Saturday, 30 July 2011

Obstructing the win...nearly

Surrey made the heaviest of heavy weather of winning against Gloucestershire today, but win they did - by two wickets approaching the end of the final day with Tim Linley hitting the nervy winning runs.

Surrey made an excellent start to the day, Arafat, Linley, Dernbach and Batty each among the wickets in cleaning up the final six Gloucestershire batsmen for 70 runs, giving us a simple-looking target of 184 in a minimum of 65 overs - a required run rate of less than three.

As ever our openers got off to a rapid start, Hamilton-Brown and Davies put on 50 in 10 overs before Davies was out for 19, his opening partner followed three overs later for for 39. The pair of them will be frustrated at giving themselves a start but not seeing the innings through, between them they have passed 40 just once in the last 16 innings. It seemed that throughout the day the ball was nibbling around, but in a match where 1,200-odd runs were scored, the pitch cannot have been too much of an issue.

Ramprakash came to the crease and it was quickly apparent that he was likely to be the key to a Surrey win as de Bruyn and Maynard failed to add many runs to the total. Jason Roy worked hard with Ramps to whittle the target below the 50 run mark before the big controversy of the day. Ramprakash was squeezing home chasing a tight run and in doing so raised his bat in the air. The Gloucestershire players appealed for obstruction of the field and the umpires concurred, Ramprakash stayed to argue his case but had to go - I suspect there may have been some choice words said in the dressing room! Zafar Ansari followed him back two balls later and the innings was wobbling at 138-6.

Jason Roy continued on his merry way edging Surrey towards the total until, with 23 runs required, Gareth Batty was dismissed and Roy went just six runs later. It was left to Arafat and Linley to knock the winning runs, which Linley duly did though not without significant alarm.

It's easy to underestimate the significance of that win. Yes they made it difficult for themselves but they got over the line in the end. This side doesn't appear to do routine Championship wins all that often! We have now won as many Championship games in 11 matches this season as we did in 16 last year, we may have played some pretty average cricket along the way, but the points table says four wins. Promotion is still a long way off, Middlesex are in a good positions in their game and Northants have a handy lead at the top, but the win today kept the door open just a fraction with five games to play.

Friday, 29 July 2011

A Dent in Surrey's victory hopes

Aside from Surrey's capture of Gloucestershire's Jon Lewis for the 2012 season the other news of today was the ongoing game between the two sides in Cheltenham, and today Gloucestershire fought their way back into the game.

Arafat, Linley and Dernbach conspired to add 31 to the overnight total of 392 to give us a first innings lead of 137 and when Hamish Marshall departed in the eighth over of Gloucestershire's reply with just 12 runs on the board things were looking up for a Surrey victory. A combination of Chrises Dent and Taylor, plus an unbeaten 50 from Alex Gidman ensured that the game was approaching safety for the home side.

The the draw appears to be favourite, which is unfortunate given the strong positions of Northamptonshire and Middlesex in their respective games, promotion hopes are edging further and further into the distance. Of course there's always the chance of something special tomorrow morning, and Tim Linley and Yasir Arafat with the new ball might just provide that crucial breakthrough spell.

The Gloucestershire lead stands at 112, so they are effectively 112-4 with a full day's play left. A couple of early wickets and hopefully we'll be able to kill the game off, but with the two mean at the crease and Will Gidman still to come, it's not going to be easy.

Never knowingly underbowled - Surrey sign Jon Lewis

Surrey have created their very own Jon Lewis Partnership having today announced the signing, on a two year deal of the veteran Gloucestershire seam bowler.

In a bizarre piece of press release timing, the deal was announced about three hours after he'd ended our first innings with the wicket of Tim Linley to finish the pick of Gloucestershire's bowlers with 4-95. If I was a Gloucestershire fan I'd be pretty disappointed with that, not only is it announcing a former captain of the club is departing in the middle of a Championship match, it's in the middle of a Championship match involving the club he's departing for.

Anyway, that's by the by, is Lewis a decent signing for the club? Yes, I think he probably is. For all the talk of the availability (at the time) of exciting young seam bowlers like Jack Brooks in recent weeks I was left thinking that we've got our own crop of exciting young seam bowlers. Meaker, Dunn and Edwards to name three, Lewis can act as a mentor to those players while also bringing stability and consistency to the bowling attack.

There's no getting round the fact that he's going to be the wrong side of 36 by the time he joins the club though, and for a fast bowler that really is coming to the end of a career. Look at Dominic Cork though, he's proved the catalyst for some significant success down at Hampshire over the last couple of seasons and he's not getting any younger. Lewis's returns of late - he's taken 154 Championship wickets in the last three seasons at a very decent average - show that he's still got wickets in him. His age means it's a gamble and it might be seen as an unambitious piece of business by Adams but I believe he can play an important role for us.

It's entirely possible that at various points next season we'll lose Meaker, Dernbach and Tremlett, possibly all at similar times, to England duty so a permanent presence in the bowling attack will be no bad thing. If we can sign an overseas spinner for the full season to bowl alongside him then we'll be all the better for it.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Number 114 puts Surrey in the driving seat

Surrey will go into day three with a handy lead of 106 and thoughts of a vital win not far from their minds. The pure class of Mark Ramprakash is largely responsible for that position - in scoring his 114th first class hundred he drew level with Sir Viv Richards and is now just three behind Sir Don Bradman in the list of century makers. Not bad company to be keeping.

A string of nearly scores - only one above 30 in his last eight visits to the crease, had me wondering if he'd come back from his injury a touch early and that might have compromised his season, how wrong I was. Today he was the lynchpin of the Surrey innings along with Zander de Bruyn (who passed 1,000 first class runs this season during his innings). While the two veterans, with a combined age of 78, made over half of Surrey's innings, none of the youngsters passed 33.

That said, I think Jason Roy's knock of 33 off 24 balls, while ending in frustrating fashion (clean bowled after taking 11 runs off the spinner), was important in injecting a bit of impetus into the innings. He will develop his game and before long those rapid 30s will become slightly-less-rapid 70s and 100s - he's become such a key part of our side it's easy to forget he only just turned 21.

Another innings of note was Yasir Arafat's unbeaten 54 off just 77 balls, he came to the crease with Ramprakash running out of partners approaching his hundred, by the time the partnership was broken Ramps had moved well past 100 and the lead was past 100 as well. We did to Gloucestershire exactly what other teams have done to us so many times this season.

Arafat and Linley will look to accumulate as many as possible tomorrow morning and whether we like it or not Dernbach will come out throwing the bat at everything - and why not? The lead is already substantial and anything close to 150 will be very difficult for Gloucestershire to come back from.

A few quick runs ought to give the bowlers plenty of momentum as well - this game is there for the taking and it could really spur a run of form going in to the back end of the season. Captain and coach must make sure there is no complacency, Gloucstershire aren't out of the game, yet, but we are firmly in the driving seat.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Advantage Surrey at Cheltenham

Surrey ended day one against Gloucestershire as the team in the ascendancy after they turned round a day which threatened to be going the way of previous matches which we've lost.

At 117-5 we once again had a team on the rack, they recovered to 239-6 before first Arafat and then Linley finished off the lower order in a fashion we've been crying out for this season, Gloucestershire were all out for 286. You still have to think that's a bit more than they ought to have reached, but the psychological advantage of bowling a side out for under 300 on day one is important.

That Yasir Arafat has finally found some form, following up his five-for at the weekend with another today, is hugely significant in light of Meaker and Dernbach departing for Lions duty any time soon. Tim Linley returned another four-for, to make it 36 Championship wickets in his last six games, he's in an outstandingly rich vein of form.

There were a couple of surprises in the selection, both Arafat and Ansari were named in the XI while poor Arun Harinath was discarded after just two innings and Meaker rested. Based purely on who bowled today and who took the wickets, you'd have to say selecting two spinners seems an odd call. That said, Ansari was apparently off the field for some of the day, accounting for his lack of bowling, and there's always the chance the pitch could deteriorate.

It seems Steven Davies has been restored to the role of opener, Jason Roy being preferred in the middle order. Earlier this season Davies expressed a desire to play in the middle order, so in the absence of Harinath I thought perhaps Maynard, who scored 43 and 26 as an opener against Essex, might have been given the nod. In light of his innings last week, it's not surprising Adams wants to leave him where he is though.

So with the bowlers having done a good job today, for maybe 40-50 runs too many but a good job nonetheless, the batsman must now step up. From the three overs they faced tonight Davies and Hamilton-Brown emerged unscathed, tomorrow morning they need to pile on the runs, aiming for a first innings lead of at least 150.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

As you were for Gloucestershire trip

Chris Adams has named the same thirteen man squad as played Middlesex last week to travel to the Cheltenham festival and take on Gloucestershire.

This might seem odd given the nature of the defeat at Guildford which was, despite the margin only being six wickets in the end, quite a heavy one. I think reflects the fact that Adams does not think anyone from the Seconds at the moment is a better option, and it's hard to disagree with him on that.

The squad and my expected XI is as follows:

De Bruyn

12th men: Ansari, Arafat

The makeup of the lower middle order is a tricky one to call. Batty had an average game against Middlesex with bat and ball but you'd back him to come up with the goods more often than not. If it's a seamer's track Arafat might get the nod after his five-for in the CB40 and if it looks like it might take turn Ansari could well play in place of a batsman - likely to be Arun Harinath. Meaker, Linley and Dernbach seem certain to play.

In the Championship, none of the batsmen has seemed woefully out of form but certainly Hamilton-Brown, Davies, Roy and Ramprakash could do with a big score. Between the four of them they have three fifties and no hundreds in the last three Championship games - that gives an idea of how much we've relied on the batting of Maynard and de Bruyn of late. Harinath was out in single figures twice against Middlesex but he was in at the last minute and it's harsh to judge him on that one performance.

Gloucestershire have surprised me this season, they lie third in the table only two points behind Middlesex (albeit having played a game more) and they beat us fairly comfortably at the Oval. They bowled us out twice cheaply with the impressive Ian Saxelby taking ten wickets in the match. They also seem to have unearthed a genuine first class allrounder in Will Gidman who has taken 27 wickets and scored almost 700 runs. And of course you never count out Jon Lewis.

Adams is right to say that if we win our next two matches we're in the mix for promotion, but if we don't win this week we can surely rule it out for 2011. The defeat to Middlesex was a crushing blow but the dashing hundred from Maynard and some wickets towards the end of the game at least meant there was just a hint of momentum for our players - they need to take that into the game tomorrow. No let offs, no cheap wickets, we have to win.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Stuart Meaker selected in England Lions squad

We all knew this day would come. Those of us who saw Stuart Meaker detonating the stumps of Leicestershire's tail back at the start of May with his 90mph yorkers must have feared that England would come calling soon enough.

And so it came to pass, Meaker has today been named in the Lions squad to play the four day game and three one day games against Sri Lanka A in August. Jade Dernbach has also been named in the four day squad.

Back in 2009, when Spin published an article proclaiming Meaker as "the fastest bowler in England" I remember being sceptical, having never seen him bowl live. However when I did first see him bowl, it was clear that he was a good bit quicker than everyone else at the club.

For 18 months or so after that Meaker was in and out of the side, for a quick bowler at such a young age that was quite right, and he had his fair share of injuries. But the last 12 months have really seen Meaker kick on quite spectacularly. Since the game last year with Gloucestershire he has taken 53 wickets in 14 matches, at an average around the 25 mark. He genuinely is 90mph+ and his control has developed out of sight in recent months. He has earned his chance with the Lions and I hope he grasps it with both hands

Where does that leave our seam attack though? Depleted, in a word. No Dernbach, Meaker or Tremlett for probably two and quite possibly four games through August is a huge blow. Linley is in fine form, Arafat is hopefully on an upward curve and Dunn has proved himself capable, but we're only an injury away from serious trouble in the quick bowling department.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

De Bruyn, Arafat script key win over Warwickshire

Two impressive performances, one expected, one not expected, carried Surrey to a narrow(ish) win over Warwickshire in the CB40 at Guildford today. Northamptonshire's defeat to Leicestershire and apparent loss of form in recent weeks is also good news. We now sit atop the table, two points clear of Durham with a game in hand.

The expected high-class performance came from Zander de Bruyn who now has over 1,400 runs in all forms of cricket for Surrey this season. His unbeaten 84 from 92 balls was perfectly paced. He was helped an injection of 22 runs from just 16 balls by Zafar Ansari to bring the rate right down and Chris Schofield helped the side home with 13 from 11.

The unexpected performance came from Yasir Arafat. Adams gambled on selecting him and he repaid the faith handsomely, 5-45 was the result including both openers and both Warwickshire top scorers. Although Arafat will get the plaudits, Tim Linley's eight over spell for just 27 runs and the wicket of William Porterfield confirmed that he's in superb form.

Hamilton-Brown opened the bowling himself and actually bowled his full quota of eight overs meaning Ansari and Schofield bowled just four overs apiece, and Spriegel none at all. Given the performances in recent weeks of Azhar Mahmood and Tim Murtagh, you could've been forgiven for thinking Rikki Clarke's aggressive 76 from just 61 balls would spell disaster for Surrey after some tight bowling on a slow pitch had restricted Warwickshire for large parts of their innings.

The Davies-Hamilton-Brown partnership was in fact rekindled, albeit very briefly, Hamilton-Brown was out for a two ball duck off the last ball of Jeetan Patel's first over. Jason Roy was also gone soon after with just 15 on the board, I wonder whether he and the captain have yet to really shake the Twenty20s out of their systems. Thereafter Davies and de Bruyn, Maynard and de Bruyn and the tail and de Bruyn did a fine job of turning over the strike and picking off bad balls here and there to keep the rate up.

Again you get the feeling we won here without really hitting top gear, which augurs well for some pretty tough tests still to come in the CB40. We will still need more substantial scores from our young tyros if we are to think about winning this tournament, but there is clearly fuel left in the tank. Well played today.

Key CB40 test against Warwickshire

Surrey continue the Guildford festival at the Woodbridge Road ground today with a crucial 40 over match against Warwickshire. Morale is likely to be pretty low given the events of recent weeks so a big win will work wonders.

As with most festival grounds, Guildford is pretty small and the wickets are usually good - last year over 500 runs were scored as Sussex comfortably chased down Surrey's total of 252. The squad and possible XI is as follows:

De Bruyn

Bench: Arafat, Schofield

It's difficult to know the route Adams will want to go down given the last CB40 we played was a couple of months ago, but that it will be allrounder-heavy is a given - the squad above has eight genuine limited overs bowling options. As ever, the top five pick themselves because there's only five batsmen in the squad. Spriegel has been recalled having not made the squad for the Durham game last week so I suspect he may play. It's difficult to say which two of Batty, Ansari, Schofield or Arafat will play, but Batty and Ansari are the men in possession so that seems most likely. If Arafat continues to sit on the bench you can't help but feel we've badly wasted our overseas signing (if you don't already think that).

Warwickshire are three points behind us in the table having played a game more, and somehow contrived to lose to Scotland in a rain-affected match a week ago. But they should still present a stiffer challenge than we've faced in the CB40 so far. Varun Chopra and William Porterfield have been in decent form at the top of the order and they have the likes of Carter, Troughton, Maddy and Rikki Clarke down the order. Not to mention Chris Woakes, who would comfortably make it into Surrey's top six. He can also bowl a bit you know, and Jeetan Patel has proved a canny overseas signing again.

It seems likely that Roy and Davies will rekindle their Twenty20 opening partnership given the Hamilton-Brown-Davies partnership hasn't yielded a single 50 partnership in six games this season. Batting first twice this season we've made 257 and 311, relying on a couple of rapid 50s from the top five. With our enormous tail, that's what we have to hope for today.

After the result against Middlesex this week promotion in the Championship seems a long way off and we're out of the Twenty20 - the CB40 remains the only competition we're genuinely competing in. If we can overcome a very handy Warwickshire side it will go a long way to giving the side some belief back.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Battered and bruised

Surrey slid inexorably to their third Championship defeat today, and their second this season to Middlesex. In truth it was a match we looked a long way from winning ever since we allowed their tenth wicket pair to accumulate 70 runs on day two.

Had we finished them off properly the second innings heroics of Maynard, who was eighth man out today with 141, and de Bruyn would've given us a substantial total to bowl at. As it was that sparkling hundred merely papered over the cracks of what was another poor performance.

First Maynard then Batty threatened to accelerate the total Middlesex had to chase today beyond 200, but where a couple of batsmen could have just played sensibly to help accumulate the total, there were more rash shots which left the opposition chasing just 189 with most of a day's overs to play with.

Middlesex began their chase extremely watchfully, only 11 runs came from the first eight overs but Sam Robson made excellent use of the hard graft he put in at the start of his innings to anchor his side home. He finished six short of a hundred and did his side proud - at 22 years old he has admirable 'sticky' qualities that our young batsmen just don't seem to have.

Rory Hamilton-Brown inexplicably left it until the 30th over to introduce Stuart Meaker during Middlesex's chase and ended up bowling more deliveries himself than his young pace bowler. Of course Meaker will sometimes go for runs but he can also produce magic spells, the captain's lack of willingness to back the young bowlers is worrying (Matt Dunn was similarly under-bowled second innings against Gloucestershire). Jade Dernbach went wicketless to return match figures of 2-130 while Linley and de Bruyn plugged away gamely, picking up two wickets each.

Only six Championship matches remain, five of which are away from home including trips to Chelmsford and Northampton. You have to say to even be in with a chance of promotion we'll need seven or eight wins in total, which means winning four or five of our remaining fixtures - that just doesn't seem terribly likely. Not impossible of course, but who'd bet on that on the evidence of this game?

Adams has, as ever, a huge job on his hands to get the team up for the remainder of the season, Championship-wise that begins on Wednesday next week against Gloucestershire. Aside from Maynard's knock there is little to take from this game as a positive.

Back from the dead

To say it was a day of contrasting fortunes for Surrey yesterday is something of an understatement (although a couple of players did just have a shocker), for the most part our second innings, following on, represented a spectacular fightback.

Sixteen Surrey wickets fell in a single day, and our first innings was as abject a collapse as we've seen for some time. Middlesex gave us a lesson in ruthlessly finishing off an innings, while we had them 51-4 and let them recover well, they had us 64-4 and blew us away for 117 runs all told - 20 of which were extras. There were four ducks and seven scores of 10 or less, it was a shocking performance and Middlesex were threatening to roll us over inside effectively two days.

Following on, things looked even worse as Arun Harinath was out for six, five more than he managed first innings but Adams will have reason to doubt whether he can play that role at the top of the innings. Rory Hamilton-Brown blazed away and with Ramprakash he put on 70 for the second wicket.

But then Ramps, Hamilton-Brown and Davies fell within 30 runs of each other to leave us reeling at 114-4, still well short of making Middlesex bat again. Enter Tom Maynard and Zander de Bruyn to steady the ship...well not quite.

Tom Maynard - 105 not out
Maynard and de Bruyn proceeded to add 170 runs in 21 overs at almost 8 runs per over, easily the biggest partnership of the entire match. By the time de Bruyn was out for 82 the partnership had taken us past Middlesex's total and 93 runs into the lead. Jason Roy, batting in the middle order to which he is more suited, was unable to hang around to support Maynard so it was left to Tim Linley to block up an end until close, which he did.

This morning we still have Batty and Meaker to come, both of whom should be able to stick with the set batsman to build on the 115 run lead we have. Our first innings was a horror show and if we lose the match that combined with some poor bowling towards the end of Middlesex's innings will be why. However credit should go to Maynard, de Bruyn and Hamilton-Brown, while their innings were not the traditional ones you might expect from a side following on, they have given the scorecard a degree of respectability, and our bowlers will hopefully have something on the order of 150+ to bowl at - and they'll have to bowl a lot better than they did first dig. We're still in this, but this side still has so much to do, today and in the coming weeks.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Another let off

At the halfway point of the match, such is the degree of rain interference that only one 86 over innings has been completed, and Surrey won't be overly impressed with their performance today.

Although the recovery wasn't quite as stark as Middlesex's at Lord's, it was still a substantial achievement. From 88-4 we should have been looking at dismissing the opposition for 250 at the very most, but first Dalyrmple and Rogers to post a century partnership before Zander de Bruyn stepped in to dismiss the Australian on 59.

Then the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth wicket partnership cobbled together 85 runs but most criminal of all Dalrymple was allowed to accelerate to his hundred in partnership with number 11 batsman Corey Collymore. Together they put on 71 runs in just 10 overs. I think it was a bad move to keep Batty and de Bruyn bowling for as long as they did, it may have only been four or five overs, but to my mind the man to remove tail end batsmen on the evidence of this season is Stuart Meaker. In the end it was Linley who ended the innings with his 35th wicket of the season.

Jamie Dalrymple does seem to like batting against us, in 2004 he scored 244 at the Oval, still his highest first class score to date. Whilst today wasn't our finest few hours Tim Linley again proved himself our most reliable performer with the ball while Batty and de Bruyn were able deputies.

The forecast for tomorrow and Saturday is a distinct improvement on the last couple of days, so a result is not completely out of the question though it will require some attacking batting and an enterprising declaration or two. The focus will be on bagging as many batting bonus points as possible though as the draw remains hot favourite.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

A third of a day, but a good third for Surrey

The expected rain showers restricted Surrey to bowling just 35 overs today, but in those 35 overs they had significant success in reducing Middlesex to 88-4 after sending them in to bat.

Funnily enough, 88-4 is the precise score we reduced Middlesex to at Lord's in April before John Simpson and Neil Dexter came to their rescue, I can only hope Chris Rogers and Jamie Dalrymple don't perform a similar reconstruction job.

Surrey fans know only too well how dangerous a player Chris Rogers can be given his performance at the Oval for Derbyshire last year, so no one will rest easy until he's gone. It was a shared effort as well, each of the four bowlers who turned their arm over - Dernbach, Meaker, Linley and Batty took a wicket and all were economical in doing so, the Middlesex run rate was just 2.5.

There was a surprise at the start of the day as Arun Harinath was named to play his first Championship game of the season despite not being named in the initial 12 man squad. Given the bowler-friendly conditions, Adams' decision to play the extra batsman is a good one and Harinath's good form for the Second XI means the selection is well deserved.

So should there be substantial play tomorrow Surrey are in a very good position to press home the advantage, and must not be guilty of letting a door they've forced ajar slam shut courtesy of one CJL Rogers.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Rain the likely winner for Guildford

It's July, there's vital cricket to be played, so obviously the forecast for the next four days is dire. If by some minor miracle there is the chance to force a result, this is a crucial game for Surrey against Middlesex who lie second in the table.

The last time a result was managed at Guildford was a crushing 10 wicket win for Durham back in 2008, in both 2009 and 2010 the weather played a significant part in two draws. The squad and the XI expected is as follows:

De Bruyn

12th man: Arafat

Given Linley's superb seven wicket performance against Kent he has to play, Meaker has shown good form in the longer format too and Dernbach is a certainty. Arafat's form in the Twenty20s was patchy at best and his omission from the Kent four day game 10 days or so ago does not bode well for him. You can't help but wonder when the Arafat of old is going to appear, but it won't be long before we all rule out the chance of that happening. That Ansari's selection barely merits a mention speaks volumes of his meteoric rise, but should a very green wicket appear at Guildford, Arafat could yet be shoehorned into the side.

The middle of the Division Two table is so tight, with six teams within seven points of one another, that a win would take us right into the mix for the promotion spots. Not that a win is by any means likely, Middlesex have had a Championship season in stark contrast to their disastrous Twenty20 campaign - they've won half of their games so far. Steven Finn being left out of the England squad is bad news for us because he will slot straight into the Middlesex XI. He'll be joined by Collymore and Murtagh to make a very dangerous seam attack. Their batting has been less impressive of late, but we know only too well that Chris Rogers can anchor any side to a big total.

Instinctively I think we are a better balanced Championship side, Ansari is perhaps a place too high in the order at seven but Batty is a handy insurance policy at number eight. The top six will hopefully have had time to get the rash Twenty20 shots out of their system and our seam attack is in good shape at the moment. We're certainly not giving away much to Middlesex on paper, if anything at all.

The players would do well to forget the events of Thursday-Sunday and draw on the confidence the win last week against Kent will have given them. If a result isn't possible because of the weather we should be looking to pick up whatever bonus points we can, attacking cricket will be the order of the day.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Stiff CB40 challenge at Durham

With a 100% record in the CB40 this season Surrey ought to have some reserves of confidence to call on, but recovering from the psychological blow of the two consecutive defeats sending us out of the Twenty20 will be a challenge.

The game tomorrow against Durham, weather permitting, represents the biggest challenge in the CB40 so far this season. Two wins apiece against Hampshire and Scotland, plus one against Leicestershire is nothing to be sniffed at, but between them those three teams have just two wins thus far in 2011. Northants, Durham and Warwickshire, all of whom we still have to play twice, have much better records.

Adams is persisting with his selection policy which (at the risk of sounding like a broken record) I maintain is a batsman light, but in any case the squad and expected team is as follows:

De Bruyn

Bench: Meaker, Wilson

Given that there are only really five batsmen in the squad who have displayed any kind of form of late, the top order picks itself. If Adams was unwilling to pick Wilson for either of the final Twenty20s it seems unlikely that he'll throw him in on Sunday. The Second XI hiatus has come at the wrong time for getting reserve batsmen into form.

With a Championship match coming hot on the heels of this game, and after he took some punishment on Thursday and Friday, it might be a good idea to give Meaker a rest though that would give yet another (undeserved) reprieve for Yasir Arafat. The one thing in his favour is that his CB40 performances have easily been his best for us this year. Tim Linley certainly deserves a game given his recent form. I'm particularly surprised that Matt Spriegel has not even been named in the squad given his good form in the CB40s this year.

Durham are a very good side, Onions, Borthwick, Plunkett and of course Paul Collingwood present a challenge to the batsmen, and in Benkenstein, Muchall, Coetzer and Mustard are capable of destructive feats. We're fortunate that Ben Stokes is still unavailable through injury.

The pressure is on Adams now to deliver some kind of progress after the failure of the Twenty20s, and this competition is the one in which we are best placed. If we bat first and get a good start, we're definitely contenders, but I don't fancy us chasing anything substantial. A win against a good Durham side tomorrow will restore some of the side's belief and gives a good platform to go into the second half of group matches.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Felled at the final hurdle again

This time last week it all looked so rosy, we'd just trounced Hampshire and needed just two points from our final two games to qualify for the quarter-finals. We didn't do it and the Twenty20 kit goes back in the locker for another year.

The game tonight was remarkably, nay depressingly, similar to last night. Hamilton-Brown lost two crucial tosses in 24 hours and in truth we were well beaten in both games.

Sussex were in deep trouble after two overs, the score was 13-2 and their momentum had stalled. The next four overs saw a clinical display from Murray Goodwin in particular and the pressure was well and truly released. Goodwin went on to score an unbeaten hundred from only 59 balls, he was particularly harsh on Meaker, de Bruyn and Schofield who between them bowled four overs for 57 runs. In truth we have bowled and fielded poorly in two crucial games, the pressure got to us, by and large.

The opposition again looked set for a score north of 200 tonight but Nannes and Dernbach brought us back from the brink, conceding just 11 from the final two overs to keep Sussex just below the 180 mark.

Chasing two fewer runs than against Kent last night, Jason Roy got us off to another blazing start but once he'd gone to his fifty, his fourth such score in the T20s this year, he swung Rayner into the deep, we never really looked like recovering after that.

De Bruyn was sent up the order to bat at three, a combination of wanting a wise old head to bat with Roy and keeping some Hamilton-Brown firepower for the lower order. Neither aspect of the plan worked out. De Bruyn wasn't able to contain Roy's exuberance and by the time Hamilton-Brown came in (below Schofield, another batting gamble) he had too much to do too quickly.

The scorecard says much about the plight our selection policy leaves us in, scores of 50, 31 and 46 from three of the top four, but nothing thereafter. So much pressure is heaped on Roy's shoulders because there is no power in the lower middle order, he has coped admirably but he can't be expected to deliver every single game.

We rely too heavily on batting first, and on one big score from one of the top five (or more regularly, two big-ish scores). With the batting power in our top five Twenty20 should be our game, but the tactics didn't allow enough flexibility and it's cost us at the crucial moments.

The squad can now focus their efforts on the CB40, in which we lie top of our group, and the Championship, where we are in the mix for promotion. They must look to get something out of one (or ideally both) of those competitions.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Win the toss, win the game...?

Well we lost, and it leaves us needing to win against a strong Sussex side at Hove tomorrow, plenty of pressure on now. From the moment Hamilton-Brown called wrongly at the toss I feared for our chances.

Kent's strength lies in the depth of their batting, and on a good pitch being given the chance to set a total they immediately looked comfortable batting first. Despite Key being the first of four run-outs in just the third over, they kept the run rate and the pressure up, only Dirk Nannes and the returning Jade Dernbach were able to offer the captain much control. Full credit to Darren Stevens and Azhar Mahmood, both of them batted (and bowled as it turned out) superbly.

The final Kent total of 181 actually represented a good comeback from Surrey, at one point we were in danger of conceding well over 200. A few good overs from Nannes and Dernbach at the death made it much more competitive. We conceded probably 10-15 runs in the field that we need not have, Arafat was particularly poor in that department.

Hamilton-Brown and Roy gave us a good platform in taking us to 87-1 but they were both dismissed within an over or so, and herein lies the problem with the selection with which Adams persists.

When the opposition has us three down, with only the allrounders to come thereafter, they know they can put the squeeze on and there's no outlet for us. I know there is no fool-proof solution to this, but if Maynard and de Bruyn could play with a bit more freedom - the freedom afforded by another pure batsman in the side, we would not have had such a problem tonight I feel. That none of our bottom six players passed 20 says an awful lot.

I can see the argument behind having six bowling options, but our side has eight bowling options, I just think we can afford to play the extra batsman, and in a must-win game it's surely worth gambling on the fitness of Mark Ramprakash and adding him to the squad?

The situation is what it is, we have one game left to play, we have to win it, simple. We are a good side under pressure, and we've already shown we can beat Sussex this season. But make no mistake, Sussex have to win to guarantee qualification as well and they are no mugs. The composition of the side is unlikely to change significantly, only Wilson or Schofield can really come in given the squad named and given Arafat's performance tonight and the nature of the pitch at Hove, Schofield could well play tomorrow night. It's all to play for, come on the 'Rey!

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Dernbach in, Tremlett out for decisive games

After today's nerve-jangling victory over Kent in the Championship, tomorrow the focus switches back to the Twenty20 with the same opposition at the Oval, and the final group game at Hove on Friday.

The good news is Jade Dernbach returns from his double-wicket final game heroics to clinch England's series with Sri Lanka. The bad news is Chris Tremlett, the hero of last Friday's Hampshire game, will not be allowed to play by the ECB. The squad and expected XI is as follows:

De Bruyn

Bench: Wilson, Schofield

It's as you were then, aside from the logical swap of Dernbach for Tremlett. Although Batty only bowled a solitary over on Friday there's little reason to bring in Schofield in his stead (or Wilson for that matter, since Adams clearly likes to keep his bowling options open). And why would you change the formula which saw us comfortably overcome the form team of the South Group?

You still feel that there's a really big score just around the corner for Roy or Hamilton-Brown, they've both looked in decent form but only have high scores of 52 and 51 respectively.

Kent are in decent T20 form having won four of their last six games, including a relatively comfortable win over us at Beckenham (I haven't quite fathomed de Bruyn's innings in that game yet). Darren Stevens and Azhar Mahmood have been in good form for them with the bat but their opening pair have been poor. Mahmood has likewise been a threat with the ball, as ever, though it's his countryman Wahab Riaz who is the real danger.

On the back of four consecutive T20 wins we have to go into this match as strong favourites, which is always dangerous. Having had a good look at Key over the last day or so though, Hamilton-Brown will know better than to under estimate his counterpart and his troops.

If we win tomorrow we qualify for the quarter finals for the first time, if memory serves me right, since 2006. At the moment we really do look a good unit in limited overs cricket, I've criticised Adams' selections in the past (and I still think he picks to many bowlers!) but I cannot argue with the results being delivered. One more win and things are really looking up!

A win is a win, but not convincing

First, the positives: we won, Zander de Bruyn scored a masterful hundred, Zafar Ansari served further notice of his outstanding talent and cool head, and Tim Linley took seven wickets in the match.

This was an important game, nine Championship matches are now on the board and we've notched three wins, just one fewer win that we managed in 16 games last season. Promotion is still very much on the cards and if you look back over the last couple of months, our form has generally been good.

But there's the not so good news as well. We had Kent firmly on the rack at 87-6 in their first innings, when you reduce a side to that sort of position you should be looking at getting them 130-150 all out, not the 250 Kent eventually made. Finishing teams off has long been an issue for us. Then there's our second innings batting, only one player passed 30 and no one passed 50. Rob Key gave a masterclass in how to build an innings and very nearly forced victory for his team. In the end it was a 30 run 10th wicket partnership between Linley and Tremlett which saved us, that shouldn't have to be the case!

As Chris Adams quite rightly said after the game we let Kent sneak back in, and that is, in his words, criminal. But Adams also pointed out that we "found a way to win the game", by hook or by crook, we got over the line and the winning habit is something that a young team will thrive on.

You have to think that to be sure of promotion we need at least three wins from those last seven games, four ideally, and that is no mean feat (especially given the 'summer' we're having). There will be plenty of positivity around the team now though, and by forcing the win today we've given ourselves a good platform.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Big Bob the Key to a Surrey win tomorrow

Kent captain Rob Key played almost a lone hand in chasing the 322 run target Surrey eventually set this morning, and he'll return to the Oval tomorrow morning the only man standing between us and a third Championship win of 2011...or a third defeat.

The next best score in the Kent innings is Martin van Jaarsveld's 35, and the pair of them threatened to forge a matchwinning partnership before Tim Linley came to the rescue and cut him off as it was looking dangerous. Linley was the only man who seemed to offer a constant threat throughout the day and ended with 4-42. Batty also chipped in with 3-66 in between some rather expensive spells.

It's also partially down to Linley that Surrey managed to claw themselves to 322, he and Chris Tremlett put on the third highest partnership of Surrey's second innings, 36 vital runs for the tenth wicket.

Of course it should never have been down to batsmen 10 and 11 to make it competitive, the top order have some questions to answer regarding their application in that second innings. Had just one of them gone on to 60 or 70 the game would've been beyond Kent, but they didn't and Key ensured they've been made to sweat on it.

It will be hard on Rob Key to end up on the losing side tomorrow, if indeed he does, the kind of mental strength he's shown at the top of the Kent order today is hugely impressive. Kent still require 52 runs, Surrey just two wickets - we are still just about favourites but we cannot afford any of the wastefulness we've shown at times earlier in this game.

Monday, 11 July 2011

A disappointing end, but still a nose ahead

A clutch of wickets towards the close of play took the shine off a decent day for Surrey, though they ended with a healthy lead of 275 and with two players at the crease still capable of adding another 40 runs or so.

Kent begun the day with captain Key and Sam Northeast at the crease and they progressed to 52 without loss before Stuart Meaker chipped in with his second wicket. Van Jaarsveld followed just an over later, Key and Stevens were also back in the dressing room soon after leaving Kent 87-6.

Surrey should've moved in for the kill at that moment with an eye on making Kent follow on, but not for the first time this season we let the opposition back into the game, with Geraint Jones and Alex Blake putting on 130 for the seventh wicket. However once Jones was dismissed by Batty for 61 the last three wickets fell for just 25 runs, a first innings lead of 137.

It then fell to Jason Roy and Rory Hamilton-Brown to begin building that into a lead of 400+ with plenty of time left in the game, but both fell, in Chris Adams' words in the members forum after the close of play to "pretty poor shots." Ramprakash and de Bruyn mounted a mini recovery but the latter couldn't repeat his first innings heroics and Ramprakash was also out soon after to leave Surrey 78-4. Maynard and Davies put on an aggressive 38 in eight overs but they too fell in quick succession, Davies to a terrible shot off Joe Denly, especially bearing in mind that the close of play was just 6 overs away. Denly then bagged his fifth wicket of the match getting Gareth Batty LBW for a duck, this game has seen the Kent opener shrink his bowling average from 54 to 45.

Zafar Ansari played a couple of nice strokes before close and Stuart Meaker stuck with him, Surrey were 138-7 at the end of play, a lead of 275. After the game Meaker claimed that a lead of over 300 was the first target, and there did appear to be some variable bounce so if Surrey can exploit that 300 should be plenty.

We have, without question, the firepower to skittle Kent tomorrow - the way we dealt with their top order today is evidence enough of that. We must be careful not to let them off the hook though if we get into a similar position, 300 is a good lead but low enough that one big partnership will get Kent most of the way. The bowlers must be right on the money from the word go, don't waste the new ball and keep the pressure up through the day.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

De Bruyn the star man on day one

Zander de Bruyn's second Championship hundred of the season and two wickets late in the day for Meaker and Linley made it a pretty even day, and Surrey may feel they are in the ascendancy.

De Bruyn received only fleeting support from the rest of the top order, it was a timely return to form with the bat for Gareth Batty which enabled a score just shy of 400. They didn't hang about either, our runs were scored at 4.7 an over.

In a slightly surprising selection Adams elected to give Zafar Ansari his Championship debut ahead of Yasir Arafat, he will be disappointed to have been dismissed by Joe Denly's part time leg spin for just four, but his time will come. Denly and van Jaarsveld sharing five wickets between them might also hint at something in the pitch for the slow bowlers.

That half the wickets went to part time bowlers is disappointing (though just because they're part timers doesn't mean they bowled badly), the dangermen Robbie Joseph and Wahab Riaz took just two between them. Given the rate we scored at, it's obviously a decent pitch, you have to feel we should've got maximum batting points at least. So it was down to the bowlers to give us the upper hand and with 11 overs to play, Denly and the nightwatchman Joseph were sent back by Linley and Meaker - they now have 50 wickets between them this season.

There is still plenty of batting to come from Kent though, Key is still in, Northeast, Stevens and Jones can all score plenty and van Jaarsveld loves batting against us at the Oval. The forecast for tomorrow is for sunny intervals so the bowlers should look to exploit the cloud cover and get us a decent first innings lead.

Friday, 8 July 2011

What was I ever worried about?

Coming up against a side with the bowling quality of Hampshire, having bowled pretty averagely ourselves yesterday, I feared for our chances tonight. I need not have done.

Here's what I saw tonight: I saw a group of 11 players who wanted to win for each other. I saw Tom Maynard play an intelligent and powerful innings. I saw an exceptional bowling performance from Chris Tremlett, and I saw Zafar Ansari, all of 19 years old, hold his nerve to dismiss Shahid Afridi who was threatening to go berserk. In the end, I saw us beat the outstanding team in the group comfortably.

Hamilton-Brown won the toss and elected to bat, as expected with some fairly short straight boundaries. However the man most likely to exploit those short boundaries, Jason Roy, departed in the second over to a pretty poor shot, scooping the ball into Imran Tahir's hands at short fine leg. Steve Davies was then caught behind just as he looked like he was making himself comfortable, but there was no panic.

Hamilton-Brown hit Imran Tahir for six and was then caught trying for another - a mistake which Tom Maynard conspicuously did not make. After each of Maynard's two sixes he played a calm, simple shot for a single, he's a smart cookie. We accumulated runs at a good rate, but Hampshire were bowling well. As the innings threatened to peter out, Zafar Ansari cracked his first ball beautifully down the ground and finished the innings with a lofted four off Shahid Afridi.

A target of 152 against a deep-batting Hampshire side looked shaky, but Surrey started in the best possible fashion. Arafat had Adams caught behind with no runs on the board and Vince, McKenzie and Ervine all followed him back to the dressing room with the score still yet to pass 10. Dawson and Afridi threatened with a partnership of 51 in six overs before Ansari, in another nerveless display, got rid of the dangerman.

Thereafter it was a ruthless performance and in truth Hampshire did well to get within 40 runs. Chris Adams, speaking after the match said it was the "best performance" in his time as cricket manager, and I probably wouldn't argue too hard with that. I like this team when we're the underdogs, they seem to back themselves. Two games remain, a win against Kent next Thursday will more or less see us qualified. Well played tonight gentlemen, keep it up!

Thursday, 7 July 2011

One down, three to go

It wasn't as comfortable as it might've looked at various points through the evening, but Surrey leave Lord's this evening with two points in the bag and a third successive win.

It's often said that in the Twenty20s in particular it's all about hitting your straps at the right time, and maybe we're doing just that. It wasn't a great performance by any stretch, Roy and Davies played very well to give us a great platform but it petered out ever so slightly towards the end of our innings.

The decision to open the bowling with de Bruyn was inspired as he picked up the wicket of Stirling, but the decision not to give him another over in the entire Middlesex innings was equally surprising. Nannes and Tremlett also got in on the act early doors to have Middlesex 24-3 and a million miles from the 173 they ended up with.

A stubborn 74 run partnership between Dexter and Dalrymple threatened to take the game away before Schofield had the former stumped. A combination of John Simpson and Sam Robson, and some pretty average bowling conspired to have Middlesex needing 11 from the final three balls but Meaker closed out the innings intelligently. All the while, in between bowling plenty of full tosses and some rank no-balls, Dirk Nannes picked up 5-40 to give him 15 wickets in the Twenty20s.

Essex's defeat to Hampshire means we go above them and until Sussex's game tonight ends we're in the qualification spots. We still have a game in hand on Somerset in second but equally we've got three tricky games coming up. I'm not going to study all the various computations of what could happen with all the five teams competing for the final three quarter final spots here, but two wins from the final three games might just be enough, but to be safe, let's go and win all three eh chaps?

Bowler-heavy squad for crucial London derby

Of the 14 men named for the short jaunt to North London, by my count, 11 would make passable bowling options as Chris Adams continues his all-rounder heavy selection policy.

This is partially due to a lack of available batting options through the squad, Ramprakash is apparently still not up to Twenty20 fitness-wise, Wilson shows no sign of recapturing his best form (and is away with Ireland anyway), there's been little word on Michael Brown for some time and Adams doesn't seem willing to gamble on a Lancefield or Burns from the Seconds.

So, the 14 man squad and my expected XI is as follows:

Steven Davies
Jason Roy
Rory Hamilton-Brown
Tom Maynard
Zander De Bruyn
Zafar Ansari
Chris Schofield
Yasir Arafat
Stuart Meaker
Dirk Nannes
Chris Tremlett

Bench: Spriegel, Batty, Linley

So possibly just the one change from the game at Whitgift, but it's not a simple one this. There are only five out-and-out bats in the side so they pick themselves - and it was crucial to see Davies and Hamilton-Brown get good runs. I still expect the Roy-Davies opening partnership to continue though even if it hasn't quite fired yet. Ansari has impressed with bat and ball so he deserves a continued place in the side - so that's the top six sorted.

I've not traditionally been a fan of Schofield in the Twenty20 side but he did bowl very well on a tiny ground on Monday, and Batty didn't bowl at all. It's perhaps harsh to drop either of them for the returning Arafat but Adams seems to have faith. Meaker really has to play after his excellent comeback performance from a poor first over at Whitgift, and although Nannes and Tremlett were a touch expensive against Sussex you can't ignore their pedigree.

Middlesex have been poor in the Twenty20s this season, they sit rock bottom having won only two of their 12 matches and were recently annihilated by Gloucestershire. However this is a game they'll be desperate to win to dent our hopes of progression, and there is some threatening talent lurking in their 14 man squad. There is no Dawid Malan and Gareth Berg is still out, but Finn, Murtagh and Mclaren is a good attack on paper and in the batting Stirling, Rogers and as the game at the Oval showed, Newman can still do damage.

After tonight's game we have three tough games against table-topping Hampshire, Kent and Sussex again, so given Middlesex's poor record in the T20 this year we really need to look at this as a must-win (is there anything else?). Two consecutive wins against Glamorgan and in the game on Monday should give plenty of confidence and key batsmen have hit some form. If the dodgy weather holds, this should be an excellent game.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Surrey scrap to beat Sussex

Whitgift School has a lovely cricket ground but I had my doubts about whether it was suitable for Twenty20 cricket. Those doubts remain, but Surrey collected a good win against Sussex there tonight.

All told 18 sixes were scored this evening, half of them by Sussex's opening pair in attempting to chase down Surrey's total of 203. At 109-0 in under ten overs it looked like they were well on target but in the end the pressure of runs on the board told, along with a bizarre decision to promote Wayne Parnell up the Sussex order.

Steven Davies scored a superb 99 not out in batting through the Surrey innings and was ably supported by a fifty from Hamilton-Brown and a quickfire 29 from Tom Maynard who was dropped twice in the field. In the innings break 203 looked a good score but not out of sight.

The game was being bullied out of our hands by Luke Wright with 72 from 31 balls before Chris Schofield pegged Sussex back with two wickets and Zafar Ansari bowled intelligently to restrict their batsman. Meaker too was excellent towards the end of the innings. Those three bowlers' economy rates of at or around seven an over would equate to something much lower at, say, the Oval. Gareth Batty didn't bowl a single ball and Hamilton-Brown reasoned that bowling off-spin with such small boundaries in a high pressure game is too tough. That doesn't quite sit right with me, they knew the size of the boundaries before the game and even with that in mind Batty is one of the most experienced hands in the side.

As ever I might not agree with the intricacies of the selection, but I can't argue with the result. We now sit a point behind Somerset, Sussex, Kent and Essex with a game in hand on Somerset and a marginally superior run rate to Kent and Essex, in short, there is still everything to play for. A win against Middlesex on Thursday would set us up nicely going in to the final three games.