Surrey inflicted the heaviest defeat by runs in first class cricket this season on Northamptonshire today, 333 runs to be exact, and in doing so promised to make the final couple of weeks of the cricket season mouthwateringly tense.
It was another collapse, the final five wickets for just 55 runs this time, which did for Northants. It wasn't the searing fast bowling of Stuart Meaker this time (though his wicket of Kyle Coetzer started the rot), but the left-arm spin of Pragyan Ojha. He ended with extraordinary figures of 6-8 off 16.3 overs, including 10 maidens. That is what you call a match-winning spell. He now has 11 wickets in two matches at a cost of just 8 runs each, finally Chris Adams has snared his trump card overseas player.
The result leaves Surrey 23 points behind Northamptonshire having played a game less. To be sure of promotion Northants now have to win their final game at Wantage Road against Gloucestershire who themselves won today against Glamorgan. And even then Northants could come up short. Having been clear at the top of the division for so long, they could in fact fine themselves fourth in the final analysis. Form is deserting them at precisely the wrong moment, or precisely the right moment from a Surrey fan's perspective.
Of course there is much cricket to be played between now and then, and possibly much autumnal weather to avoid as well. Surrey need to win their final two matches and make it an extraordinary four consecutive wins to be sure of promotion, but we do seem to be hitting our straps at just the right time.
We have needed to win the last two games to maintain hope, and we have done so emphatically - the players have shown a great deal of character and no little skill. Given the morale-sapping defeats that have been inflicted on us this season it is testament to the spirit in the team that we are even in this situation. Winning is a habit, and it's a habit we've been indulging in more often than not lately - just need to keep it up for another 14 days!
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