 90mph he once was) and hard hitting players are like gold dust.  His 160 runs and four second innings wickets against Essex in the Championship were instrumental to us winning at Chelmsford.  His bowling in the CB40, when he played, was dire though - he bowled just 10 overs all season in that format but went for nearly 100 runs and only collected a single scalp.  He may also find his opportunities limited in 2012 but I hope he has another go at cracking the Surrey nut.

The Other

Just a solitary performance for promising allrounder Tom Jewell this season resulting in a single wicket and six runs in the win over Derbyshire in May.  He doesn't look as quick as Jordan or as powerful with the bat but could yet end up a more reliable option.  Hard to see where he fits into a side on a regular basis in 2012 though.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Season Review: The bowlers

Following on from the review of this season's batting performers, it only seems fair that the bowlers get a go, so here it is:

Tim Linley
LVCC: 73 wkts @ 18, CB40: 7 wkts @ 21, T20: 3 wkts @ 14

Linley on one leg
What to say of the man, the machine, the leading wicket-taker that is Tim Linley? I will hold my hands up and admit that I doubted if Linley would ever progress beyond a reliable keep-the-runs-down option. I am happy to say that I was very wrong (again), this season he's been that and our key strike bowler with it. I watched him take four Northants wickets for not very many on just the second day of the season at the Oval back in April and wondered if he'd turned a corner but he was then dropped for the subsequent fixture. After that though he was irresistible, he just seemed to take wickets whenever he bowled, if we needed a breakthrough Linley was often the man to get it. From the second innings of the Essex game at Whitgift onwards he took at least one wicket in 22 consecutive innings. And it wasn't just tailenders he cleaned up. I lost count of the number of times he rattled out a couple of the opposition's top order to set us on our way. As much as de Bruyn was the lynchpin of the batting, Linley was the key to our bowling and without him we'd have been miles from promotion. He hardly played in the limited overs games as Adams plumped for the spin-heavy attack, but still picked up wickets along the way, if not with the regularity he did in the Championship. And to cap it all off he always comes across as one of the nicest, most grounded blokes around. Hats off to the Viscount.

Stuart Meaker
LVCC: 44 wkts @ 22, CB40: 4 wkts @ 27, T20: 6 wkts @ 42

Had it not been for Meaker's early and mid-season injuries he may have been pushing Linley for leading wicket taker. But that is the lot of a young fast bowler, he bowled 66 overs in the first two games and was injured in the second of those at Cardiff, similarly at Whitgift he toiled away for 30 overs on a pitch with nothing in it for the bowlers and hey presto, another injury. Thereafter Hamilton-Brown seemed to use him more sparingly (he never bowled more than 19 overs in an innings after that), shielding him from the new ball - infuriatingly at times - and using him in the middle and at the end of innings. Meaker continued his habit of taking wickets in bunches, to which three five-fors and three four-fors will attest and he is quite simply deadly to tailenders. In limited overs he was less impressive, often going for plenty of runs though his end-of-innings bowling against Sussex in the Twenty20 at Whitgift was a match-winning spell. 2011 was also a landmark year for Meaker who, two and a half years on from being hailed the 'fastest bowler in England' achieved Lions recognition, playing in their series against Sri Lanka. This season saw Meaker begin to fulfil his obvious potential, hopefully next season we'll see even more.

Jade Dernbach
LVCC: 22 wkts @ 39, CB40: 23 wkts @ 14, T20: 13 wkts @ 11

Dernbach
Another who had his season disrupted though this time not by injury but by England duties. I speculated at the start of the season that his fine efforts over the winter for the Lions might result in a peripheral spot in the England side but he went several better than that. He was a late call up to the World Cup squad and although he didn't play there he will finish the season with 14 England ODI and T20 caps under his belt along with an incremental contract from the ECB. His appearances in the Championship were sporadic and not terribly successful but in the limited overs games he came into his own. He was the overall leading wicket taker in the CB40 and it was he more than any other that was crucial to us winning the competition. He was also the most parsimonious of our bowlers during the Twenty20 competition - no mean feat when Dirk Nannes is in the same side. As I've said before Dernbach loves playing for Surrey, sometimes his desire to win can spill over into unnecessary outbursts but I wouldn't change any aspect of his game. His variation has long been too much for county batsmen and his appearances in England colours (bowling almost exclusively during powerplays or end-of-innings slogs) this season have given other international sides a flavour of that as well. The only downside is we might not see very much of him next season. He might be a late bloomer, but he's certainly blooming alright.

Yasir Arafat
LVCC: 20 wkts @ 47, CB40: 19 wkts @ 24, T20: 10 wkts @ 28

I toyed with putting Yasir in the allrounders group but in the end elected to designate him a bowler for the time being. He arrived with a serious county pedigree even if his 2010 season was unproductive by his standards. But he just never clicked, I kept on assuming he would deliver in the next game, and the next game, but at the start of the season he went four innings without taking a single wicket (in fact he was wicketless in almost half the innings he bowled in the Championship) and was unable to even offer control to boot. His returns in the CB40 were better, but he would still have games where his line was particularly errant and the T20 was no different. There's no getting away from the fact that Arafat, a proven overseas seamer available for the duration of the season, was a massive disappointment in 2011.

Pragyan Ojha
LVCC: 24 wkts @ 12

Timely overseas replacement or cynical splash-the-cash last ditch effort at promotion? Either way, it worked a treat. The crowing from some sections of the press about him being parachuted in seemed to ignore similar moves by Warwickshire for Chanderpaul and Worcestershire for Kemar Roach, but such is life. His 24 wickets at a cost of just 12 runs each were the single most important factor in us winning those last four games, but to suggest he was the only reason we are in division one does a disservice to the efforts of our other players - what about the 117 wickets from Messrs Linley and Meaker? That aside, Ojha was outstanding and really showed the value of an attacking spinner who actually spins the ball hard. During his spell of six wickets for eight runs against Northant he had their batsmen tied up in knots, unable to score off him at all. Rumour has it that he is unlikely to appear on the county circuit in 2012 and more's the pity. If India had any sense whatsoever he'd be playing every game possible for them. Thank you Pragyan, it was a blast.

Chris Tremlett
LVCC: 6 wkts @ 51, T20: 6 wkts @ 14

From the highs of 2010 where The Treminator bagged almost 50 Championship victims even having missed the early part of the season, to the comparative lows of 2011 where England duty and injury restricted him to just a handful of appearances - but he was still mighty impressive at times, his spell of 4-16 against Hampshire in the T20 was one of the best I saw all season. A low for the club that is, for 2010-11 has seen a coming of age for the once gentle giant. He established himself as an England regular in the Ashes where he took 17 wickets in three tests and was man of the series in the home tests against Sri Lanka this summer. That was before Tim Bresnan elbowed his way into the side, batting and bowling himself into a regular spot. That may mean he is available for substantially more cricket in 2012, with stronger opposition in prospect we will probably need him.

Dirk Nannes
T20: 19 wkts @ 20

When the news broke that we had signed Shaun Tait for the Twenty20 I was very pleased. I was therefore equally displeased when he admitted his own concerns to the club that he couldn't make it through a 16 game English Twenty20 regime. Ultimately he decided not to go through with his contract. Still, all's well that ends well because we ended up with Dirk Nannes. The leading wicket taker in the history of Twenty20 did not disappoint, he was rapid and hostile from the word go and could usually be relied on to take wickets. I would be chuffed to see him steaming in for us in 2012 as well, a class act.

The Others

He may have only made only fleeting appearances, but Matt Dunn made his mark on 2011. His 5-56 on Championship debut against Derbyshire ensured a morale boosting win. Curiously he only made one other appearance, against Gloucestershire, notable only for the fact that Hamilton-Brown refused to give him even a single over in the second innings. George Edwards didn't play for the First XI but was in the squad for the final two matches. He's still incredibly raw but looks to have genuine pace and is tall and lanky in build.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Season Review: The batsmen

The season drew spectacularly to a close last week, and while the Champions League Twenty20 rumbles on pointlessly (from a Surrey fan's perspective) in India, now seems like a good time to take a look back on 2011. Starting with the batsmen.

Rory Hamilton-Brown
LVCC: 1039 runs @ 37, CB40: 372 runs @ 28, T20: 232 runs @ 17

On the face of it, those numbers don't add up to a terribly productive season for Surrey's young captain. However, in his second full year in the role, RHB appeared to grow into it somewhat. He's still not prone to inspired decisions too often (though his rotation of the bowlers in the CB40 was very good - not just in the final), and he is not considerate enough when it comes to using our younger bowlers, but boy did he do a good job this year. His Championship return, while playing well out of position almost all season long, is impressive and 200 runs better than last year.  Though he does have a habit of getting out once set, in the Championship alone he was out between 20 and 47 fourteen times in all.  In both the CB40 and T20 he was below par across the year and yet Surrey as a unit still performed well generally in the limited overs - very well indeed in the case of the CB40. A year older and a year wiser, he will return next year stronger than ever. Of more importance than perhaps anything else, the players want to play for him and they seem a very tightly-knit unit.  He might not be everyone's cup of tea, but I for one hope he remains at the helm for the foreseeable future.

Steven Davies
LVCC: 1035 runs @ 39, CB40: 395 runs @ 30, T20: 365 runs @ 33

Davies' Championship form seemed to track the fortunes of the team, insofar as he came good at precisely the right time. In his last eight innings he helped himself to two hundreds and two fifties as Surrey surged into division one. Like Hamilton-Brown he prefers the middle order to the openers slot in four day cricket but his form at the back end of the season might just persuade him to keep at it. Also like Hamilton-Brown he was below par in the CB40 - that's as compared to 2010 where he scored 485 runs at an average of 60. In the T20 though he was often spectacular, never more so than during his 99 not out against Sussex and he finished the competition with a strike rate above 150. He has curiously been ignored by England who have a glut of power hitting wicketkeeper-batsmen to pick from, while this is disappointing for Davies personally, from a purely selfish point of view I'm happy to see him turning out for us a lot.

Mark Ramprakash
LVCC: 700 runs @ 33

Returning from serious knee surgery, 2011 was never going to be the easiest of Ramprakash's many as a professional cricketer. I though he would be unlikely to appear much before July but incredibly it was barely May when he first turned out for the club. Throughout the season he never looked fully fit and will appreciate the winter break to get back to his very best - a back injury created some technical problems this year, probably contributing to his being dismissed bowled or lbw 13 times out of 23 dismissals (by way of comparison, he was dismissed that way only four times in 2010). He will likely never get back to his peak but even so he still warrants a place in our batting lineup. He deserves the chance to go out at the very top level - and he'll be relieved not to have to face up to the Tiflex ball next season.

Zander de Bruyn
LVCC: 1383 runs @ 55 & 15 wkts @ 39, CB40: 328 runs @ 32 & 7 wkts @ 26, T20: 275 runs @ 34 & 6 wkts @ 24

Whether he was filling in for Ramprakash at number three or batting in his more customary number four slot Zander de Bruyn hardly stopped scoring runs in 2011. Like Davies he stood up to be counted during those crucial last four games with two fifties and two hundreds. His 13 scores of fifty and above was not bettered by anyone in the country this season, in either division and he never went more than three innings without notching a fifty. I can't escape the nagging feeling that without him, we'd have been up a creek without a paddle. In the CB40 he was less impressive though his useful medium pacers were called upon frequently, in the T20 he wasn't spectacular (particularly in that bizarre innings against Kent) but he was a reassuring presence in the middle order nonetheless. It came as a huge relief when he signed an extension to his contract, he's been warmly welcomed by the Surrey faithful and I can't wait to watch him bat, and bat, and bat in 2012.

Tom Maynard
LVCC: 1022 runs @ 40, CB40: 481 runs @ 40, T20: 392 runs @ 43

Maynard: Special
The only one of Surrey's front line batsmen to average over 40 in all formats, it turns out Adams' "opportunistic" recruitment of him over the winter was pretty crucial to Surrey's 2011 season. That was never more apparent than when he was compiling a vitally important hundred against Derbyshire in the final game of the season. He came to the wicket at 132-3, by the time he'd departed we were only 18 short of that important fifth batting bonus point. That was his one and only hundred from the number five spot, his other two and all his fifties came from number six. That hundred also ended a run of nine innings without a fifty, it was a mighty fine time to break that sequence. His runs in the CB40, in which he scored five fifties were equally important to our cause and in the T20 he was, along with Davies, a cut above the rest.

Jason Roy
LVCC: 623 runs @ 29, CB40: 585 runs @ 45, T20: 363 runs @ 27

Roy: Also special
The 2011 season from Jason Roy was a bit of a curate's egg. Absolutely peerless in the CB40 where he recorded consecutive hundreds on his way to topping the Surrey runscorers chart - over 100 more runs than anyone else. However his returns in the Championship and the T20 were less than we've come to expect - which is possibly harsh on such a young man but merely a mark of the high regard in which he is held. To my mind there are few more talented batsmen of his age in England. His hitting in the 'v' is exceptional and his CB40 hundreds, particularly the one against Warwickshire, showed he is capable of playing a very mature innings. I think he was probably batted a bit low in the Championship, while he averaged 35 as an opener that became 27 from the number six slot. His ground fielding and catching remain excellent and it is clear for all to see that he loves batting for Surrey. He will doubtless go away in the winter and work on his batting for the longer format, his innings of 45 from 64 balls against Gloucestershire and 46 from 72 balls against Leicestershire showed that he is capable of innings that are less frenetic than his early season efforts suggest. There is so much more to come from Roy that it's almost frightening.

The Others

I was sad to see Michael Brown call time on his career, the injury that befell him last season had obviously caused more serious issues than first thought. I had hoped that his second innings knock of 46 against Northants way back in April would signal a return to form, but it was not to be. Gary Wilson also had a wretched season in which he scored only 121 runs in all formats. Having ended the season in 2010 so well he'll be hugely disappointed not to have continued that, but his runs of late for Ireland suggest that all is not lost, he will be back.  Oh, and Kevin Pietersen, he batted for us, a bit.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Champions!

A week is a long time in cricket. This time seven days ago we were merely a division two side in the final of the CB40, today we are a division one side and CB40 champions.

After the dark days of 2008 and 2009 I, and many other Surrey fans I'm sure, wondered how long it would be before we got back to winning ways. Well now we have, and in fine style too. The best part of it all is that this team is a long, long way from reaching its peak.

Chris Adams sprung something of a surprise before the start of play by naming Zafar Ansari ahead of either of the seam bowling options, leaving us with five spin bowling options on a ground with pretty short square boundaries. When Somerset, with their immensely powerful batting lineup won the toss and chose to bat I feared the worst.

But I was a fool to do so. Has Adams not done enough this season to shut me up moaning about too many allrounders? Matthew Spriegel opened the bowling from the nursery end and kept the Somerset openers largely quiet before capturing the big fish, Trescothick, stumped in the fifth over. Thereafter it was a steady stream of wickets, with every bowler chipping in and Somerset failing to forge a partnership north of 45.

Everyone contributed but special praise should be reserved for two bowlers, one always in the limelight, one rarely. Jade Dernbach bowled beautifully utilising his sharp bouncer well and not over-doing the slower ball. His return of 4-30 was just reward and he ends the campaign as the leading wicket taker in the country with 23 at 14 apiece. The other was Gareth Batty who never allowed the batsmen to get a hold of him and picked up 2-35. His 13 wickets this season is not spectacular, but his economy rate of 4.7 is excellent - the captain knows he can trust him to stem the flow of runs.

Also more than worthy of mention is the innings of Somerset's Jos Buttler. He played with a maturity far beyond his 21 years for 86 off just 72 balls. He will be a big part of England's future limited overs plans without a doubt.

With rain threatening, Surrey's openers were uncharacteristically quiet, rightly seeing that keeping wickets in hand was key with Duckworth/Lewis likely to come into the equation. It was particularly frustrating then that the first two wickets should go down to two poor shots. All the while Hamilton-Brown was at the other end playing a fine captain's knock, but in between rain breaks it did look as though Somerset could still somehow force a win.

When the longest of the rain showers subsided Surrey required a revised 186 runs from 30 overs. Schofield was again sent up the order after Maynard was caught behind off Arul Suppiah, and he was a fine foil to Hamilton-Brown as they put on 58 - the only fifty partnership in the entire match - in just over nine overs. He and Hamilton-Brown fell in quick succession though, the captain caught short by an excellent throw from Buttler as he was backing up - his outstanding knock of 78 from 62 balls appeared to have broken the back of the innings though.

With five wickets down and 39 runs still needed, there were plenty of nerves still about. Apparently not in the middle though. While de Bruyn and Spriegel were hardly fluent, they set about the task of winning the match with aplomb. In the end, as Spriegel cut the winning runs to third man it was a fairly comfortable win. It was somehow appropriate that it was Spriegel who hit the winning runs, with over 400 runs in the middle order (not to mention 11 wickets) this year his contribution has been vital. I hope his long term future lies at Surrey.

And that was that. A week which began promising much, ended having delivered everything. Rory Hamilton-Brown and his tightly-knit group of players had their hands on a major domestic trophy just days after securing promotion back to the big time. This team is as talented as any other in the country, maybe more so, and they have so much time still to develop. I am immensely proud of my team today, Hamilton-Brown, Chris Adams and Co., take a bow and have a few drinks, you have earned it.

Friday, 16 September 2011

One last hurrah

A first Lord's final since 2001 when we won the B&H Cup against Gloucestershire beckons tomorrow, and wouldn't a win be a nice way to cap a special week?

Chris Adams has rightly stuck with the same basic set of players that have got us to this point, the fourteen brave souls who will go into battle are as follows:

Rory Hamilton-Brown
Steven Davies
Jason Roy
Tom Maynard
Zander de Bruyn
Matthew Spriegel
Chris Schofield
Gareth Batty
Yasir Arafat
Stuart Meaker
Jade Dernbach

Bench: Tim Linley, Gary Wilson, Zafar Ansari

The team largely picks itself when you look at recent performances. By and large every one of the top six batsmen have a score to their name of late, the exception being Hamilton-Brown who has tended to get out when well set - he has four scores between 24 and 46 in his last five CB40 games. Spriegel and Schofield's form with the bat has been a real bonus and has allowed Adams the luxury of picking so many allrounders. Spriegel is our third highest scorer with 400 runs and Schofield is averaging 36 - both have strike rates above 100. That said we need our top five to stand up, most of our success in this format over the last two years is built on going hard in the opening overs - don't expect that to change tomorrow. Each one of our top five is a potential game changer if it comes off. Hopefully it will!

The real conundrum comes in the bowling, and specifically which of Tim Linley or Stuart Meaker should play? Neither has really nailed down a spot in the CB40, in stark contrast to their Championship form. I am sure both would do a fine job if called upon tomorrow but what I keep coming back to is that when Stuart Meaker bowls, things happen. It might be a flurry of boundaries, or it might be a flurry of wickets, but things definitely happen. His economy rate of over 6 across this season's CB40 games isn't good, but he's not a bad limited overs bowler - witness his nerveless bowling in the closing overs at Whitgift in the Twenty20 against Sussex game there as proof of that. His tail is up and I think the nature of the game will get him going. As ever it's hard to say which Yasir Arafat will turn up, he's wavered between brilliant and abject at times in this format, but hopefully he'll be on his best behaviour for a final.

The return of Jade Dernbach, motoring down the M4 having bowled for England today, should be a boost of untold proportions. His CB40 returns this season have included analyses of 2-13 and 4-7, all told his 19 wickets have come at a cost of just 15 runs each. If he is on song tomorrow his eight overs could go a long way to deciding the match.

Somerset, perennial finalists but curiously never winners lately, are a seriously good side. A more powerful batting lineup you are not likely to see; Trescothick, Kieswetter, Trego, Buttler, Hildreth...quality, big-hitting batsmen just keep coming at you. If they get off to a good start no total is too big. That said, as Leicestershire proved in the Twenty20 when Claude Henderson tied them down and Josh Cobb cleaned them, they can be tamed. They are perhaps a little bit weak in the bowling where beyond Kirby and Thomas they don't have many experienced seamers, but in Dockrell and Kartik they have two impressive spin options.

After the pressure of having to win our final four Championship games, one 80 over blast ought to be a walk in the park for our merry band of players. Confidence will be at previously unknown highs and as most of these players will not have experienced a domestic final before, they will likely have no fear. Throughout this season Hamilton-Brown and Adams have trumpeted this fearless brand of attacking cricket and I don't expect that to change. I don't think there's a clear favourite for tomorrow, except perhaps the weather, but with the kind of form we've been in for the last month, I certainly wouldn't bet against us.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Division One - here we come!

Surrey will be playing division one cricket in 2012 after an extraordinary day capped off an extraordinary month. Less than a month ago we lay in seventh position in division two, had just been hammered by Kent inside three days and the future was looking anything but bright.

However the subsequent four fixtures saw a scarcely believable turnaround in form and the four consecutive wins we needed to be withing shouting distance of promotion were duly delivered. The man who must surely count as the biggest single contributor to that run of victories, Pragyan Ojha, delivered again today in polishing off Derbyshire with 6-48 and 10-90 in the match. In our final four fixtures where we've won 89 of a possible 96 points, Ojha has taken precisely 30% of the wickets to fall - 24 victims at a cost of just 12 runs apiece. It was about time Adams had some luck on the overseas signing front, and what a time to get it. It's a great shame that it seems unlikely he will be available for 2011 - it is imperative that we recruit a world class spinner in his place.

That's not to say there weren't other big contributors. Tim Linley kept on churning out the wickets and Stuart Meaker had a timely return to form - his two five-fors in the final two games were vital. Zander de Bruyn kept up his excellent 2011 form and Steven Davies helped himself to two hundreds. And lastly Tom Maynard stepped up to the plate with an enormously important hundred in the final game.

After the Kent game I had all but thrown in the towel, indeed I said the rest of the season was about gaining respectability and giving the members something to be proud of - boy did they deliver on both those counts! Hamilton-Brown and Adams have been on the receiving end of some fairly strident criticism - some of it from me - but they should now enjoy their moment in the sun. Promotion with a young and relatively inexperienced side is a huge achievement.

So to 2012, can we compete with the best in the country? The kind of batterings we've dished out in the last three weeks suggest we'll be a match for most, and I expect there to be at least two new faces before the winter is out which will hopefully strengthen the side further. Maynard, Roy, Meaker and Hamilton-Brown himself have another season of top level cricketing experience under their belt - all a year older and wiser. This side has a great opportunity to grow together and should only improve as time goes on. And we don't have to worry about the Tiflex ball any more! Talking of Tiflex balls it will be interesting to see whether Ramprakash decides to stick it out for another year. I hope he does, he deserves the chance to go out on a high at the top level.

The players have now got an extra day of rest before Saturday's CB40 final. They go into the game on the biggest possible high and with confidence through the roof - they will be more than a match for Somerset. A win in that game would cap an absurdly successful six days of cricket, and a great climax to 2011. Come on the 'Rey!

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Surrey on top but Derbyshire resist

Division One cricket looms larger and larger on the horizon as Surrey ground down a determined Derbyshire side today, 13 opposition wickets stand between us and victory.

Stuart Meaker and Tim Linley started the day in rather more sedate fashion than expected and they accumulated rather than biffed their way to a 73 run partnership. Meaker was left on 55 not out to underline his impressive return to form with the bat as Surrey were all out for 468.

That score looked even more impressive as Derbyshire, with 35 minutes to bat until lunch, were reduced to 17-3 before the break. Linley, as is customary now, made the breakthrough having Lineker caught at slip off just the third ball of the innings (Stuart Meaker was again denied the new ball, needless to say, I can only assume it's his preference as well as the captain's!). Linley had a second victim when he caught and bowled Wayne Madsen while Pragyan Ojha picked up the bonus wicket of Wes Durston with the third ball of his first over just before lunch.

Tim Linley had a third victim, Dan Redfern not long after lunch and Stuart Meaker then chimed in with the wicket of Rob Whiteley. There then followed a dogged recovery from opener Paul Borrington and captain Luke Sutton who put together a steady 90 run partnership. They looked like getting to the close without further loss but Chris Jordan, who had bowled just three overs in opening the bowling, returned to collect the crucial wicket of Sutton and expose the Derbyshire tail. Jon Clare provided some fireworks in his 21 from 22 balls before falling LBW to Ojha just before the close.

That left Derbyshire still 141 runs short of the follow-on target with only three wickets remaining. The spinners were getting good turn and importantly sharp bounce so batting is unlikely to get easier. If the last three wickets fall without too much resistance the follow-on will surely be immediately enforced.

The weather forecast is very sunny for tomorrow, meaning the interruption we had today is unlikely. There is plenty of time yet for Surrey to force the issue, and force our way into Division One. Northamptonshire had an impressive day but they may still live to rue not collecting their fourth and fifth batting points on day one. They dismissed Gloucestershire for 183 and have them 84-5 following on, David Willey taking eight wickets in the day. However the points situation is such that if we are able to overcome Derbyshire, we will be promoted ahead of them.

Tim Groenewald and Paul Borrington are likely to put up a good fight with the bat but once one of them falls Knight and Footitt shouldn't be allowed to add much more to the score. A first innings lead of 250 is not out of the question and Derbyshire could be batting a second time before lunch on the third day.

And yet we are still only half way through the game. I've seen too many Surrey games to call this one a foregone conclusion, but on the back of three and a half of the most impressive Championship performances in at least four seasons, I wouldn't bet against us wrapping it up tomorrow. One more big push, one more massive effort and what seemed so unlikely just four weeks ago will be within their grasp.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Cometh the hour, cometh the Mayn man

Surrey are but one Northamptonshire wicket away from holding their 2012 destiny in their own hands as they closed day one against Derbyshire on precisely 400-8.

That score, made in just 96 overs gave them a full quota of five batting points while Northants look likely to pick up four at the most against Gloucestershire - they are 316-9 with only 14 overs left to score the 84 runs they need for full batting bonus. Surrey's 400 was made largely on the back of Tom Maynard's third Championship hundred of the season, with handy contributions from the usual suspects Steven Davies and Zander de Bruyn.

In scoring their runs today Davies and Maynard passed 1,000 runs for the season, giving Surrey four players past the mark in 2011. By way of comparison in 2010 just one player, Mark Ramprakash, made it past the 1,000 run mark. Surrey batsman comprise 40% of the top ten leading runscorers in Division Two, no other county has more than one representative.

Surrey were helped along the way by some profligate bowling from Derbyshire, Mark Footitt was particularly wasteful. With Surrey on the verge of 400 Footitt first bowled Meaker and then had him caught in the gully, both off no-balls.

The only negatives from today were the low scores (or no-scores) of Ramprakash and Hamilton-Brown. Their dismissals left Surrey reeling at 12-2 and ordinarily a further collapse might have been in the offing. But this is a different Surrey, this Surrey has self-belief and confidence as first Davies and de Bruyn, then Maynard and Roy, and then Maynard all by himself dug us out of the hole. Tom Maynard stood up to be counted quite beautifully today.

Stuart Meaker and Tim Linley will return to the crease tomorrow morning, presumably with some license to give the ball a whack. Hamilton-Brown will then look to them to deliver the goods with the ball as well. I think 400 plus whatever the last three can cobble together is better than par, and our bowlers should be looking at bowling out Derbyshire cheaply to gain a healthy first innings lead.

The idea of First Division cricket is all of a sudden looking very possible, if not quite probable just yet. There is still a lot of cricket to be played in this and the Northants game, but we are well on top, and the Surrey of the late-2011 season is not the type of team to let things slip. Keep it up lads!

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Same squad named for final promotion push

On the back of three wins Chris Adams would be well advised to stick with a winning formula, and for the Derbyshire game starting at the Oval tomorrow he has done just that.

The same twelve brave men have been named as those which defeated Essex, and barring injuries late in the day, the XI will be the same too:

Hamilton-Brown
Davies
Ramprakash
De Bruyn
Maynard
Roy
Jordan
Batty
Meaker
Linley
Ojha

12th man: Edwards

Of the top six batsmen Hamilton-Brown, Ramprakash, Roy and Maynard are all without big runs in recent weeks as Davies and de Bruyn have shouldered much of the burden. Given that we should be looking at full bonus points for our batting I think there is an argument for tweaking the batting order. I would like to see de Bruyn bumped up to the number three slot, where he scored a hundred and a fifty in five innings earlier in the season, with Ramprakash moving down to number four. I also think Maynard and Roy could switch places at five and six in the order. Earlier in the season Maynard recorded three fifties and two hundreds batting at number six and is to my mind a slightly better option to bat with the tail. These are of course just minor changes but I would certainly be considering them if I was Adams.

Despite Dernbach being dropped for the fourth ODI at Lord's today there was never any likelihood that he would be released to take up his place in our bowling attack. And in any case there is case for debate as to whether he'd get into the Championship side as it stands! Meaker, Linley and Ojha have taken hatfulls of wickets in recent weeks (32 between them in the last two games in fact) but it is the second innings return to form of Chris Jordan against Essex which was particularly pleasing.

Derbyshire have been something of a surprise package this season. They have a young and inexperienced side but one which has recorded five wins in the Championship. Their recent form has been a mixed bag though with a win, a draw and a defeat in their last three games. Wes Durston has been the key to their batting this season but Rob Whiteley, with a hundred against Kent last week, is also in good form. In Groenewald, Clare and Palladino they have three bowlers with almost 150 Championship wickets between them but they don't have a great deal in the spin department.

To keep it simple, we need a win with maximum bonus points to give ourselves the best hope of promotion - and as decent a side as Derbyshire are, on form and on paper we should be looking at beating them. The weather forecast is looking pretty friendly at the moment, as it is for Northampton who themselves can secure promotion with a win-plus-bonus - regardless of what we do. All the players can do is forget about what Northants are up to and focus on their own game. They are on the mother of all rolls at the moment and Derbyshire have nothing to play for, a win this week would cap a remarkable turnaround in the final month of the season.

Whatever happens I am sure there will be no lack of commitment on the part of our players, promotion would be a fine reward for a season which will have taken a lot out of them - mentally and physically. Once more unto the breach dear friends, once more!

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Three in a row and still in the hunt

Surrey rounded off their third successive win in impressive fashion before lunch on the final day to go within a single point of the second promotion spot. Going in to the final round of games next week the top three teams are now covered by ten points and Gloucestershire, in fourth, lie just 8 points further back.

Surrey didn't give the expected rain time to have an impact and they got the day off to the best possible start, Tim Linley had ten Doeschate LBW off his third ball of the morning. It was to be his only success as Chris Jordan took over the wicket taking duties. Jordan bowled an unbroken spell of 11 overs but it wasn't until five or six overs in that he made the first breakthrough. He'd beaten the bat several times but looked destined to go wicketless again. I'd have hauled him off and given Meaker a go earlier but in to Hamilton-Brown's great credit he stuck with him and was handsomely rewarded.

First Jordan had Foster excellently caught at slip by Gareth Batty. That was the cue Graham Napier had been waiting for as he began to tee off. Stuart Meaker took most of the pain from Napier who ended with 80 from 64 deliveries - he's now scored 72% of his Championship runs for 2011 in two knocks against us.

Masters was Jordan's next wicket and the first of three catches off the same bowler to Mark Ramprakash. Napier was finally out in the 68th over having put together a 53 run partnership in six overs with Tom Craddock to which Craddock contributed precisely zero runs. Craddock himself was the last man out off the very next ball as Jordan, who has set two personal bests with the bat in the last three days, returned career-best figures of 4-57 - he can consider it a job very well done and I hope it proves a turning point for him.

We now face a game against Derbyshire who themselves completed a 101 run win over Kent today, on Monday and currently the weather forecast is predicting showers. Northamptonshire face fourth placed Gloucestershire at Wantage Road - a game which both sides have much riding on. With the CB40 final a week today, most of the Surrey players face by far the biggest week of their cricketing careers.

A month ago, on the back of a 265 run defeat to Kent, I'd almost completely given up hope that promotion was possible. Three wins on the bounce later we're the form side in the division and we're just four good days of cricket away from division one in 2012. For the first time in a very long while we're starting to look like we belong there. Credit to Hamilton-Brown and Adams who have resisted any major shuffling of the pack and the players have delivered in spades. Here's hoping that the players can stick to their task, seven more days of hard graft and you can have a well earned rest.

Five wickets from glory

Surrey will have to dodge the Chelmsford showers to claim the final five wickets that they need for a remarkable third consecutive win, and to move within one point of second placed Northamptonshire.

The forecast has light rain showers throughout the day which could scupper the push, but hopefully there will be enough time to force the issue.

Yesterday Surrey added 186 to their overnight 104-4 despite losing Jason Roy and Gareth Batty early in the day. Zander de Bruyn progressed to his fourth Championship hundred of a magnificent season and Chris Jordan bettered his highest first class score for the second time in three days with an attacking 79 not out.

That left Essex needing 349 runs to win and again they got off to a sedate start but there was no hundred partnership for the openers this time. Tim Linley bowled Tom Westley in the 11th over and Owais Shah four overs later, he is now just a single wicket from recording 70 victims this season. Pragyan Ojha then got into his stride and took the wickets of Mickleburgh and Wheater before Linley returned to have Godleman caught behind.

So weather permitting Essex require another 207 runs, and with ten Doeschate, Foster and Napier still to come that isn't impossible and Surrey require five wickets. Fingers crossed the weather holds off and the charge for promotion continues.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Positive Surrey press on

Surrey go into the third day of the crucial tie with Essex 166 runs ahead with six second innings wickets still in hand. And guess what? The match is still in the balance.

It was another bravura performance from Tim Linley that dragged Surrey back ahead of the curve today. Essex's openers had put on 100 steady runs in 37 overs before Linley intervened and took four wickets inside ten overs. It was the eighth time this season that the Viscount had snared four or more victims in an innings.

Pragyan Ojha took the wicket of Wheater before Meaker cleaned up the Essex's lower and middle order to record his second consecutive 5-for in Championship cricket. Their first four wickets fell in the space of ten overs and the last five fell in almost exactly the same timeframe. It was only a rapid 56 from Ryan ten Doeschate which saved Essex from an even bigger first innings deficit.

As it was they were bowled out for 253, 62 runs behind. It would seem that Surrey had in mind the grim-looking weather forecast for Saturday throughout their second innings batting. Davies fell in only the third over but Hamilton-Brown, de Bruyn and Maynard all looked to score quickly. Hamilton-Brown was out for 23 off 31 balls, his eleventh score this season between 20 and 40. His role in these situations is to put pressure on the opposition bowling by scoring quickly but with Davies gone so early I thought he might have been a bit more circumspect.

De Bruyn and Maynard were motoring along at better than a run a ball in the evening session and Surrey were looking well set for a decent lead with time left to bowl Essex out. Maynard though was out LBW to Masters off what was the final ball of the day's play.

So Surrey have six wickets left and will want at least 270 runs on the board - with Roy, Batty, Jordan and Meaker still to come, that is possible. De Bruyn needs to stay in while others come in and score around him, the forecast for tomorrow is warm and humid - good conditions to bowl in. A draw in this game does us very little good and with rain likely on Saturday it might be win-or-bust at Chelmsford tomorrow.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Lower middle order rescue day for Surrey

Surrey had an up and down day in Chelmsford as the top order collapsed but the lower order stood up, by the close of play the match was finely balanced.

Sent in to bat by Essex skipper James Foster the openers didn't last long, Steven Davies was sent back to the pavilion in the 8th over. The rest of the batting was largely gone when Jason Roy was sixth man out with only 148 runs on the board. The pitch was offering plenty to the bowlers and the cloudy conditions over Chelmsford helped them too. Surrey's 2011 nemesis Graham Napier was the destroyer-in-chief, not content with equalling the world record for most sixes in an innings during his spectacular 196 at Whitgift, he ended the day with career best figures of 6-53.

Only Roy and Hamilton-Brown (who became the second Surrey batsman to pass 1,000 Championship runs this summer during his innings) of the batsmen were able to post any kind of score, with 43 and 31 respectively, scored at a very healthy rate. But the hard graft was done by batsmen seven, eight and nine today. First Gareth Batty, who forged a 54 run partnership with Roy and in doing so himself passed 500 runs for the season, and then Chris Jordan and Stuart Meaker rescued Surrey's innings towards a competitive total. It is interesting to note that the more 'accomplished' batsmen of the top order perished looking to attack the ball - 55% of their runs were scored in boundaries, where the lower-middle order were more circumspect - only 40% of their runs were scored in 4s and 6s.

Special praise should be reserved for Jordan who's had a very lean run with the bat. Without his 71 runs we would be in a far weaker position. It was a career-high score and I hope it spurs him on to greater feats with the ball.

Essex had two overs to bat out at the end of the day. I'd have thought Hamilton-Brown would've wanted their openers, who between them have mustered 96 runs in their last eight innings, to face the in-form Stuart Meaker for one of those overs. Alas no, the new ball was again thrown to Zander de Bruyn to partner Tim Linley. Essex made it safely to the end of the day with no damage done and six runs on the board.

Despite the failure, for the most part, of the top order Surrey are still in a fairly strong position. The forecast for tomorrow is cloudy all day and to have posted 315 on a green pitch is not to be sniffed at. Tim Linley should be a handful and so too Meaker when the skipper finally tosses him the ball (in Hamilton-Brown's defence de Bruyn will probably enjoy the pitch and conditions). Our bowling attack should be a danger throughout tomorrow.

We may have missed out on two bonus batting points, but the 16 points for victory is what really matters in this game, and a bundle of wickets tomorrow morning would go a long way to securing that.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Promotion hunt continues

The unexpected quest for Division One cricket in 2012 continues as Surrey travel to Chelmsford tomorrow to take on Essex. A win with a full quota of bonus points will put us in second spot, any kind of win will make the final week of the season unbearably tense.

Chris Adams has kept faith with the 13 man squad who returned victorious from Northamptonshire, and why change a winning formula? I would expect the same XI to be named:

Hamilton-Brown
Davies
Ramprakash
De Bruyn
Maynard
Roy
Batty
Jordan
Meaker
Linley
Ojha

12th men: Ansari, Edwards

On the batting front the game against Northants was a story of two men, Davies and de Bruyn, leading the line. They both passed 50 in both innings, no other Surrey batsman passed 50 in the match, indeed only one other batsman on either side passed the mark. There were 30s and 40s but nothing substantial - Hamilton-Brown, Ramprakash, Maynard and Roy will not want the same to happen in this game. Maynard in particular will be looking for a score, he only has one 50 in his last 14 visits to the crease and since moving to number five in the batting order in the game against Gloucestershire has only averaged 19. As the game on Sunday against Sussex showed, he's not short of form, he just hasn't found that big score lately.

It takes something exceptional to eclipse a spell of bowling that included four wickets in seven balls, as Meaker's did, but eclipse it is just what Pragyan Ojha did. His return of 6-8 finished off Northants in double quick time and I hope he carries that form into this game, and Meaker too. If Linley takes a wicket in the first innings it'll be 20 consecutive innings in which he's taken a wicket - there's not many superlatives I haven't already used to describe his performances this season. Chris Jordan meanwhile has only taken one in his last seven Championship innings, he last took a wicket against Derbyshire in May, he's bowled 276 deliveries since then. With Meaker, Linley and Ojha in form it's not a big deal, but it would be good to see him back in the wickets. He could also do with some runs, 64 runs in 10 innings is not the return of an allrounder.

Essex have nothing to play for but pride in this game, they sit fifth in the table 16 points behind Gloucestershire, but I don't expect they'll be in any mood to roll over and give us the points. Their last two games have seen a defeat to Kent and a rain affected draw against Derbyshire and their batsmen don't appear to be in the best of form - their last three completed innings totals read 144, 185 and 207. For a side with Owais Shah, James Foster and the power of Ryan ten Doeschate and Graham Napier (remember this?) that's sub-par - so expect a backlash! Watch out for young Adam Wheater too, he's scored two hundreds this year on his way to 785 Championship runs.

They haven't named Maurice Chambers, who had a poor game against us at Whitgift in May, in their squad but three very exciting bowling talents are named - left arm quicks Tymal Mills and Reece Topley and legspinner Tom Craddock. All three have shown plenty of promise this season. There's also the small matter of the leading wicket taker in county cricket this year, David Masters. He is having a remarkable season and comes into this game just 14 wickets short of 100 in 2011.

After consecutive Championship wins in recent weeks, and a Lord's final in the bag, morale among the players should be sky high. A draw or a defeat would not make promotion impossible, but it would make it a damn sight harder and it would return the initiative back to Northants. Let's just do this the easy way and make this game the third win of the four we need to go up.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Lord's here we come!

Surrey continued what is beginning to look like a suspiciously good end to the 2011 season by comprehensively beating Sussex by 71 runs in the shortened CB40 semi-final at the Oval today.

The rain threatened to curtail the day's play completely until it finally relented at about 3pm and play began 45 minutes later with the game cut to 24 overs aside. Earlier in the day Surrey had won the toss and asked to bat first. When they did eventually get going Hamilton-Brown, dropped by the 'keeper early in his innings, helped us off to a fine start. Each batsman that came and went thereafter helped keep the run rate above 9 almost throughout.

It was an outstanding knock of 60 off just 33 balls from Tom Maynard which did the bulk of the damage. Scoring his runs almost exclusively on the leg side he hit four huge sixes, while Davies, Roy and de Bruyn all did their bit to keep the pressure on the Sussex bowlers. Monty Panesar was the only bowler who was able to exert any control over our batsmen, though Chris Liddle did bowl a lot better than his economy rate of almost 8 an over suggests.

In the end Surrey managed 228 off their 24 overs, significantly eclipsing a couple of totals they've managed at the Oval in full 40 over encounters this season. Again Hamilton-Brown opted to open the innings with spin though this time it was Spriegel rather than the captain himself. His faith was rewarded as he had first the dangerous Prior caught at cover, and then he caught Murray Goodwin off his own bowling to set Sussex back early on.

Yasir Arafat also bowled two good overs early on but Ed Joyce remained at the crease, threatening to single handedly make Sussex competitive. Gareth Batty soon accounted for him though, and Joe Gatting soon after. By the time Chris Schofield was introduced into the attack Sussex we under massive run-rate pressure but he nonetheless bowled some good deliveries and ended with 4-22, including the final wicket to fall, that of Monty Panesar for a first ball duck.

It was as comprehensive a victory as we have seen this season, against a very good, albeit slightly short-of-form Sussex side. We now move on to a major domestic final at Lord's against final-specialists Somerset, sure to be a massive test but we really are getting on something of a roll at the moment. I said at the start of the season that the CB40 was probably our best chance of winning something, it hasn't quite happened the way I thought it would, but we are still there!

The ECB have confirmed that England players who are fit and selected will be available for the final, which means Jade Dernbach will play for us. What that means for Chris Tremlett and even Kevin Pietersen I don't know. For now though, let's just focus on the the major positive - Surrey are 80 overs away from a trophy - just to be in the final is a real achievement. The players can be very proud but most of all, take a bow Rory Hamilton-Brown and Chris Adams, I hope you enjoy this!

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Keeping the promotion fires burning

Surrey inflicted the heaviest defeat by runs in first class cricket this season on Northamptonshire today, 333 runs to be exact, and in doing so promised to make the final couple of weeks of the cricket season mouthwateringly tense.

It was another collapse, the final five wickets for just 55 runs this time, which did for Northants. It wasn't the searing fast bowling of Stuart Meaker this time (though his wicket of Kyle Coetzer started the rot), but the left-arm spin of Pragyan Ojha. He ended with extraordinary figures of 6-8 off 16.3 overs, including 10 maidens. That is what you call a match-winning spell. He now has 11 wickets in two matches at a cost of just 8 runs each, finally Chris Adams has snared his trump card overseas player.

The result leaves Surrey 23 points behind Northamptonshire having played a game less. To be sure of promotion Northants now have to win their final game at Wantage Road against Gloucestershire who themselves won today against Glamorgan. And even then Northants could come up short. Having been clear at the top of the division for so long, they could in fact fine themselves fourth in the final analysis. Form is deserting them at precisely the wrong moment, or precisely the right moment from a Surrey fan's perspective.

Of course there is much cricket to be played between now and then, and possibly much autumnal weather to avoid as well. Surrey need to win their final two matches and make it an extraordinary four consecutive wins to be sure of promotion, but we do seem to be hitting our straps at just the right time.

We have needed to win the last two games to maintain hope, and we have done so emphatically - the players have shown a great deal of character and no little skill. Given the morale-sapping defeats that have been inflicted on us this season it is testament to the spirit in the team that we are even in this situation. Winning is a habit, and it's a habit we've been indulging in more often than not lately - just need to keep it up for another 14 days!

Two games from glory

The last time Surrey reached the last four of any major tournament was in 2006 when we journeyed to Trent Bridge for Twenty20 finals day. We lost our semi final that day to Nottinghamshire - tomorrow we face Sussex with the prospect of a Lord's final a maximum of 80 overs away.

Chris Adams has named a 13 man squad containing no surprises whatsoever. The squad and possible team is as follows:

Rory Hamilton-Brown
Steven Davies
Jason Roy
Tom Maynard
Zander de Bruyn
Matthew Spriegel
Chris Schofield
Yasir Arafat
Zafar Ansari
Gareth Batty
Stuart Meaker

Bench: Tim Linley, Gary Wilson

The prospect of Adams changing the formula which saw us win 10 out of 12 matches in the group stage, so the chance of Gary Wilson playing are effectively zero. There is again a tough call to make between Meaker and Linley. Meaker's 7 overs for 65 runs against Durham on Bank Holiday Monday, without taking a wicket, weren't the best advert but it was a very good pitch and the boundaries were short. Does Adams prioritise Linley's long term outstanding form in 2011 or Meaker's short term form evident from the Northamptonshire game? It's a very tough call and I think Adams may stick to the selection he plumped for last week.

Of the batting, everyone but Hamilton-Brown has scored substantial runs of late - though he hasn't exactly looked woefully short of form during a slightly lean period. Spriegel, in such good batting form, has become an important part of the middle order and his presence provides a degree of insurance for the top five. Still, on a pitch which is likely to take turn I would expect the openers to go hard at the new ball.

Sussex are a mighty fine team and will be no pushovers. In Chris Nash and Ed Joyce they have two classy openers who have four CB40 hundreds and over 1,100 runs between them this season. Beyond that they have Joe Gatting, Lou Vincent, Ben Brown and of course Murray Goodwin. They are strong in the bowling too, if we prepare a turning track we'll have Panesar and Nash to deal with, and their seam bowling is strong too with Parnell, Liddle and Amjad in their ranks. Don't forget Mike Yardy either, a danger in both departments. Clearly then there will be no let-up.

Not for five years then have Surrey had something riding on a game quite like this, and with a win over Northants in the Championship likely to come today we could have an intense couple of weeks coming up. We didn't end the group stage with the best record of any team by accident, so we are more than capable of beating Sussex. However I do think we'll have to step up a gear - something we saw in parts against Durham - if we are to make it to the final on the 17th of September. Making it this far is a real achievement no doubt, but having done so only progressing to the final will be satisfying. Come on the 'Rey!

Friday, 2 September 2011

Surrey continue to dominate

Surrey are just six (possibly only five depending on Stephen Peters' fitness) away from a victory which would make the final weeks of the season very tense indeed.

Beginning the day already 190 runs ahead of their opponents Surrey started the day in fine style, de Bruyn and Davies accumulating with ease rather than seeking to blast Northants away - though they were by no means slouches in doing so. In compiling a 216 run partnership they effectively took the game away, and Steven Davies bagged his second century in as many Championship matches.

After securing his hundred Davies continued to keep the flow of boundaries going, he was eventually out on 156 top edging Chaminda Vaas behind. Maynard and de Bruyn didn't let up though and the runs kept piling on. De Bruyn eventually went to his third hundred, and 11th score of 50 or better this season. He's been as much of a lynchpin in the batting as Linley has been in the bowling this year.

The wicket of Jason Roy before tea brought the declaration which asked Northants to chase 486 in 138 overs. For reasons which are beyond me, Meaker was overlooked for the new ball again. I assume there is some logic somewhere to keeping the new ball away from him, but I for one cannot fathom it. If he was in poor form I could perhaps understand it, but having taken 5-37 in the first innings you'd think his tail would be up. Even Zander de Bruyn and Chris Jordan (both of whom had a bowl before Meaker today) would struggle to make the argument that they are better bowlers than he at the moment.

In any case, it was Tim Linley who made the breakthrough, first innings top scorer Rob Newton becoming his 100th first class victim. It doesn't seem that long ago that he was taking his 50th, he really has been outstanding for us this year. When Meaker was finally introduced in the 13th over he proceeded to bowl 10 overs on the bounce, and in tandem with Pragyan Ojha they accounted for three further members of the Northants top order.

So Northants begin the day tomorrow still needing 383 unlikely runs to win with perhaps only five wickets still in hand. Ojha is likely to become more and more of a handful as the pitch continues to wear and Linley and Meaker will be a constant threat even as the ball gets older. Wrapping up a sixth Championship win should be fairly routine, and it will take us to within a win of snatching second place from our opponents in this game - and we have a game in hand over them. It is still a long shot, but consecutive wins at this stage of the season is just what the doctor ordered.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Magic Meaker inspires Surrey fightback

Stuart Meaker produced a spectacular spell of four wickets for six runs in seven deliveries just before tea on the second day to bowl Surrey into a great position.

At 174-3 with Andrew Hall and Rob Newton comfortable at the crease Surrey looked set to concede a first innings deficit before Meaker intervened and collect career best figures of 5-37. Tim Linley, as ever, chipped in with the final wicket after Pragyan Ojha had accounted for Chaminda Vaas. Only nine wickets were required as the injured Stephen Peters was unable to bat. With his side comfortable at one stage, Peters might have hoped he would not be needed today.

Meaker is one of those players who has a tendency to take wickets in bunches, much like Jade Dernbach in many respects, and when he is on song he complements Tim Linley perfectly. He now has 34 wickets at 21 apiece from just 8 games, and his strike rate of 35 is better than anyone in the division with 30 or more wickets. Impressive stuff.

That left Surrey with a first innings lead of 75, and importantly it deprived Northamptonshire of even a single batting point - that could well prove crucial in the final analysis. With two-and-a-bit days left in the game, Hamilton-Brown and Davies could set about steadily building on that lead. However the captain seemed to have other ideas as he raced to 22 off 21 balls before he was caught behind off Vaas.

Davies and Ramprakash then set about doing the steady job, a 75 run partnership had Surrey looking very comfortable indeed. Ramprakash though didn't make it to close, his score of 38 was his ninth score between 20 and 38 this year, and it was the 11th time he has been dismissed either LBW or bowled this season. Even the greatest are allowed blips in form, and I hope this is just that.

Linley was sent in as nightwatchman, a job he couldn't quite fulfill to the same standards he's set as leader of the attack as he was bowled by James Middlebrook for a duck. De Bruyn joined Davies and no further wickets fell.

That leaves Surrey with a lead just shy of 200 and fully two days left in the game. I expect Davies and de Bruyn will look to build steadily in the morning session and if they do so, Roy and Maynard will be able to come in and add plenty more to that if required. Any lead over 300 is probably going to be pretty tough to chase especially with Ojha wheeling away at one end.

Today Surrey showed a lot of character, at the time when we needed someone to step up and make an impact, Meaker did just that, and in fine style. Tomorrow I hope we can continue in that same vein and really put Northants under real pressure.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Northants take the spoils on day one

Northamptonshire will start day two with all 10 wickets still intact and a mediocre Surrey total of 269 firmly in their sights. We'll have to bowl extremely well tomorrow to have any hope of a win in this match.

And bowl extremely well is exactly what Northants did today, none of their bowlers gave away more than 3.3 runs an over and it was disciplined bowling that did for Surrey. Steven Davies continued his good form with 81 and Zander de Bruyn pitched in with 58, he's only failed to pass 50 in four of his 14 Championship matches this season. But those two aside, there was little from Surrey's batsmen.

Davies and Ramprakash settled in before lunch to build the only 50 partnership of the innings but Ramps' dismissal after the break precipitated a disappointing collapse. In the end the final nine wickets fell for 165 runs with only de Bruyn's contribution standing out, word is that the pitch isn't up to any tricks either.

Chaminda Vaas ended the innings with 4-57 to give him 65 wickets in what has been an outstanding season. Andrew Hall, James Middlebrook and Dave Burton shared the other six wickets between them. Rob Newton and Kyle Coetzer saw out the final five overs of the day, delivered by Linley and Jordan, Linley extracting seamingly endless inside edges in the process.

Northants will be very pleased with their day's work and they are definitely making the running. However we're by no means out of the game and can learn from Northants' example that all it takes is a disciplined line and length to get wickets (when has that ever not been the case?). Such is his form that Tim Linley will doubtless be in the wickets but he could do with some back up from Meaker and Jordan, both short of form.

If we can restrict them to a small-ish total Pragyan Ojha ought to make batting last a tricky prospect - but there's a long way to go until that's a factor. Tomorrow we need to show a lot of guts under plenty of pressure, or we're kissing any lingering promotion hopes goodbye.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Make or break time

Surrey travel to Wantage Road tomorrow knowing that a win over top-of-the-table Northamptonshire will move them a big step closer to an unlikely promotion.

Chris Adams has named a 13 man squad including the 19 year old fast bowler George Edwards to take on the leaders, the squad and possible XI is as follows:

Hamilton-Brown
Davies
Ramprakash
De Bruyn
Maynard
Roy
Jordan
Batty
Meaker
Linley
Ojha

12th men: Ansari, Edwards

As much as I want to see Zafar Ansari play as much first team cricket as possible I think it is unlikely that Adams will go into a four day game with only two frontline seam bowling options. That means an unlikely reprieve for Jordan who despite bowling well against Leicestershire returned nothing in the wickets column in that game and his line and length in the CB40 game yesterday was woeful.

Adams could yet spring a surprise though, especially in light of de Bruyn's increased bowling workload lately, and play Ansari as the third spinner. Personally I think that would be the better option. In two fewer games than Jordan this year Ansari has taken one more wicket and has been significantly less expensive in doing so. I hope Meaker is given a chance to recapture his best form and isn't restricted to cameo spells as third change bowler. He hasn't been right on the money since his injury early in the season but he still has 29 wickets to his name from just 7 matches. On his day he is devastating, and that day will come around again soon. Ojha should continue the good work that saw him pick up four wickets for 48 runs in the last match.

Again the shortage of genuine batting options means the top six pick themselves and after Davies got his hundred last week, Hamilton-Brown will be looking to follow suit. There is still no definitive word on whether Ramprakash will play on next season but just to be on the safe side I'd like a hundred from him. Tom Maynard, who has only passed 30 once in his last 11 visits to the crease, could also do with some big runs.

We seem to have played Northants an awful lot over the last couple of seasons and our last two visits to Wantage Road have seen us come back with two wins. However this season they are a much tougher prospect than in the past and they've only lost one match all season. Whilst they've had no standout batsman they do have six men with over 500 Championship runs under their belt, and 11 hundreds all told. They also have four bowlers with over 30 Championship wickets for good measure too. 200 points on the board with two games still to play doesn't happen by accident but we are capable of beating them, and having had them 163-7 at the Oval in April we should already have done so once this season.

A win would shrink the current 41 point gap to Northants to something around 20 points with a game in hand. With Middlesex in almost as dominant position as is possible against Leicestershire it looks increasingly like it will have to be Northants that we overhaul if we are to win promotion. Anything other than a win would more or less seal promotion for the two sides above us. No pressure then.

Monday, 29 August 2011

It had to happen eventually...

You can't win 'em all, and today Surrey lost their first CB40 game of 2011 despite a spirited effort with the bat.

Hamilton-Brown lost an important toss and from the word go Surrey were chasing the ball around. The captain himself elected to open the bowling again and Phil Mustard proceeded to sweep him around at will, 13 runs were on the board with the game only six balls old. Mustard didn't let up there either as Chris Jordan was carted about at ease. Jordan's first ball was an impressive yorker but that was almost where the good bowling ended, he provided the batsmen with too much width and it was boundaries galore for Durham's opening batsmen.

When Matthew Spriegel was introduced for the seventh over 71 runs were already on the board it was a relief to see him have Callum Thorp stumped off a wide. Stuart Meaker took a good catch an over later to send Mustard back to the dressing room but he'd already feasted on some very average bowling to reach 66 off just 31 balls.

The Durham innings was anchored by an impressive 96 from Paul Collingwood who rarely seemed to take any risks at all. Only two Surrey bowlers (incidentally the sixth and seventh bowlers to be used in the innings) finished with economy rates below 8 and they weren't helped by some uncharacteristically shoddy fielding. 17 runs were given away in wides and no balls and probably 20 more were given away through mis-fields.

The Durham total of 325 looked well out of reach even if the pitch was looking decidedly docile. Graham Onions, who was a cut-above all day, gave them an excellent start having Steven Davies caught off a top edge in the first over and it all looked like it would be well beyond Surrey. Jason Roy scored just five and Hamilton-Brown was involved in another run out, this time he was the man who had to go as he didn't dive to make his ground.

However first Tom Maynard and then Chris Schofield and Matthew Spriegel had other ideas. Maynard played an excellent innings of 56 from just 40 balls before he was bowled by Callum Thorp. And then Schofield - reverting to his more usual number spot in the order combined superbly with Spriegel in a counter-attacking partnership of 98, both finding the boundary regularly. The batting powerplay was delayed and had it been taken with the two of them firing, who knows what might have happened. As it was, Schofield, who had feasted on the spin of Blackwell and Breese, found life tougher against the quicker bowlers as Claydon sent a ball across him and he was caught easily by Collingwood.

Spriegel kept at his task gamely, peppering the boundaries but first Batty, who criminally failed to run his bat in, was run out and then Chris Jordan completed a dreadful day at the office with a first ball duck. When Spriegel was out bowled off his pads by Claydon the game really was up, Surrey ended 36 runs short but without Spriegel things would have been far worse.

So the unbeaten run ends and we now know our semi-final opponents - Sussex will come to the Oval on Sunday. That will be an incredibly tough ask and Chris Adams has some real thinking to do. Jordan's terrible performance today effectively rules him out of such a crucial game but with Schofield and Spriegel in such good form with the bat that might not be such a headache. Will he persist with Meaker or go back to Linley? Which of Ojha or Arafat should play? Is Chris Tremlett going to be available after injury?

Despite winning 10 of 11 group games, Adams probably still does not know his best side. Wholesale changes are unlikely ahead of Sunday and the same basic ingredients will probably comprise the side, but the precise make-up may be tinkered with. The next six days are easily Adams' biggest test as coach - a must-win Championship game against Northamptonshire starting on Wednesday followed by a CB40 semi-final on Sunday. Here's hoping they can rise to the challenge.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Ojha named in squad to face Durham

With a home semi-final already in the bag and only pride and momentum at stake Surrey take on Durham at the Oval tomorrow. Adams has resisted the temptation to name a second string side (rightly in my view) and named the following 14 man squad:

Rory Hamilton-Brown
Steven Davies
Jason Roy
Chris Schofield
Tom Maynard
Zander de Bruyn
Matthew Spriegel
Chris Jordan
Gareth Batty
Tim Linley
Pragyan Ojha

Bench: Gary Wilson, Zafar Ansari, Stuart Meaker

Arafat's absence - and given Adams' comments when Ojha signed it would seem it must be injury related - creates a bit of a selection headache. A like-for-like replacement would be Jordan who offers a similar level of ability with the bat as Arafat, and it would keep the same selection format as for recent games. I would be tempted to go the attacking route and name both Meaker and Linley but given previous selections I think that unlikely. That would also leave us with a very lengthy tail and with Gareth Batty only having provided 20 runs in four innings in the CB40 this year Adams will be reluctant to risk that. The choice between Meaker and Linley is a very tough call, Linley is likely to offer slightly more control but Meaker's extra pace makes him a real threat. I would guess Adams will go with the experience of Linley this time but don't be surprised to see Meaker in the final XI.

That leaves Ansari, Meaker and Wilson as the likely bench. Dernbach's resting ahead of his England duty is a big blow and much will rely on Jordan rediscovering his wicket taking abilities. I am pleased Ojha is playing and if he bowls well he could earn himself a spot in the squad for the semi-final.

On the batting front, Davies' hundred against Leicestershire just goes to show he's not truly been out of form, he just hasn't managed to bag that big score, until now. Hopefully he and Hamilton-Brown can really cash in on another quick start, the captain has only two scores of 50 and nothing better than 57 this season - he'll want to change that. Expecting a third hundred in succession from Roy is a bit much but he's more than capable of it. Maynard and de Bruyn could do with some more runs as well and I would expect Schofield's 'floating' role in the batting order will continue depending on the match situation.

I would guess with Ojha in the side the onus will be on the groundsman to prepare another turning track with the boundaries well out, especially with Batty, Schofield and Spriegel to call upon. There's a very small chance, if a real dustbowl is prepared, that Ansari could play in place of Jordan but that would leave Linley and de Bruyn as the only seam-up bowling options - too much of a gamble I'd have thought. However Durham do have spin bowling pedigree in the shape of Borthwick, Blackwell and Breese so Hamilton-Brown will hope to bat first, post a score well north of 250 and let his spinners tie them down as the pitch wears. Durham aren't light in the batting department either, despite the loss of Stokes to England duty, and with a semi-final spot at stake Collingwood, Mustard, di Venuto and Benkenstein will all have the bit between their teeth. Graham Onions in their seam bowling ranks, along with Mitch Claydon and a bit of Collingwood's dobbers (fitness and pitch dictating) make them a real all-round threat.

This game will be a real test for Surrey. Without their form limited overs bowler and against a side with something to gain and some real quality in their ranks. There could be a temptation to rest on the laurels of already having a guaranteed home semi-final but it's important the winning habit is maintained.

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