The unexpected quest for Division One cricket in 2012 continues as Surrey travel to Chelmsford tomorrow to take on Essex. A win with a full quota of bonus points will put us in second spot, any kind of win will make the final week of the season unbearably tense.
Chris Adams has kept faith with the 13 man squad who returned victorious from Northamptonshire, and why change a winning formula? I would expect the same XI to be named:
12th men: Ansari, Edwards
On the batting front the game against Northants was a story of two men, Davies and de Bruyn, leading the line. They both passed 50 in both innings, no other Surrey batsman passed 50 in the match, indeed only one other batsman on either side passed the mark. There were 30s and 40s but nothing substantial - Hamilton-Brown, Ramprakash, Maynard and Roy will not want the same to happen in this game. Maynard in particular will be looking for a score, he only has one 50 in his last 14 visits to the crease and since moving to number five in the batting order in the game against Gloucestershire has only averaged 19. As the game on Sunday against Sussex showed, he's not short of form, he just hasn't found that big score lately.
It takes something exceptional to eclipse a spell of bowling that included four wickets in seven balls, as Meaker's did, but eclipse it is just what Pragyan Ojha did. His return of 6-8 finished off Northants in double quick time and I hope he carries that form into this game, and Meaker too. If Linley takes a wicket in the first innings it'll be 20 consecutive innings in which he's taken a wicket - there's not many superlatives I haven't already used to describe his performances this season. Chris Jordan meanwhile has only taken one in his last seven Championship innings, he last took a wicket against Derbyshire in May, he's bowled 276 deliveries since then. With Meaker, Linley and Ojha in form it's not a big deal, but it would be good to see him back in the wickets. He could also do with some runs, 64 runs in 10 innings is not the return of an allrounder.
Essex have nothing to play for but pride in this game, they sit fifth in the table 16 points behind Gloucestershire, but I don't expect they'll be in any mood to roll over and give us the points. Their last two games have seen a defeat to Kent and a rain affected draw against Derbyshire and their batsmen don't appear to be in the best of form - their last three completed innings totals read 144, 185 and 207. For a side with Owais Shah, James Foster and the power of Ryan ten Doeschate and Graham Napier (remember this?) that's sub-par - so expect a backlash! Watch out for young Adam Wheater too, he's scored two hundreds this year on his way to 785 Championship runs.
They haven't named Maurice Chambers, who had a poor game against us at Whitgift in May, in their squad but three very exciting bowling talents are named - left arm quicks Tymal Mills and Reece Topley and legspinner Tom Craddock. All three have shown plenty of promise this season. There's also the small matter of the leading wicket taker in county cricket this year, David Masters. He is having a remarkable season and comes into this game just 14 wickets short of 100 in 2011.
After consecutive Championship wins in recent weeks, and a Lord's final in the bag, morale among the players should be sky high. A draw or a defeat would not make promotion impossible, but it would make it a damn sight harder and it would return the initiative back to Northants. Let's just do this the easy way and make this game the third win of the four we need to go up.
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