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:

De Bruyn

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.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Three day win at Grace Road

Surrey capped off an impressive all round performance by wrapping up a 10 wicket win inside three days at Grace Road this evening, keeping the flicker of hope that promotion is still possible just barely alive.

Rory Hamilton-Brown took his season's tally to 943 runs (seventh in division two) at an average of 41, and a strike rate of 80. His talent is unquestionable, though it is equally unquestionable that he is far from the finished article. He and Davies knocked off the 111 runs required in just 16 overs - and a good thing they did too because the forecast for tomorrow might have made a result very difficult.

The win was set up thanks to another sterling performance from the man making the running in the player of the season stakes, Tim Linley. His career-best haul of 6-57 took him to 59 wickets at 18 apiece and he has now taken at least one wicket in each of the last 17 innings he's bowled. To say he's been the backbone of the bowling attack is an enormous understatement. Ojha took another two wickets to end with 4-48 in the match and Gareth Batty also collected two. Chris Jordan toiled through 22 more overs for no wicket, his five wickets in four games this season have only arrived once every 19 overs and at a cost of 74 runs each.

As the ever vigilant Marcus Hook points out on Twitter, Surrey's last seven results read WLWLWLW - we always knew consistency would be an issue this year! This is though, the first time we've recorded five Championship wins in a season since 2007, progress that might not be startling, but it's progress nonetheless.

Given the decidedly grim-looking forecast for Northampton tomorrow their game with Middlesex looks to be heading for a draw. That will leave Middlesex on 183 points and Northants on 201 - with us back on 160 points and a game in hand over Northants. And to add a little extra spice, we're playing Northants next week. If we beat them we would be on a real roll and who knows where it might take us. This could be the making of Hamilton-Brown as captain, not to mention a real test of the mettle of the rest of the side. It's still the longest of long shots, and weather might yet play a part, but what's the sense in giving up hope?

This game was a comprehensive three-day dismantling, albeit of a side who have comfortably the worst record in the division. However, they say winning is a habit, and maybe we can get into that habit for the final month of the season. Well played.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Surrey still on top thanks to Davies hundred

Bad light forced an end to the day at Grace Road but Surrey, who had toppled two Leicestershire wickets for 66 runs by the time the umpires called time, are still in the ascendancy.

De Bruyn didn't last long this morning but Steven Davies, who remarkably has recorded scores in the 90s in every format this season without hitting a hundred, got the monkey off his back in this game - and what a good time to score it. He went on to score 121 off 218 balls to provide the backbone for Surrey's eventual total of 343. 40s from Jason Roy and Gareth Batty were the only other substantial contributions.

Again Stuart Meaker was held back from the new ball as Tim Linley and Chris Jordan performed opening bowling duties to kick off Leicestershire's second innings. I'm not sure what the rationale behind holding Meaker back is but I'd have thought exposing a Leicestershire lineup against whom he's taken 13 wickets to him as early as possible would've been better.

It was Linley again who made the first breakthrough as he had Matthew Boyce caught behind but Jefferson and Greg Smith made steady progress in a 46 run partnership in between breaks for bad light. Jordan bowled 8 overs for 19 runs without success - although he did have Jefferson caught at slip off a no ball (his eleventh of the season - Linley has bowled six no balls in about 300 more overs this year for comparison!). Three overs before the close Gareth Batty had Smith caught behind and nightwatchman Nathan Buck helped his side through to the end of the day.

Still 110 runs in arrears, but with 8 wickets left in hand, Leicestershire are down but not out just yet. I'd like to see Meaker bowl alongside Ojha tomorrow morning (or whenever rain allows them to get play started) as an early breakthrough or two might start Leicestershire sliding. With Middlesex in a mighty strong position against Northants it might not matter all that much, but with the door open for a victory Surrey must force the issue.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Surrey in dominant position after day one

Another fine bowling performance from Surrey has made a victory in spite of the delightful August weather eminently possible. The bowlers were backed up by a determined effort to see out the day and Surrey will begin tomorrow only 45 runs behind with 8 wickets still in hand.

After losing the toss and being asked to bowl Hamilton-Brown will have been very pleased with a scoreboard that read 83-5 by the time the lunch interval came around. Three more wickets for Tim Linley plus one apiece from de Bruyn and Stuart Meaker put us in the driving seat right from the word go.

They didn't let Leicestershire off the hook after the break either and it was only 70 runs from Rob Taylor which protected them from complete humiliation. Pragyan Ojha, who was signed only yesterday, made an impressive debut picking up 2-19 from just shy of 14 overs. An attacking spin option on a day one pitch is something we've been missing for a very long time and Ojha's return - not just wickets but restricting the scoring - shows how valuable that can be.

Hamilton-Brown might have had the weather forecast ringing in his ears as he came out attacking from the off. That was before he was caught behind off Nathan Buck for 17 from 19 balls. His opening partner, Davies, then put on 60 runs with Mark Ramprakash before the latter was out LBW to Shiv Thakor - his first ever Championship wicket. The unthinkable thought that Ramps might be playing his last few games for Surrey is moving ever more starkly into my mind, I hope I'm wrong.

Steven Davies went on to make his first Championship fifty since early June as an unbeaten 37 run partnership with Zander de Bruyn saw Surrey through to the close of play. A brighter day beckons tomorrow and Surrey will be looking to pile on the runs and hope to dodge the showers on day three to force a victory.

A win is an absolute must in this match and Surrey have got off to the best possible start - don't let up!

Monday, 22 August 2011

A win needed to keep promotion hopes barely alive

After a week of CB40 games County Championship action resumes as Surrey take on Leicestershire at Grace Road and there's still the merest flicker of hope that we might be able to muscle in on the promotion action this year. If we are to do so, a win is an absolute must - and they'll likely have the weather to contend with to fashion that victory.

No official squad has yet been named but the likelihood is that the side will be very similar to that which faced Kent ten days ago:

De Bruyn

Jade Dernbach has been named in the England ODI squad to play in Ireland on the 25th so will be unavailable for selection, so Linley and Meaker, our two best Championship bowlers this year will be reunited in the attack. Depending on who else is named in the squad (and at Canterbury the 12th man was Jordan) Ansari and Batty look likely to be doing spinning duties. However given that Matt Dunn was not named in the Second XI squad to play Glamorgan tomorrow there's always a chance he could sneak in.

Much of the top order batting is in search of a score. Hamilton-Brown is without a fifty in all forms in a month, Davies' search for a big score continues and our form batsman of the season, Zander de Bruyn has a string of low scores to his name of late. Mark Ramprakash and Tom Maynard, despite a century apiece in their last three matches (coincidentally the same score - 141) have also had a bit of a lean run in recent matches, this game would be a good time for one or all of them to hit Championship form. I fear Jason Roy's good form may be wasted down at number six in the order and with Davies poor form Adams might consider switching them again.

Leicestershire are a strong bowling side without being exceptional. Naik and Henderson have 72 Championship wickets between them and while Hoggard isn't the threat he once was, he's still a fine bowler. Their batting is weakened somewhat by James Taylor's trip to Ireland but Will Jefferson and Matthew Boyce are capable.

If we win this match with a full quota of bonus points we could slot into third place and depending on other results, not a million miles behind Middlesex in second. However the weather forecast doesn't bode well for a result which would be frustrating. With that in mind they will probably look to go hard as far as possible in what cricket they do get, and who knows, we could yet salvage something.

Update: This preview, from the Telegraph, seems to suggest we are waiting on clearance from India to debut Pragyan Ojha. Goes without saying that a spinner of his quality would be more than welcome, watch this space!

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Ten out of ten - full marks!

The Surrey CB40 juggernaut rolls on as we today recorded our tenth consecutive win in this format, only one no-result against Durham blotting the copybook ever so slightly.

I said after the last game that Jason Roy's maiden List A hundred wouldn't be his last but I didn't expect him to make a second just four days later. Today's hundred was quicker but no less impressive as he guided Surrey from 12-2 to 244 by the time he was out. Some very useful runs from Matthew Spriegel and Yasir Arafat boosted the final total to an impressive 292. Roy now sits second in the list of leading run scorers, his 538 runs comfortably eclipsing any Surrey batsman's best effort from last season (Davies with 485). Spriegel has also been accumulating his runs nicely, 307 runs at 51 and a strike rate only just shy of 100 is impressive. His form with the bat has meant Adams' allrounder-heavy approach has paid dividends - credit to both of them for that.

I also said that Leicestershire had a tendency towards the collapse and today they did so again. After a rapid 50 from Josh Cobb saw them to 75-0 they then crumbled in a heap to Jade Dernbach (who recorded stunning figures of 4-7) and Chris Schofield (4-26) to 151 all out. Du Toit, Jefferson and Taylor all passed 20 but none got more than 26 and the final six wickets fell for 20 runs.

I wasn't all right though, of the bowlers who I named as potential dangers, Gurney and Naik both went for 10 an over or worse. And it wasn't quite all positive for Surrey either, Arafat was expensive and again failed to take a wicket, he now only has three scalps in his last four CB40 games - not good enough for a strike bowler. His lusty lower order hitting can be valuable but Adams might wonder whether Linley, Meaker or Dunn might be worthy of a chance against Durham on Bank Holiday Monday. Ansari leaked runs as well and where in the T20s he was largely quite economical in the 19 overs he's bowled in this format he's gone at nearly 7.5 an over, though he still offers his exceptional fielding talents which counts for much. So clearly abundant is his talent I think Adams will stick with him.

Our last two victories have been by 130 runs and 141 runs, and ten wins out of ten means a home semi-final is guaranteed. One fixture remains, a home game against Durham in eight days time and although there is nothing riding on it from our point of view, momentum is still hugely important. For the time being though, I'm sure they'll be basking in the glory of an exceptional run of form.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Home semi-final up for grabs

With a semi-final spot in the bag there might be a temptation for Surrey to take their foot off the gas, but they have to keep pushing because 1) a home semi-final is important and 2) keeping momentum going will help in all forms of cricket. In reality I'm not sure this group of players know anything less than full throttle anyway!

Chris Adams can welcome back Stuart Meaker from England Lions duty and will have the use of Jade Dernbach for this game before he departs for Ireland with the full England side. The squad and expected XI is as follows:

De Bruyn

Bench: Ansari, Wilson, Linley

This construct of the bowling attack is quite a tough one to call for this game. There will be a temptation of course to stick to a winning formula with the spin barrage of Batty, Ansari, Schofield and Spriegel (with some Hamilton-Brown thrown in for good measure too) but there haven't been large numbers of wickets falling to spinners at Grace Road this year. In the two games Leicestershire have won in the CB40 this season (and they were both at Grace Road) most of the wickets fell to seamers.

Given Schofield's new found promotion to number four - and I think it's worth persisting with that experiment for now - he seems to have a home in the side. Spriegel bowled very well at Edgbaston and has been in decent nick with the bat, so it probably comes down to two of Meaker, Batty and Ansari. Meaker bowled very well against Leicestershire at the Oval earlier in the season in both the Championship and CB40 games (11 wickets all told) so I hope he gets the nod. It's very hard to pick one of Batty or Ansari but I wonder if Batty's experience might give him the spot.

There can be no changes in the batting but now that Roy has got the big score that had been coming for a while, one of Davies or Hamilton-Brown will dearly want to follow suit after some good starts lately.

Leicestershire have been poor in the CB40 this season with a tendency towards the collapse. Chasing just 207 at the Oval they collapsed from 70-0 to 189 all out and against Durham they fared even worse, collapsing from 72-0 to 155 all out. In Cobb and Taylor they have two very exciting top order batsmen and Taylor (if he plays) is in great form following two hundreds for the England Lions. I also really like their bowling attack, Nathan Buck, Jigar Naik and Harry Gurney are three under rated bowlers and we all know what Hoggard and Henderson are capable of.

It's very important, especially given the impressive nature of the win against Warwickshire, that we maintain the momentum we've gained from nine consecutive wins in this format. If we are to peak at the right time and go all the way in this competition we can't allow the last two games to just drift. If we win a home semi-final is guaranteed which would move us a big step closer to Lord's in September.

Farewell Ali, and thanks for the memories

"I always believed that the day my age exceeds my batting average it would be time to consider calling time on my career."

And so as his age creeps up towards 42 and with his batting average hovering around that same mark, Alistair 'Lordy' Brown announced that he would be retiring from all cricket at the end of the current season. Surrey fans everywhere should salute a fine servant to the club and the game.

There is a temptation to think of Brown as an under-achiever, and I'm sure he himself would have liked to have done better in an England shirt (or perhaps have been given more chance to do better) but in Surrey colours he didn't disappoint, to which nearly 15,000 first class runs plus over 10,000 List A runs for the county will attest.

He will of course be remembered mainly as a one day player, in part because he holds the one day cricket world record for his 2002 innings of 268 - after which the Long Room bar at the Oval is named, and also because he is the only player to have recorded two double century scores in limited overs cricket (he scored 203 against Hampshire in 1997). But lest we forget he was an important part of the massively successful Surrey side that won three Championships in the late 90s/early 2000s.

I best remember Brown in two innings, starkly contrasting ones at that. I am struggling to remember which exact game the first was but looking through the records it was probably this game against Gloucestershire at the Oval in 2006. Brown came to the wicket with the score at 295-3, Mark Ramprakash was on his way to a mammoth 292 and Surrey to 639 (and an innings and 300 run win). It was probably three or four balls into Brown's innings, a particularly unkind and vocal member of the watching crowd cried "bat properly!". Brown promptly smashed the next ball for four and was clean bowled a couple later.

My next and most vivid memory is that faintly ridiculous innings of 176 off 97 balls against Gloucestershire again, at the Oval in 2007. He helped Surrey to 496-4, smashing the 50 over world record and he also set a new opening partnership record for Surrey - putting on 294 with James Benning (remember him?!). Brown was probably well into his innings when he smashed a six as straight as a die, it came racing towards me sitting on the pavilion balcony, or so I thought as it dipped and headed instead towards the woman sitting three rows in front who let out an enormous scream before diving out of the way as the ball crashed into her seat. I'm quite sure I would've snaffled it comfortably...

I was hugely disappointed when he was released by the club in 2008. As he showed as recently as last season when he scored almost 900 runs in a Nottinghamshire side which won the title, he could still have played a role for us. He would have doubtless enjoyed exchanging fastest strike rates with Rory Hamilton-Brown, Jason Roy et al. Not only was he a fine striker of the ball and sharp slip fielder, I'm sure his mischievous character would've fitted in well with this current crop of youngsters.

I am sure Surrey fans everywhere would want to wish Ali Brown the best in retirement, having played cricket at the top level for over 20 years and in three decades, he deserves a rest.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Semi-finals here we come

For the first time in what feels like a very long time, Surrey are into the latter stages of a major competition after a comfortable 130 run victory over Warwickshire tonight, with fully 11 overs remaining.

Even taking into account Warwickshire's focus on their Championship fixture against Hampshire starting tomorrow, this was probably our best CB40 performance of the season. But for some determined slogging from Steffan Piolet at the end the margin of victory would probably have been even higher.

On a surface which was much better suited to our battery of five (including Hamilton-Brown) spinners than Warwickshire's seam-heavy attack, our openers got off to their third consecutive flying start putting on 50 in five overs before Davies was out for 40. Hamilton-Brown and Roy continued to race along at nearly 10 an over until the former was caught behind, Chris Schofield came in at number four again but could only manage a three ball duck today.

At 96-3 it could've been panic stations but a steady 66 run partnership between Roy and Maynard recovered things. Then Maynard and de Bruyn then fell within four overs of one another, de Bruyn recording his fourth single-figures score in a row, and Spriegel was required to see Roy to his hundred, which he duly did.

Where previously Roy has perished hitting out perhaps a little early in his innings, today he showed great resolve and intelligence in reining himself in. His first limited overs hundred will not be his last by a long shot, we should count ourselves very lucky to have such a special batsman on board.

Matthew Spriegel played a crucial knock of 40 not out from 40 balls and shepherded the side to 282 which didn't look completely out of reach, but looked very useful.

It turned out to be way more than we needed with Arafat bowling economically and picking up the crucial wicket of Shiv Chanderpaul. Spriegel complemented his effort with the bat by bowling really well, 3-39 was his reward and in snaring Carter, Porterfield and Troughton LBW he took the guts out of the Warwickshire innings. Jade Dernbach returned identical figures to Spriegel, bowling well towards the end of the innings before Piolet started throwing the bat.

So a semi-final, possibly a home semi-final beckons and it's the first real success in competition terms for Chris Adams and Hamilton-Brown - they can be very proud of that achievement. The semis, with Sussex, Somerset, Durham and Nottinghamshire possibly involved will be a different prospect entirely but with the players we have in our squad, on our day we can beat anyone. Well played gentlemen.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Schofield and Roy: A magic gamble

Surrey took an enormous step towards the CB40 semi-finals tonight with an impressive run chase against Northamptonshire, rattling off the 297 runs required with an over and a ball to spare.

It seemed likely that our quest to win two of the final four games would become a much more pressured two from three after Northants, led primarily by young Alex Wakely's 94 from 77 balls on a fantastic batting track, piled on the runs. He was backed up by an even more rapid 55 from captain Andrew Hall with helpful cameos from two or three others.

None of the Surrey bowlers were able to tie down the Northants batsmen, Gareth Batty's 1-50 from his eight overs was the most economical return. Jade Dernbach did a good job to restrict the opposition in their powerplay in grabbing 3-53 but Yasir Arafat was again wayward, he bowled eight overs for 61 runs and didn't take even a single wicket.

Hamilton-Brown and Davies produced their second consecutive lightning limited overs start, putting on 75 runs at nearly 10 runs per over. But where in the past two wickets have fallen quickly precipitating a period of relatively slow scoring, and more wickets, tonight Adams and the skipper took a gamble which paid off handsomely.

After Davies fell with the score on 111, it was not Maynard but Schofield who joined Jason Roy at the crease. By the time they were parted 72 runs had been added at almost 8 an over, the required rate was down to six. The promotion of Schofield up the order, while not a long term solution, is ingenious. Batting down the order he is either required to hit every ball to the boundary or try and eke out his runs, at four he can just play his natural, attacking game. When Roy fell for a fine 65 off 42 balls we still had Maynard and de Bruyn to come.

Schofield carried on his merry way and with Maynard took Surrey to within 22 runs of their target. The four quick wickets of Maynard, Schofield, de Bruyn and Spriegel thereafter served notice of the dangers of the selection, but Arafat and Ansari were able to see us over the line.

One win from the final three games will almost certainly see us into the semi-final top of the group, and given we're the only side in the country unbeaten in the CB40 you have to say that's highly likely. Tonight was a seriously impressive performance, at the close of the Northants innings I didn't give us much of a chance, but we came through with a bit of room to spare. Well played.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Back to the grind, CB40 progression beckons

Moving swiftly on from the disappointment of the game against Kent last week the attention turns again to the CB40, the one competition in which we still have a hope of progression. In fact were we to emerge victorious from the two games this week against Northants and Warwickshire we would be guaranteed a place in the semi-finals.

Chris Adams has named a 13 man squad, as predicted at the time Ramprakash appears to have been named in the last squad purely (and prudently) to take his ban in the CB40 rather than the Championship. The 13 names and expected side is as follows:

De Bruyn

Bench: Wilson, Schofield

Essentially the same side as played against Northants at the Oval 11 days ago, but with Dernbach coming in probably at the expense of Schofield. Spriegel's sprightly 38 from 33 balls in the last game will likely edge him ahead of Schofield in the selection stakes, and his bowling was no more or less expensive either. Wilson is yet again named in the squad, as he seems to have been for every game this season but I just can't see him getting a game.

The previous game finally saw a successful Davies-Hamilton-Brown partnership and long may that continue. If they are backed up by a strong score from Jason Roy then we will be setting or chasing a big total. I hope Linley is given more opportunity to bowl more than a one over spell in light of his form, Arafat was poor in the last game so a good 8 over spell from him and Dernbach would be most welcome.

Northants and Warwickshire both represent a danger but we have beaten them both recently - though not convincingly by any means, we just edged both games by 12 runs and three wickets respectively. We are familiar with the dangermen on both sides, Brooks, Vaas, Wakely and O'Brien for Northants, Porterfield, Clarke and Chopra for Warwickshire. They are two tough sides and if we can win these two games we more than deserve to go through top of our group.

Adams and his charges will be desperate to sew up progression to the semi-finals before the final two group games against Leicestershire and a particularly tricky looking tie at home to Durham. Particularly after the experience of getting so close to qualification in the Twenty20s. As I've said before, we've scraped together wins in this tournament so far without playing our best cricket, so now would be a good time to really hit our straps. We deserve to be in the position we are, but you have to wonder if morale might be on the wane given recent experiences in the Championship. Adams and Hamilton-Brown will have to put four day concerns on the back-burner for the week and focus on winning these games.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Blown away in three days

It's difficult to know what to say after a game like that. You will see from my previous blog that we once were in a good position in this match, we'd knocked over Kent for what seemed like a below par 266 and already had 50 in the bank for the loss of no wicket. Thereafter, the numbers are staggering.

Having played out 12 overs on day one for 50 runs and no wicket, Surrey only batted a further 60 overs in the entire match, losing 20 wickets for 181 runs. Abject does not even begin to describe it. I accept that conditions weren't ideal but such was the brevity of both our innings, Kent cannot have had markedly dissimilar conditions to deal with and they came out on top by a margin of 266 runs - not a small victory by any standards.

So, I thought, if I was finding it hard to know what to say, maybe Chris Adams will do better, ladies and gentlemen I give you exhibit A:

Right then, what do we have: "there were some positives to take from the game." Check. "they're disappointed, I'm disappointed." Check. "we must move on, we can't dwell on defeats." Check. "we need to come back with a better plan next time." Check.

Anything about how disappointing performances like these must be for the members? About how frustrating it must be for the supporters to watch the team be crushed by a side we should at least be competing with, and probably beating? No, not a bit of it - am I just being naive? Some of the performances this year, this game and both innings against Middlesex at Lord's spring most immediately to mind have exposed a team with no shortage of ability but who at times seem to have lack of fight, apparently a lack of willing to knuckle down and play the situation. In Kent's first innings their batsman played out more balls than ours did in both innings. Just for good measure, the same applies to Kent's second innings as well. In fact, Rob Key on his own played out 33 more deliveries than our entire side managed in the second innings.

The match report on Cricinfo is a (almost exclusively) humiliating litany of milestones and records:

  • Darren Stevens took a career best 7-21 in the first innings
  • Stevens backed that up with 4-49 in the second innings to finish with his first ever 10 wicket haul.
  • James Tredwell recorded season's-best figures of 5-35 in the second innings.
  • In carrying his bat for the first time in four years Rob Key scored his 20th century for Kent at the St. Lawrence ground.
  • Surrey capitulated inside two hours on the third day for 104, our lowest Championship total in a decade.
  • To his enormous credit, Tim Linley bagged his 50th wicket of the season, a lone bright spot and incredibly the first Surrey batsman to achieve that feat in five seasons.
Of course we all recognise that this is a team in transition, a team full of youngsters bursting with promise but short on experience.  But the most frustrating thing about defeats like this is that it's not because we're not good enough, we are good enough and at times this season we have shown that but in the Championship nowhere near often enough.  How many times will we fall back on the same old excuse of not having experience and pledging to "go away and come back with a better plan next time"?  You have to now concede that promotion hopes look to be behind us for yet another year.  If Derbyshire knock off the remaining 80 runs they need to beat Gloucestershire we will drop to fifth and we're only 15 points from dropping behind Glamorgan to 7th place.  This cannot be allowed to happen.

Four games remain and as Adams says in the above video, we need to win at least three and probably four to maintain any promotion hopes - that would be an unprecedented (but not unwelcome!) run of form.  More realistically we need to give the table a veneer of respectability from Surrey's perspective, and give the members something to be proud of in four day cricket.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

First day spoils to Surrey

If the job was to take the initiative on day one, Surrey can consider it job done. It wasn't done in dominant fashion, and at close of play we were still over 200 runs behind, but Surrey are the team in the ascendancy.

Kent won the toss and chose to bat and ultimately Rob Key would've wanted to put more on the board than the 266 his side mustered. They got off to the best start possible, he and Denly put on 80 before even 20 overs had passed. That was before Zander de Bruyn, unusually bowling as first change, made the breakthrough with the wicket of the opposing captain. Key's opening partner was also back in the pavilion with the score on 104.

As the day progressed neither side took the game by the scruff of the neck but Surrey chipped away with regular wickets and that opening partnership remained the biggest of their innings, the next best being the ninth wicket partnership of 36. As in the win over Gloucestershire the team looked to be bowling as a unit, there was not one outstanding performer and the wickets were shared around all the bowlers.

Yasir Arafat looked to be having another middling outing before he came into his own later in the day, his three scalps in 11 overs prevented Kent's tail from gaining a foothold (although he did bowl four more no-balls to take his total for 2011 to 41). 62 runs from the final two wickets is a little above par, but it's less damaging than some other tail end partnerships we've been on the receiving end of this year. Tim Linley was slightly expensive at the start of the day but pulled it back well to end with 2-46, de Bruyn chipped in with another wicket and Jade Dernbach will probably be slightly disappointed to have picked up just one.

With a Kent total that was by no means commanding on the board it was crucial that Surrey saw off the final 12 overs of the day without loss, and they did so in fine style with Davies and Hamilton-Brown registering the fifty partnership in the 11th over of the innings. For all his failure to register three figures in his 14 innings since the Essex game in May, Hamilton-Brown has nonetheless averaged 43 in a position in which he is not comfortable in Championship cricket. He needs just 32 more runs to better his 2010 tally of 808 runs with four games still to come after this one, he'll want a lot more than 32 though and ending his hundred-drought will be at the front of his mind.

Both Davies and Hamilton-Brown will have to start all over again in the morning and it's important that they build a base from which we can push toward 450 and a 200 run lead. Our batting lineup looks an awful lot sturdier when the openers put on 100 runs or more (as do most batting lineups...), that must be their first target.

There is substantial pressure on the players in this game so it's heartening to see them on the front foot so early in the game. As always they will want to guard against complacency - the ball is still only 12 overs old - but our bowlers and openers have got their foot firmly in the door.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Surrey need to take their chance

Chris Adams has named a 12 man squad for the Championship game with Kent starting at Canterbury tomorrow, Chris Jordan maintains his place after being recalled for the CB40 game last week.

As I said in my last blog, this game has to be seen as a great opportunity to grab maximum points, being against a side who have won just two of their 11 Championship fixtures this season and who were knocked out of the Twenty20 Cup at the weekend. The squad and likely XI is as follows:

De Bruyn

12th man: Jordan

So, the same team as for the two wicket win at Gloucestershire. If the pitch has a touch of green there is a strong possibility that Chris Jordan may play instead of Zafar Ansari and he'll need to grab the chance with both hands if it comes his way. Again there is no one in the top six who looks horribly out of form, throughout the season everyone has looked in good touch but only de Bruyn has scored heavily and consistently. Davies hasn't scored the weight of runs we've come to expect but he always looks capable, Roy too is due a score.

The attack, short of Stuart Meaker who is still on Lions duty, could do with Jade Dernbach finding his best form. He's proved an excellent containing option much of the time this season particularly with the new ball but he has just 20 wickets under his belt, at almost 40 apiece. Contrast that with Tim Linley who has 44 at 21 - needless to say much will rest on his shoulders this week, again. I've given up trying to predict which Yasir Arafat will show, but we could really use the deadly version. Canterbury doesn't seem to have heavily favoured spinners or seamers particularly this season so I would expect Ansari and Batty to play, with de Bruyn to fill in where necessary. One thing notable about this season is that Dernbach, Arafat and Batty have had the odd good match here and there, while Linley has been consistently excellent he's not had consistently excellent back up. That's what we need in this game.

The man who tops Kent's batting and bowling averages, and Surrey tormentor-in-chief of late, Azhar Mahmood has not been named in their squad - he's only played four Championship games all season. But that doesn't make them a weak side, Robbie Joseph was poor at the Oval, returning 1-77 off 10 overs but he remains a threat, as do Wahab Riaz and Simon Cook. Rob Key likes to bat against us and in his last 4 Championship innings he averages 72 - including that special hundred at the Oval. Van Jaarsveld, Denly, Northeast and Stevens are also more than capable, although they have only returned three hundreds between them in 2011 (van Jaarsveld is yet to register a ton this season, don't count against him doing so against us!).

I think Hamilton-Brown will look at this game as an opportunity to attack. At the Oval we scored our runs at 4.6 runs per over and then blew away their top order, allowing their tail to cobble together 160 runs, while criminal, was the only thing prevented a more simple win than was eventually achieved. The captain would be ill advised to take Kent lightly of course, but if we want to maintain a chance of promotion, he will have to take some calculated risks - that doesn't mean throwing the bat at everything and sticking in seven slips for every ball - it just means sensible but positive cricket. Over to you chaps...

Saturday, 6 August 2011

The business end of the season - where are we?

There's six weeks till the end of the 2011 season - quite how it's gone so quickly is beyond me - but with nine fixtures remaining and a few days off before the next game I thought I'd look at where we are and where we can get to.

Of the nine fixtures only two are at the Oval, we have four away fixtures in the County Championship at Kent, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Essex before ending the season with our fifth and final remaining game at home to Derbyshire. In the CB40 we have three away games at Northants, Warwickshire and Leicestershire before ending the group games at home to Durham on the August bank holiday.

So, the Championship first. Five games to go, we're in fifth place, 29 points behind the leaders Northants, 24 behind Middlesex who have a game in hand, four points behind Gloucestershire and just a point behind Essex (over whom we have a game in hand). Glamorgan and Derbyshire are lurking in close-ish proximity twelve and thirteen points behind. It's tight at the top.

Is promotion a realistic target? Yes, just about but it'll be tricky. Northamptonshire have to play Middlesex twice before the end of the season and our North London rivals are in decent form where Northants are not, so there's still a chance we can catch them. We need to be looking at winning a minimum of two of the remaining five fixtures and losing even one might prove a killer blow. Two wins and three draws with plenty of bonus points along the way should see us to 200+ points, which will at least have us in contention. We have to look to the games against Kent and Leicestershire, our next two fixtures, as the best opportunities given their position in the table and that we've beaten them both once this season already. The danger is, as ever, that in pushing to win games we will likely leave ourselves vulnerable, Hamilton-Brown will find himself between a rock and a hard place on more than one occasion in the remaining weeks of the season.

Pragyan Ojha's call to join the India squad is a blow, particularly for our Championship chances and the Chief Executive has confirmed that no replacement will be sought. As the season draws to a close with games played on wearing pitches, a spinner who extracts sharp turn would increase our chances of killing off sides in the fourth innings - something which for a long time we have failed to do consistently. I had hoped Yasir Arafat was returning to his old self but his bowling against Northants in the CB40 made me doubt that. Again. Tim Linley can expect to bowl a lot of overs and we desperately need him to maintain his excellent recent form. The batting this year has relied largely on Zander de Bruyn with good support from Tom Maynard. Hamilton-Brown and Roy, both largely batting out of their comfort zones to their great credit, have contributed in fits and starts and Mark Ramprakash looks to be hitting form at the right time. Steven Davies will be disappointed with his form this year, while he has by no means been in terrible form, he is still yet to make a really telling contribution.

Our progression, or otherwise, up the table in the Championship will be the real yardstick by which this season is judged, and rightly so, but limited overs cricket was always likely to be our best suit this year given the age and talents of our squad. It is therefore disappointing that we don't have to concern ourselves with the latter stages of the Twenty20, but heartening that we very much do need to be thinking of the latter stages of the CB40 now.

At the very start of the season Chris Adams set out the CB40 as the hardest competition to progress in, oddly I thought given our excellent form last season right up until...well about this time last year. We now face the very real prospect of a home semi-final in the 40 over competition and who knows, maybe a Lord's final after that. I have been on record as saying I don't think our selection in this competition has been right, too many all rounders and not enough batsmen but time and again the team has found a way to win matches. I still think against the very best limited overs opposition, the Somersets and Sussexes of this world, that policy will come a cropper.

Adams has persisted with a top five of Hamilton-Brown, Davies, Roy, de Bruyn and Maynard and the allrounders starting at six - usually three of Spriegel, Schofield, Batty and Ansari filling the slots from six to eight, followed by three seamers most often in the shape of Arafat, Dernbach and Linley. This has often resulted in the obligatory blazing start, followed by a couple of quick wickets whereupon the numbers three, four and five batsmen realise they are the only hope of a big total, necessitating a bit of a slow-down. Wickets fall anyway and the middle order doesn't quite have the power to regularly force the pace (notwithstanding some admirable efforts from Messrs Schofield, Spriegel and Ansari at times). You only have to look at a team like Somerset, who typically might have a Hildreth or a Buttler at number six, to see what kind of a boost that extra batting can provide.

If we do progress (and two wins from the final four games - no mean feat - should see us through) I would like to see Adams forego an allrounder to fit in the extra batsman, ideally Mark Ramprakash if deemed fit enough. It's not as if that would leave us short of bowling options either, Zander de Bruyn has 137 List A wickets in his career and yet has bowled only 17 overs in 7 games, and Hamilton-Brown himself is no mug with the ball - as as the game against Northants showed. Six proper batsmen, with three of the aforementioned allrounders - all of them have contributed one way or another at various times - and Arafat offering something of an insurance policy in the lower middle order, is in my opinion a safer bet against the best opposition.

I appreciate that given the result in this form of the game, Chris Adams will feel quite comfortable in ignoring any such advice. However I do think the 'six batsmen-two all rounder' approach allows for greater flexibility than the 'five batsmen-three all rounder' one.

That then, for what it's worth, is my view of the world of Surrey County Cricket Club as at the 6th of August 2011. For all the negativity around the team in the aftermath of some horrible results this year, it remains the case that we could still theoretically end the year as CB40 champions and promoted to Division One. That we are in that position with only six weeks of the season to go, is something worthy of mention. Equally we could end 2011 as empty handed as we ended 2008, 2009 and 2010, which would be a massive disappointment given the significant investment in personnel over the last two years in particular. Let's hope it's not the latter and get behind the team for the rest of the season.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Seven out of eight ain't bad

Surrey took a big step towards the CB40 semi-final with a close-run win over Northants at the Oval yesterday evening.

Adams elected to go into the match with four spinners, five if you include Rory Hamilton-Brown and just two seamers in the shape of Linley and Arafat. With such a glut of allrounders it was important that we won the toss and put a score on the board, which we duly did but they will feel the eventual total of 273 could have been closer to 300.

For the first time this season the opening partnership of Davies and Hamilton-Brown passed 50 in the CB40, and rapidly too as they put on 60 runs in the first seven overs. Two wickets fell in quick succession as the captain departed for 43 and Roy soon after for just four.

Tom Maynard and Davies then compiled a good 99 run partnership at a rate of over seven, but once they were out the innings stuttered a little, only 67 runs were scored in the final 12 overs. Only Matt Spriegel of the bottom six batsman was able to clear the ropes.

Northants' pursuit of 274 got off to the best of starts as Mal Loye and David Willey put on 138 in 20 overs but there again their innings stuttered as only Alex Wakely below the top two was able to pass 30. Hamilton-Brown and Gareth Batty, who took 5-75 from 15 overs between them, were the bowlers who did the damage. Arafat bowled very poorly in returning 2-53 and Tim Linley was bizarrely restricted to two one over spells. In the end Northants came up 12 runs short.

We now sit on 15 points with four games to go. Two wins from the final four fixtures will probably be enough to see us to the semi finals which is a significant achievement. Yesterday was yet another case of us winning without playing our best cricket - perhaps they're saving that for the final!

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Ramprakash and Jordan back for Northants game

Chris Adams has named a 14 man squad, shorn of Stuart Meaker and Jade Dernbach - both of whom are on England Lions duty, but boosted by the return to limited overs cricket of Mark Ramprakash.

Allrounder Chris Jordan, who according to rumours is attracting interest from other counties, is also recalled to the squad having played just one 40 over match this season in which he bowled 6 overs for 53 runs and failed to take a wicket.

The squad and possible team is as follows:

De Bruyn

Bench: Spriegel, Schofield, Wilson

The opening pair is a real issue for Adams; Hamilton-Brown and Davies are capable of fearsome hitting but the partnership just hasn't worked this season. I think Roy should be promoted up the order, you can't help but feel he's got a big score in him just waiting to come out at the moment and Hamilton-Brown in the middle order means we lose none of the power. Ramprakash in the side instantly gives us a better balance as he can play the anchor role if needs be, and there's plenty of firepower in a lower order of Ansari, Jordan, Batty and Arafat.

On the bowling front, much will rest on the in form shoulders of Tim Linley and I hope Arafat continues his recent and impressive return to form. Batty and Ansari, with backup from de Bruyn and Hamilton-Brown should be able to contain during the middle overs but the role of Chris Jordan, should he play, will be interesting to see. He won't open the bowling but he is a naturally attacking bowler, like Meaker he can't really do the 'containing' role in one day cricket but he is capable of taking wickets if he's in any kind of form. He's been in the wickets in club cricket and the Second XI, but we all know how big a jump it is up to this level. Leaving out Spriegel is a touch harsh but Ansari and Batty have miles in their legs at the moment, Schofield is playing for the Second XI today and tomorrow so I can't see him playing and Adams is unlikely to throw Wilson in at this stage.

Northants are in some shocking form at the moment. Having made a phenomenal start to the season the Twenty20 games came at just the wrong moment and they don't seem to have recovered. Since mid-July they've lost to Hampshire, Leicestershire and Scotland in the CB40 along with draws against Glamorgan and Derbyshire in the Championship. That could just mean they're due a result of course, and with Hall, O'Brien, Sales, Vaas and Brooks in their ranks they're more than capable of getting one tomorrow.

Earlier in the season I'd have said Northants might be favourites for this one, but with their recent form and the return of Ramprakash to the side I think we should be looking at victory, and a big step towards the semi-finals of the CB40.