Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Squad for Durham game named - for what it's worth

Although the next four days are forecast to be a rain-fest, a thirteen man squad has nonetheless been named to face Durham starting tomorrow. Theoretically at least.

Jacques Rudolph makes a welcome return to the squad but otherwise it is unchanged from last week. The 13 and possible XI is as follows:

Jacques Rudolph
Steven Davies
Mark Ramprakash
Zander de Bruyn
Rory Hamilton-Brown
Tom Maynard
Jason Roy
Gareth Batty
Stuart Meaker
Jon Lewis
Jade Dernbach

12th men: Linley, Jordan

With Rudolph back in the fold the openers conundrum is solved for now, though the men tasked with that job are in search of some fluency. Ramprakash, fresh from his interview with the Daily Telegraph (and an ECB slap on the wrists for abusing umpires) in which he bemoans the state of April pitches, will get another chance to find some form. Whilst I sympathise with him that batting is tough, it is hard to deny that he's also in a rough patch of form. He has spent plenty of time in the middle this season, he's just never looked like scoring runs. Once he gets a session with 40 or 50 runs under his belt, I'm sure he'll feel right at home again.

Adams is unlikely to jettison Jordan or Batty at this stage but I think we are a bowler heavy. I would probably leave out Jordan, despite an encouraging couple of overs late in the day against Worcestershire, that the captain waited until the 33rd and 28th overs of each innings to introduce him suggests we could probably sacrifice him for some extra batting. Indeed, both Batty and de Bruyn were tried in Worcestershire's second innings before Jordan. Adams very rarely goes into a game without a spinning option (it was not so long ago that he played two spinners in an April game) so Batty is always likely to be retained.

That of course conveniently leaves room for Roy who while he didn't score heavily last week, at least looked likely to score runs during his short stays at the crease. The time he spent edging Alan Richardson through gully will serve him well later in the season.

Meaker's six wickets last week means if fit, he simply has to play (workload is not an issue yet, he's only bowled 58 overs in April). Lewis is similarly a nailed on certainty as our leading wicket-taker and third highest run-getter, which leaves a likely choice between Linley and Dernbach. Jade has been extraordinarily reliable so far this season, drying up the runs (no one has given away fewer runs per over than Dernbach's 2.3) and picking up regular wickets although he hasn't quite had the impact of Meaker or Lewis. I would definitely stick with him, again this is hard on Linley but he'll bowl plenty of overs through the season I'm sure.

I'm certain most of the batters would echo Ramps concerns about the spicy pitches, but this damp weather means respite for them is very unlikely. They must be longing for a warm July day on an Oval flat top.

Durham are the strongest opposition we've faced so far this season, with the greatest of respect to the three sides already played. They have quality right through the order with di Venuto, Collingwood and Benkenstein forming an almost unparalleled batting spine in terms of experience. They also have the prodigiously talented Ben Stokes and skipper Phil Mustard is no mug either. Their bowling is dangerous, spearheaded by Graham Onions (he of sixteen wickets in his two games this year) and Mitchell Claydon, with Stokes chipping in here as well.

Another on-off game is in the offing and a result seems all-but impossible. It could be another fight over first innings bonus points which for the batsmen will seem equally unlikely. Durham will provide a good test and if we can hold our own, and we ought to be able to, it'll stand us in good stead.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Rain interrupts to force Oval draw

In a match where fewer than 200 overs were possible over four days of play, it is hardly a surprise that the result was a draw. What was a surprise is how relatively close we came to a result.

Heavy rain interrupted at about twenty to four with Worcestershire looking comfortable on 94-1, the wicket falling to a much-improved Chris Jordan just seconds before the break. In his 2 overs today he was far more accurate and dangerous than in the four he bowled yesterday.

The day began with the captain and Batty looking to extend the lead beyond the 152 it was overnight but only 11 runs were added before Batty fell to a well directed short ball from Lucas. Hamilton-Brown continued to tick over and added a further 20 with Meaker before the skipper perished trying to launch Richardson over long on for a superb 76. The captain has borne a heavy burden so far this season, scoring precisely 25% of his side's runs.

That left Surrey eight wickets down with a lead of 185. Meaker and Lewis played excellently, picking off the bad balls in a 35 run partnership. Once Meaker fell Jade Dernbach came in and launched 22 runs from just 15 balls including a superb straight six off Richardson, lifting Worcestershire's target to a tricky looking 246. The last four wickets added 82 vital runs.

Perhaps Dernbach's cameo should've been the signal to Hamilton-Brown that the pitch had settled down overnight. There was certainly little sign of the variable bounce of yesterday apart from in the very early overs today. Surrey's new ball bowlers, Lewis and Dernbach himself, got no assistance from the pitch despite some accurate bowling.

That remained the case no matter who Hamilton-Brown turned to as Mitchell and Klinger, perhaps mindful of the forecast rain, were content to tick along at three runs an over or less. Klinger was the aggressor with a couple of lucky edges initially but as he settled he began to play very well. Mitchell bedded in and by the time he became the first wicket to fall he'd seen off 91 balls for his 20 runs.

Despite an excellent bowling performance (albeit on a helpful surface) Adams has plenty to think about ahead of the next game. Three games into the season he only has two top order batsmen who have more than a hundred runs to their name in total. Mark Ramprakash simply must find some form but de Bruyn too is under pressure, he has just 41 runs from his last four innings. Burns, Harinath and Spriegel will be on standby.

The cricket keeps on coming, there are just a few days before the next game against Durham begins though this outing hardly counts as taxing with so many rain breaks. A win, a loss and a draw does not represent the ideal start to the season, but neither is it a disaster. Adams and Co. will want to push on and push top opposition hard later this week.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Captain Marvel sets up intriguing finish

If the London weather behaves itself tomorrow we could see a second nerve-jangling finish in seven days. Surrey ended the day 131-6 in their second innings, a lead of 152 runs after a frantic day's play.

Surrey began the day looking to add to their overnight total of 123, but the final three wickets only managed to add 17 runs. Meaker flashed at one from Alan Richardson to give him a sixth wicket, Ben Scott taking a superb one-handed catch to his left. Gareth Batty looked ill-at-ease at the crease, struggling to find any timing at all before he managed to crunch one through the covers. It was to be his last scoring shot though as two balls later he edged Lucas into the slips. Last man Dernbach saw off only one ball before offering Scott his second catch of the morning.

That meant Surrey's last 20 wickets had fallen for just 277 runs and we looked to be on the back foot. The Worcestershire reply began sedately, the first four overs producing only five runs. Jon Lewis then made the breakthrough in the fifth as Klinger aimed a pretty average shot at a good length ball which Lewis may have held back slightly. Zander de Bruyn was again given four new-ball overs and in them rarely presented the batsmen with any trouble.

When Meaker was introduced in the ninth over he was immediately more dangerous, rapping the knuckles of Vikram Solanki with a sharp ball short of a length. Solanki was gone soon after offering a leading edge off Lewis to Chris Jordan at cover point who took an excellent diving catch. Meaker was then into his stride bowling quickly and full of length, he trapped Moeen LBW and had Mitchell well caught at second slip before lunch. Worcestershire went into the break reeling at 39-4.

After lunch there was no let up. Ten balls into the afternoon session Lewis picked up his third wicket, Kervezee offering Maynard his third slip catch of the innings. Just three overs later Meaker picked up his third wicket, Ben Scott for just one, having been hit in the unmentionables by Lewis a few balls before. Maynard was in action again as Choudhry became his fourth slip catch of the day to give Meaker his fourth wicket.

Meaker's spell was extended by the captain in search of a five-for and his hundredth first class wicket. It duly arrived in typical Meaker style as David Lucas' off stump was sent a good few yards back. Worcestershire were 74-8 and Stuart Meaker had ripped through their batting.

Chris Jordan was introduced into the attack and bowled a disappointing four over spell which produced no wickets and leaked 20 runs. A 50 run first innings lead had looked possible with Meaker in full flight but Jordan's wayward spell allowed Cameron and Jones to mount a mini fightback. Dernbach broke the stand in the end, having Jones caught at slip and the captain turned again to Meaker to finish the innings, which he did, having Cameron caught behind for a dogged 41.

That meant a first innings lead of just 21 and with only five sessions remaining a result still seemed unlikely. But the tricky bounce and swinging conditions meant the fun continued. Surrey's second innings went the way of the first as five wickets fell for just 50 runs in less than 20 overs. Ramprakash registered his sixth consecutive sub-25 score and his place will soon come into question, if it isn't already. He badly needs time in the middle, he's hit just seven fours in six innings, April is not a time for a batsman to find form.

Hamilton-Brown though defied the odds with his fourth innings of substance in tricky conditions of late, hitting a run-a-ball fifty in a match where only one other player has passed 40. Chris Jordan offered support, hitting just nine runs but hanging around for 55 balls, and Gareth Batty then helped his captain add 28 runs in five overs before the close.

So a lead of 152 runs with four wickets and three sessions remaining, a pitch offering varying bounce and conditions tomorrow which, if they don't force the players from the field, are likely to offer swing, a result now seems likely. If the rain stays away, you'll want to be at the Oval one way or another tomorrow.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Struggles with the bat continue on a day for the bowlers

Surrey closed day two (after day one was completely washed out) teetering on 123-7 as their struggles with the bat at Lord's came back to haunt them at their home ground.

The day's play started on time and Chris Adams sprung something of a surprise in sending Jason Roy out to bat with Steven Davies. A not unwelcome surprise I might add. Roy began the day briskly but not without offering chances, three edges went between slip and gully from Alan Richardson's first couple of overs. Richardson would go on to taunt Surrey throughout the day with his usual tricky seaming and swinging deliveries.

Roy and Davies had though put on 48 together and the session was tending towards Surrey. However the next ten overs saw the morning sliding inexorably towards Worcestershire. First Davies nibbled at a ball from Richardson to give the 'keeper a catch and Richard Jones then served up two very good deliveries to send back first Ramprakash and then Hamilton-Brown.

Maynard and de Bruyn took Surrey to a rain-induced lunch sitting uncomfortably on 69-4. This was made all the more uncomfortable as Wisden Cricketer of the Year Richardson took centre stage again as De Bruyn edged one to the 'keeper immediately after the break. Surrey had slipped from 48-0 to 69-5.

Chris Jordan joined Maynard and as they gained in confidence they began to forge an entertaining partnership. Maynard seemed determined to counter attack and between the 28th and 31st over between them they scored 34 runs. There were more than a couple of edges amongst them but it was probably the right approach in the circumstances.

Rain intervened again and the players were off for three hours of the afternoon and evening sessions. The break came at precisely the wrong moment from Surrey's perspective as Jordan and Maynard were rattling along nicely. A brief spell of three overs were managed towards the end of the day, during which Surrey contrived to lose a further two wickets. Maynard was LBW again, to Richardson and Jordan was clean bowled by the same man just minutes before they were off for rain again.

Worcestershire's main man ended the day with an impressive haul of 5-42. Overhead conditions and a pitch that had sweated under the covers in rainy conditions for over 24 hours made for a very tough day for Surrey's batsmen. Not to mention some excellent bowling from Richardson and Jones, and an on-and-off day which disrupts a batsman's concentration and allows the bowlers a rest. The forecast over the next couple of days makes a result unlikely in this game, and with our first innings in tatters even batting bonus points also look to be a pipe dream at the moment.

I imagine Batty, Meaker and Lewis will be given license to attack the bowling tomorrow morning, and in any case I don't think the three of them would play any other way! The bowlers will relish the chance to take on Worcestershire's batsmen in similar conditions to today, and will want bowling bonus points squarely in the bag.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Adams sticks to his guns for Worcestershire match

Chris Adams has gamely refused to bow to the pressure created by a dispiriting defeat to Middlesex, naming the set of players who travelled to the Home of Cricket last week. Jacques Rudolph was a late withdrawal due to family reasons. It is of course right that he is given the time and space to deal with the personal issues affecting him.

The squad and possible XI is as follows:

Rory Hamilton-Brown
Steven Davies
Mark Ramprakash
Zander de Bruyn
Tom Maynard
Jason Roy
Chris Jordan
Gareth Batty
Jon Lewis
Stuart Meaker
Jade Dernbach

12th man: Tim Linley

I think Adams is right to resist major changes, Hamilton-Brown and Lewis aside no one really impressed at Lord's but it was a very tricky pitch, the likes of which we probably won't encounter again this season. The absence of Rudolph does though mean that the issue of who will open rears its ugly head again. Chris Jordan was the man tasked with the job in the game against Sussex and while he didn't fail completely, he certainly didn't look at ease in that position. Adams may want to stick by his man, but I would personally prefer Hamilton-Brown or de Bruyn is given the job temporarily.

The only question mark remaining is which of Tim Linley or Stuart Meaker gets the nod. There was no indication that Meaker's omission from the Lord's game was injury related so he should be ready and raring to go. Once into his stride Linley didn't bowl badly in the first innings and was barely needed in the second, but there's that niggling feeling that a fired up Meaker might have dealt with the Sussex tail better last week. Meaker also offers more with the bat.

Adams could elect to omit an allrounder and play Meaker and Linley. I think this unlikely, the tail is already too long with Jordan at seven, he or Batty any higher in the order than they currently are would not be a good idea. While the pair didn't have the best game at Lord's, Batty got good turn at the Oval vs Sussex and is needed to keep the over rate down - this cost us a penalty point against Middlesex.

Jason Roy should get his chance and will hopefully seize it with both hands. His last couple of Second XI innings have produced runs but not in huge number. A haul of runs might have a knock-on effect on Mark Ramprakash. The rumblings about Ramps have been ongoing for some time and an impressive game from Roy will probably amplify these.

Worcestershire are a dangerous side. In their only Championship game this season they shot out a strong Nottinghamshire side for 118, before Notts turned it around in their second innings. The usual suspects will pose a challenge for Surrey, the likes of Moeen, Solanki, Klinger and Kervezee in the batting and newly crowned Cricketer of the Year Alan Richardson spearheading the bowling.

The team spirit of this side is readily acknowledged so while the loss to Middlesex will have hurt, they won't dwell on it. They will expect to beat Worcestershire but won't take it as a given. The weather might stand in their way though, the forecast is for consistent rain over the next few days so it could be a fight over first innings bonus points.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Middlesex ambush sees Surrey to defeat

The task of seeing Surrey to victory was at least as tricky as expected and in the end we came up three runs short as Middlesex pulled off an impressive heist.

In reality this is a game we should have won, but Hamilton-Brown may look back on his decision to bowl first as the moment where ultimately the game was lost. Yesterday and today saw the pitch become almost unplayable as 25 wickets went down for next to nothing. Batting last was always going to be a tough ask.

Plenty happened in between the toss and Jade Dernbach's ill-advised shot just after midday though. When we'd reduced the opposition to 129-7 we really should've stepped on the throat but Middlesex resisted expertly. Similarly if only we could've cobbled together another five runs in our first innings we might've had a different ending.

This morning Maynard and Hamilton-Brown would have been tasked with ticking off the remaining 46 runs but neither lasted the course. The captain was more tentative than last night perhaps wary of being seen to be overly aggressive on a very difficult surface. In the end the final six wickets fell for just 36 runs, six more than Middlesex's final six second innings wickets managed, but not enough to get us over the line. It was a high pressure situation with relatively few runs required, but I think some of the decisions to take singles very early in the over cost us dear today.

I think Adams may rue his decision to select two allrounders who contributed 12 runs and three wickets over the four days. If de Bruyn is going to play such a prominent role in games such as these, do we really need five alternatives? Meaker may also have been more adept in finishing off Middlesex's tail on day one but with the conditions as they were Adams could be forgiven for thinking Linley was the better option.

It's incredibly frustrating to lose a game by such a tiny margin and maybe it is unfair to be overly critical. I think the selection was wrong, but a margin of three runs across the match suggests it wasn't disastrously so. An incredibly difficult surface and opposition bowlers who did very little wrong make for very competitive cricket, but that's what division one is all about.

A defeat is a blow but the cricket comes thick and fast now. The players will dust themselves off and come back next week expecting to put this loss out of their minds.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Game in the balance into the final day

After a day's cricket that can only be described, for the most part in any case, as painful to listen to Surrey have their noses just ahead on 95-4, needing 46 runs to win.

In all 19 wickets fell on day three as the wicket became increasingly difficult to predict with the ball seaming extravagantly. Surrey's final five first innings wickets fell in quick time and in the end it was a collapse of ten wickets for 137 runs. Of the final six batsmen only Jon Lewis made it into double figures.

As if to emphasise the deterioration of the pitch Middlesex bettered that collapse losing all ten wickets for just 106 runs in less than 36 overs. Zander de Bruyn, again handed the new ball, this time repaid his captain's faith with two wickets in the first six overs. Hats off to Hamilton-Brown for sticking with the plan.

Malan and Robson then steadied the ship somewhat with a partnership of 36 before the carnage began. Jon Lewis in particular ran riot with 5-41 as the final eight Middlesex wickets tumbled for 41 runs. Dernbach chipped in with the important wickets of Robson and Malan while the other three bowlers were barely needed.

That gave Middlesex a lead of 140, not substantial under normal circumstances but since Rudolph and Davies' partnership twenty wickets had fallen for just 243 runs. These were far from normal circumstances.

Surrey's chase was only five overs old before the first wicket went down, that of Rudolph for six, swiftly followed an over later by Davies for eight. Ramprakash endured another tough stay at the crease but was gone six overs later leaving Surrey tottering at 22-3. 141 looked an awfully long way off.

That left de Bruyn and the skipper knowing they had plenty of work to do and they responded with a positive partnership of 46, driven mostly by Hamilton-Brown. Collymore then accounted for de Bruyn and the game was firmly back in the balance, 68-4 with 73 still needed.

Tom Maynard and Hamilton-Brown, the rescuers against Sussex, were again positive and an unbeaten partnership of 27 saw Surrey through to close. The captain went to an impressive 50 in the process. The only other scores of 50+ in the game have been scored at a rate of no more than 43 runs per hundred balls, Hamilton-Brown's was scored at a rate of over 90 runs per hundred balls.

So with only 46 runs required it would be tempting to say it will be simple enough for Surrey, but 19 wickets in a day says otherwise. Hamilton-Brown and Maynard will need to start all over again in the morning, and the pitch is unlikely to be any friendlier. The pair will look to attack and in Jordan, Batty and Lewis we have three batsmen to come who aren't likely to block out many overs. It could go one of two ways, but either way it probably won't take long. Here's hoping we make it two wins out of two.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Tough day as Middlesex edge ahead

An evening session collapse un-did a lot of sterling work by the top order as Surrey slipped from 85-0 to 161-5, ending the day still 95 runs behind and with the prospect of a new ball to come one over into tomorrow's play.

The day began with the visitors hunting the final wicket of the Middlesex innings but Collymore and Malan resisted, adding 33 runs with relative ease despite having to face the new ball (which was delayed for two overs for some reason). Hamilton-Brown's left-field bowling changes continued unabated with Gareth Batty bowling with the new ball just eight overs old, before Lewis and Jordan had a chance with the new cherry. Jordan eventually got the breakthrough though, the excellent Malan was caught down the leg side just 12 runs short of his hundred.

Surrey will have been disappointed with a final Middlesex total of 256, having reduced them to 129-7 the previous afternoon.

The openers knew a solid foundation was critical to eventually overhauling Middlesex's total, and they did a fine job. The Middlesex bowlers gave very little away and 21 overs into the innings just 42 runs were on the board but crucially no wickets had been lost. Davies and Rudolph batted sensibly, taking Surrey to 85-0 before a rush of blood saw Rudolph advance down the track to Rayner, missing the ball in the process - stumped for 45.

Davies continued to accumulate and he added 32 with Ramprakash until he edged behind with his score on 62. De Bruyn joined Ramprakash at the crease and to say they began slowly is something of an understatement. Their first seven overs together brought just three runs, the Middlesex bowlers offering almost nothing for the batsmen to feast upon.

The pair of them occupied the crease for a combined 152 balls, adding just 34 runs in the process. Ramprakash was LBW to to Neil Dexter and de Bruyn fell in the same manner to Roland-Jones. Their dismissals brought Hamilton-Brown and Maynard to the crease, two batsmen you wouldn't associate with grinding out runs. Maynard was particularly ill at ease and he was soon on his way as well, caught at slip off Dexter who was bowling an excellent spell of medium pace.

A first innings lead, which looked likely with the openers taking us to 85 without loss, now looks distinctly tricky. Hamilton-Brown and Jordan are more than capable with the bat, but the Middlesex seamers, armed with the new ball, will be very tough to face tomorrow morning. They will hope that batting in the morning is easier than it was this afternoon - just one wicket fell before lunch compared to five later in the day. The bowlers will have other ideas, one or two balls late in the day were keeping low.

From a position of real strength yesterday we're now scrapping hard for first innings parity. With no Meaker in the side, only Batty and Lewis will offer much resistance with the bat if the current pair fail. The captain and Jordan is now a very important partnership. It is crucial they don't allow this match to slip further.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Surrey let Middlesex off the hook at Lord's

A rain interrupted day at Lord's ended with Middlesex probably just the happier of the two sides, closing the day at 225-9 with the excellent Dawid Malan still at the crease unbeaten on 62.

Surrey omitted Jason Roy again, preferring the allround talents of Gareth Batty instead. Steven Davies came in and Stuart Meaker was surprisingly dropped in favour of Tim Linley, the only two changes from the XI against Sussex. Hamilton-Brown won the toss and he elected to have a bowl, there was a fair bit of cloud cover and moisture in the air, it looked a good decision.

The bowlers didn't back him up immediately though. It was 40 minutes before Jon Lewis made the breakthrough, having Joe Denly caught behind and Tim Linley had a particularly poor start. Hamilton-Brown meanwhile puzzled again by turning to Zander de Bruyn as first change bowler. He wobbled the ball around for five overs but it wasn't until Dernbach was belatedly introduced into the attack in the 18th over that the second breakthrough was made. Quite why the captain thought de Bruyn was a more likely wicket taker in the circumstances is beyond me.

66-2 became 88-2 at lunch and Middlesex would have been much the happier of the two sides. However after lunch and over an hour's lost play to a rain delay, Surrey came right back into the game. Tim Linley, after switching from the pavilion end, was vastly improved. Having bowled his first three overs for 14 runs, he then proceeded to bowl nine overs, returning 2-15, clean bowling Robson and Berg.

Jade Dernbach was also in fine fettle and at one stage had brilliant figures of 3-13 off 8 overs, Rogers, Dexter and Simpson his victims - the latter two in consecutive balls. Middlesex were reduced to 129-7, but Dawid Malan was holding firm at one end. He was joined by Tim Murtagh and just as we did against Sussex, we let the tail end cobble together plenty of runs. The 8th and 9th wicket partnerships added 94 runs, Chris Jordan was too loose and gave away three no-balls for good measure. What could've been 150 all out is now 225-9.

It's always hard to judge a pitch until both sides have batted but this seems to be one of those where hard graft early in an innings will pay dividends eventually. Surrey's dashing strokemakers would do well to analyse Malan's dogged innings and try and repeat it.

With the new ball just an over away tomorrow morning Surrey will want to knock over the last batsman in double quick time. The weather tomorrow is likely to be similar to today so batting won't be easy. From a position where it looked like we would dominate, we now have a real fight on our hands. The game against Sussex suggests we're up to the task, let's hope tomorrow proves it.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Chance for redemption at Lord's

Just less than a year ago Surrey made the arduous trip across London to face our North London rivals. Not only was the trip arduous, watching the game play out wasn't all that fun either. Unless you're a Middlesex fan of course. We were rolled over inside three days having allowed the opposition get to 445, having been 88-4 on the first morning.

So this year we're after revenge. An improved performance no doubt, but we're going there to win. The 13 man squad contains no surprises:

Steven Davies
Jacques Rudolph
Mark Ramprakash
Zander de Bruyn
Rory Hamilton-Brown
Tom Maynard
Jason Roy
Chris Jordan
Jon Lewis
Stuart Meaker
Jade Dernbach

12th men: Tim Linley, Gareth Batty

Leaving out Gareth Batty is a big call, and it's not a choice Chris Adams has made since 2010 when he was omitted from the XI to face Gloucestershire during a rainy September week. The forecast for the next few days isn't great, and there's been a fair bit of moisture around for the last few. Middlesex's strength is in the seam bowling department and the ball always does a bit at Lord's. If Adams is going to leave Batty on the bench anywhere, I think it might be here.

Leaving Tim Linley on the sidelines again is cruel, he's done nothing wrong but then neither did Meaker, Dernbach or Lewis against Sussex. He is to my mind a more likely wicket-taker than Jordan and with Roy at seven, followed by Meaker and Lewis who contributed well with the bat at the Oval the coach might feel there's enough batting to omit the allrounders altogether. I wonder though if Adams will want to discard Jordan just yet, a man in whom he's placed a lot of faith recently.

Four seamers ought to be able to do the job, with back up from de Bruyn and even Hamilton-Brown if absolutely necessary.

It seems fairly certain that Steven Davies will return as opener. To write Jordan the opener off after just one game might seem hasty, but there can be little debate as to who is better suited to the job. Moreover, Jordan is a far better option in the middle order.

Middlesex might have been beaten in their first game at Taunton last week but they weren't completely overawed despite facing a bowling attack spearheaded by one of the form bowlers in international cricket, Vernon Philander. They collapsed to George Dockrell's increasingly impressive left arm spin in the second innings but didn't simply roll over even then, they had Somerset 44-4 chasing a total of just 72.

Their batting is strong. Though Andrew Strauss was not released by the ECB this week, they still have the excellent Chris Rogers at the heart of their top order. Joe Denly made a promising start to his Middlesex career with a first innings 73 last week, and with Robson, Malan and Dexter they have a solid looking batting lineup. We know only too well how dangerous their bowling is, Toby Roland-Jones has terrorised our batting on at least two occasions, Corey Collymore is still dangerous, ditto Tim Murtagh and they have an assortment of allrounders who can pose a threat as well.

On paper at least our side is stronger than it was 12 months ago across batting and bowling. Ramprakash and Rudolph will be hungry for runs, and Davies will want to get his season off and running after sitting on the sidelines in Sri Lanka. If the weather behaves we should be looking at making it two wins out of two.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

One game. One win. What have we learned?

Not a huge amount more than we learned from pre-season to be frank. As Chris Adams said after the win against Sussex, there was no stand out performance over the three-and-a-bit days.

Jade Dernbach picked up five wickets, Jon Lewis four. Chris Jordan bowled impressively in patches and Stuart Meaker was a danger more or less throughout. Maynard was excellent in the first innings and cut off in his prime (alright, it was a bad shot) in the second.

The major positive was Hamilton-Brown's second innings 89, his highest score since that big hundred against Essex at Whitgift last year. As Andrew Strauss well knows even winning games as captain isn't enough to completely quell fears about your own batting. The skipper will be very relieved to be back in the runs.

Where do we go from here then? Lord's on Thursday, and if the forecast is to be believed it could be four days of rain breaks. Adams will be loath to change a winning formula so would be well within his rights to name a side very similar to that which overcame Sussex.

However, in the event that he doesn't, four names will probably be in the hat for review. The allrounders, Jordan and Batty, may be looked at. Jordan will slip down the order to number seven presumably, as Steven Davies is now back from Sri Lanka. Does this diminish his role in the side? Not in my view, if anything it enhances his credentials. His hard-hitting, combined with an apparent willingness to knuckle down a bit, could make him a very useful lower-middle-order bat.

So what of Gareth Batty? His place is probably never under any real threat but a rainy week at Lord's in April might be the only time his name hovers anywhere near the chop. At the Oval his 27 overs of off-spin offered the usual control and two very handy second innings wickets but he lasted no time at all with the bat in either knock.

That brings me to the next name in the mix, here's the broken record again; Jason Roy. Adams was at pains to praise Roy's committment in the field as 12th man in the Sussex game and could do a lot worse than bring him in to provide a bit of extra insurance in the batting. Innings of 264 and 273 in April might not immediately suggest a crisis in the batting department but 11-2 and 55-4 indicates all is not quite right. The question, as ever, is would the presence of the extra batting option make the top order play with more or less responsibility? We won't know that until its too late to change. Roy's latest chance to impress, for the Second XI against Sussex 2s was not grasped with both hands however, he scored only 41.

Adams may take the view that Steven Davies' presence at the top of the order means the two allrounder route at 7 and 8 carries less risk. I would argue that we felt a bowler heavy over the course of the Sussex game and with conditions at Lord's likely to favour the seamer (overhead and the pitch - Middlesex only have the allround spinning talents of Ollie Rayner to call on at present), four seamers might be the way to go this week.

The fourth name? Tim Linley. Given the solid performance of all three frontline seam bowlers against Sussex he will find it hard to force his way into the side for the very next game. It could be another frustrating few days ferrying the drinks for the Viscount.

After all that, I still expect Adams to field more or less the same XI, with Davies coming in for Rory Burns. The squad should be announced tomorrow, so not long to wait to find out!

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Slick Surrey finish off Sussex

It took under an hour for Surrey's bowlers to finish off the Sussex batsmen this morning under leaden skies with a ball only four overs old. A first victory of 2012 is now firmly under their belts and in doing so they played some impressive cricket against a solid cricketing side.

Jon Lewis was the man in the wickets this morning, picking up James Anyon, caught in the slips very early on. The excellent Luke Wells, who had moved to a well deserved hundred, was last man out, caught and bowled by Lewis. He finished with 3-40, plus a crucial innings of 24, all in all a very good debut and he'll be a difficult man to dislodge from the starting XI.

We will come up against sterner tests than this in Division One this season, but this was a display of efficient, resilient cricket from Surrey. There is still plenty to come from the mis-firing top order, Rudolph and Ramprakash in particular will be disappointed with their returns in this game, and Chris Jordan is not the solution to our lack of opening batsmen. Hamilton-Brown's superb second innings knock, and Tom Maynard in both innings, are the real positives on the batting front. Whether Steven Davies will come straight into the side for the Middlesex game having only returned from Sri Lanka today remains to be seen.

The bowling however proved to be a nicely balanced seam attack, with the usual solid back up from Gareth Batty. Jon Lewis, Jade Dernbach, Stuart Meaker and Jordan will be a tough proposition for most sides to negotiate in early season conditions.

21 points on the board is a very nice way to get the season underway and it provides some useful momentum going into a busy period. This game has confirmed that we are indeed a better side than we were last year, and with quality performers like Linley on the sidelines, and Davies still to come into the side, there's more to come from this Surrey team yet.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Surrey edge towards opening victory

It was a day of hard graft for Surrey as Sussex refused to roll over and be beaten on the third day at the Oval. Sussex ended the day on 240-8, needing another 102 runs for victory.

Lewis, Meaker and Dernbach cobbled together a further 33 crucial runs this morning to take the lead past 340, a tough ask for any team. It was another day under heavy cloud and the start was delayed because of bad light (despite the lights being on - confusing).

Even more confusing was Hamilton-Brown's decision - not for the first time - to give Zander de Bruyn the new ball. Despite the conditions being ideal, and having three rapid seam/swing bowlers in Meaker, Dernbach and Jordan in the ranks, the skipper opted for his military medium allrounder. To his credit, de Bruyn did at least keep it tight.

Jon Lewis made the breakthrough, clean bowling Nash who had started brightly. Meaker, who was not introduced until the 10th over, duly made an immediate breakthrough, bowling Ed Joyce. He trapped Goodwin lbw just a few overs later, Sussex were wobbling at 40-3, but Luke Wells stood firm.

Another curious decision from Hamilton-Brown was to bring Batty into the attack before either of Jordan and Dernbach. Not surprisingly, when Dernbach was introduced into the attack in the 25th over it took him just a couple of overs to have an impact, picking up the wicket of Yardy, also lbw.

Gatting and Wells helped Sussex recover before Batty got in on the act, having first innings top-scorer Gatting caught by Dernbach. It was then Ben Brown's turn to frustrate the Surrey bowlers but he and Naved fell in relatively quick succession.

Thoughts of a rapid denouement were dismissed further by Amjad (15) and then Anyon again (11 not out). The general consensus seems to be that Surrey bowled too short far too often today. You'd have thought with some juicy cloud overhead, it would be a no-brainer to pitch the ball up in order that it has the best chance to find movement through the air.

In reality with only two wickets still standing, and 102 runs still to get, a Surrey victory should be something of a formality. But it's never that simple. Luke Wells, who in notching the top score of the match in the fourth innings has played a blinder, will return to the crease tomorrow morning and James Anyon, a thorn in Surrey's side throughout this match, will be no pushover either.

The forecast for tomorrow doesn't look too good, heavy cloud and rain could halt Surrey's progress at times, although when we do get out onto the field we should at least have ideal bowling conditions - as long as they're bowling the right length of course.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Captain fantastic leads the way

With two days remaining Surrey are looking to press for victory with a 318 run lead and two second innings wickets still intact. It might not be the simplest of victories however.

Today was dominated by a sparkling innings from captain Rory Hamilton-Brown. His 89, from just 103 balls was nearly double the next best score in the innings and was peppered with authoritative drives and powerful pulls. His placement was particularly impressive as he regularly pierced fielders spaced just yards apart. His downfall was brought by what seemed to be a desire to race to the hundred mark, but his knock and the 136 run partnership with Maynard rescued Surrey from a precarious 55-4.

Surrey were efficient in whittling away the Sussex lower order this morning, dispatching Brown, Naved and Amjad rapidly before the final two batsmen helped Joe Gatting put on 74 runs. Chris Jordan bowled a particularly impressive spell and was the pick of the bowlers returning 3-29.

Jordan and Rudolph began watchfully and both had done the hard work before throwing their wickets away to none-too clever strokes. Ramprakash looked anxious throughout his innings of nine, frankly he looked a man well short of runs and his dismissal, run out when there clearly was no run on, was indicative of that. De Bruyn didn't hang around for long before offering up catching practice to the slips.

That brought Maynard and Hamilton-Brown together and the pair were superb, encapsulating everything about this new Surrey side, stamping their authority on the innings. They both departed in relatively quick succession, Burns and Batty followed soon after but not before the former had played some attractive strokes. Lewis and Meaker saw Surrey through to the close playing sensibly, putting away the bad ball and fortunately missing the good ones.

The lead is currently substantial and the two at the crease tomorrow morning can still add to that. However many of the dismissals today were down to poor strokes rather than brilliant bowling so the conditions and pitch may not be making batting too tricky. Sussex's top order is more than capable of chasing a big total and in Goodwin they have a man well versed in playing a long anchor innings. What Sussex did well in patches today was bowl accurately, frustrating the batsmen out. Surrey will have to follow suit when their opposition do get a second bat.

We are still firm favourites to come out on top but it won't be a walk in the park. Today was a good exhibition of attacking but controlled cricket from Surrey, more of the same tomorrow please!

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Surrey edge bowlers' day

The first day of the County Championship didn't disappoint and the game at hand is turning into a mouthwatering prospect. A late burst of four wickets gave Surrey the upper hand on a cloudy, bowler-friendly day at the Oval.

Rory Hamilton-Brown lost the first toss of the year as the opposition took the decision to insert Surrey's out of form batsmen. The bowlers didn't disappoint. The pitch had good bounce and carry but did not appear to have a great deal of grass on it. The real devils were caused by the overhead conditions as first Anyon and Naved, and then Amjad exploited the cloud cover to good effect.

It wasn't long before Surrey's makeshift opening pair were both back in the hutch, though it was something of a surprise that it was Jacques Rudolph who was first to depart, for a 12 ball duck. He was frustrated by tight, dangerous bowling before offering a catch to the slips. Chris Jordan followed soon after, playing on to Amjad.

The elder statesmen of the side, Ramprakash and de Bruyn then put on a recovery stand of 68 at a good pace before Ramprakash was out, LBW again, to Hatchett. De Bruyn followed ten overs later for an impressive 52 and Hamilton-Brown then fell for just 18.

At 124-5 Surrey were flirting with a first day disaster but Tom Maynard continued his good pre-season form, ably assisted by Rory Burns on debut they helped the side recover. At 205-5 Surrey were in a good position to counter-punch before a mini collapse saw four wickets fall for 29 runs. Batty, Meaker and Lewis all failed to support Tom Maynard and only Jade Dernbach, with an obdurate 5 from 18 balls hung about for any length of time. Even so, Maynard was left stranded for an excellent unbeaten 86 featuring 16 fours.

Despite the overhead conditions, 264 still felt a touch below par on what seemed a good surface. Jon Lewis made the perfect start to his Surrey career trapping the dangerous Ed Joyce LBW in his first over. Thereafter though he was a bit expensive as Meaker kept things tighter at the other end. Interestingly Meaker was awarded the new ball ahead of Jade Dernbach, an admirable show of confidence from his captain.

Luke Wells and Chris Nash recovered with a 60 run stand before Dernbach snuck one past an attempted drive to bowl Wells. Nash followed quickly offering a leading edge off Meaker to mid-off. Dernbach was back in the action not long after, dishing up a wide long hop to Goodwin before delivering a superb ball to knock back his off-peg.

Mike Yardy and Joe Gatting looked to be heading for the close of play before the former nibbled at a Chris Jordan delivery outside off stump, Rudolph took a good catch at second slip.

Sussex were 105-5 at the close with all of the experienced top order back in the dressing room. 159 runs in arrears with only the wicketkeeper Brown and the bowlers to come. With cloud forecast to roll across the Oval from mid-morning onwards there is a great opportunity to finish off the opposition quick-sharp to take a substantial first innings lead.

Today was a fine example of Surrey's resilience, when Wells and Nash threatened to build a good partnership Dernbach came up with a cracking ball to send him on his way. Sensing an opening, three more wickets then fell in ten overs. They must not let up tomorrow morning, Dernbach and Meaker in particular will be a tricky prospect and the conditions should suit Jon Lewis as well. Championship victories aren't easy to come by but tomorrow we have a great chance to set us on the way to our first of 2012.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Championship cricket is back - first squad named

Thank goodness for that. Exactly 200 days since that momentous game at Lord's, county cricket rolls around again. Chris Adams has duly named the 13 men from whom he will choose an XI to face Sussex, starting at 11am tomorrow.

The squad, and possible XI, is as follows:

Jacques Rudolph
Chris Jordan
Mark Ramprakash
Zander de Bruyn
Rory Hamilton-Brown
Tom Maynard
Rory Burns
Gareth Batty
Jon Lewis
Tim Linley
Jade Dernbach

12th men: Jason Roy, Stuart Meaker

First things first, Ramprakash, Batty, de Bruyn and Rudolph, all of whom were absent from pre-season for a variety of reasons, add a huge amount of experience to the side and its great to see them back in the fold. As for the rest, this is as unsure as I've been about a final XI as I have been for many a game. Was Chris Jordan being trialed as an opener in the final two games of pre-season a genuine test? Will Stuart Meaker's injured neck stand up to four days of cricket? And can Chris Adams really stomach leaving Jason Roy on the sidelines?

The fact of the matter is I don't know the answer definitively to any of those questions. I have to assume Chris Jordan will be thrown into the lions den as opener with Jacques Rudolph tomorrow morning, or whenever we get to bat. I have aired my concerns about the looseness of his technique but Adams seems to place a lot of faith in Jordan, so hopefully he'll repay that faith with a bunch of runs. The other candidates for the openers' slot, Hamilton-Brown, Roy and possibly Maynard aren't what you'd call orthodox opening batsmen anyway, so maybe Adams is right to take a risk on Jordan.

The choice between Jon Lewis, Stuart Meaker and Tim Linley is incredibly tough, but three into two doesn't go. Unless Meaker is absolutely 100% fit he shouldn't play, the last thing he needs to do is aggravate the injury at this stage of the season. Without Meaker's extra batting, Jon Lewis becomes an important part of the lower order. Tim Linley has earned his position in the starting XI and who would bet against him being the man his captain can turn to with the ball?

Leaving out Jason Roy is a huge call and not one that I would make. Of course Adams may elect to forego a seam option, probably Lewis, and slot Roy into the lower middle order to really boost the batting. With Jordan in the side and some fill-in overs from de Bruyn the coach may feel that two frontline seamers and three allrounders is the way to go.

That decision may come down to what sort of pitch is lurking under the covers tomorrow morning. Last season saw some fine green-tinged pitches, I think of the Leicestershire game in particular and I hope we'll see plenty more result pitches this season. The departure of head groundsman Scott Patterson, in post for just a year, and the temporary return of Bill Gordon will hopefully not herald a departure from last season's excellent pitches.

Sussex haven't attracted much attention this pre-season but clearly should not be taken lightly. In Nash, Goodwin, Joyce and Yardy they have a fine batting spine along with some impressive younger players like Ben Brown and Joe Gatting. Their bowling is weakened significantly by the absence of Monty Panesar and overseas signing Steve Magoffin is yet to arrive. They will probably rely heavily on seam bowlers Anyon and Amjad to do the bulk of the work, though I do hope young legspinner Will Beer is given a go.

A good start in the Championship is imperative, if nothing else from a psychological perspective. However, thoughts of Hamilton-Brown and Adams approaching a game simply aiming to avoid defeat are long gone, that's just not how we operate these days. As Ian Salisbury said recently, we don't fear anyone, and why should we?

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Championship Preview

County Championship previews are ten-a-penny at the moment, some much more valiantly than me extending to the full set of 18 counties. If it's alright with you, I'll stick to just one (the most important one, no less).

Most of the reviews I've read seem to reflect pretty positively on Surrey's chances, the Cricketer Magazine even tipping us for the title, and David Lloyd has said he fancies us because of our mix of experience and youth. Would I go that far? You'll have to wait till the end of the article for that...

The Batting

Despite what would appear to be an embarrassment of riches in the batting department I still maintain this is our weakest suit. Mark Ramprakash has probably just one season left in him, whether it will be repeat of 2011 remains to be seen. He may have returned from injury a bit early last year and then a back complaint restricted his movement later in the season. His struggles against the Tiflex ball are also well documented, not least by the man himself. A clutch of low scores early season, particularly if they are bowled or LBW, will lead to vultures circling. However I maintain he's still got it in him to pass 1,000 runs for the umpteenth time, and his comforting presence at number three is needed now as much as it ever was.

The position of opening batsmen is 50% solved until the end of May, with the arrival of Jacques Rudolph. Indeed once Steven Davies returns after the second Championship match we should have a very handy pair of opening bats. Although not an opener by trade, Davies was magnificent during the Championship run-in last season, in the final four games, all of which we won, he averaged 78. He may see it as a genuine route into England's test side. Who fills in for the first couple of games is anyone's guess.

Zander de Bruyn will likely continue at number four where he averaged 51 from 21 innings last season. Chris Adams confirmed at the AGM last week that Hamilton-Brown will bat at number five (although this may yet be shelved if he is required to open temporarily early-season). He averaged 33 batting there last season from just five innings, more encouragingly he averaged 40 from 12 innings at number five in 2010. He still has yet to prove he is willing to knuckle down and play a long innings - on only four occasions in 58 innings in 2010 and 2011 did he face more than 100 deliveries. Compare that to Maynard, no less an attacking batsman, who saw out 100+ deliveries on six occasions in 2011. To reiterate the point I made at the end of last season, the skipper also needs to convert his starts more often, out of those 30 innings he passed 20 on 21 occasions but only registered six scores of fifty or more.

Tom Maynard, the unsung hero of 2011's batting, will probably continue at number six where he averaged a princely 48 in 2011. Though he scored runs throughout last season, without an extended barren run, he was a bit 'all or nothing' towards the end of the year. In his last 16 innings of 2011 he scored two sparkling hundreds but also registered 12 scores under 30. More consistent heavy run scoring this year will be his goal.

Which all leads us to Jason Roy. I make no secret of the fact that I consider Roy to be one of the most special talents in county cricket - and I'm not alone in thinking that. But he himself will be disappointed with his 2011 returns in the Championship. Such is his talent I am often left thinking that the only man who can get Jason Roy out is Jason Roy. Word is that he has tinkered with his technique over the winter but as much as that is important he, like Hamilton-Brown, needs to prove that he has the mental staying power to stick in and bat time. A couple of his knocks in the CB40 showed how intelligent he is, he just needs to convert some of that to facing the red ball.

Rory Burns and Gary Wilson will contest the role of understudy to Steve Davies. The excellent pre-season form of Rory Burns has come at a cruel time for Gary Wilson who looked a shoo-in to play his first Championship game since last April (and Adams may yet prefer him). Even once Davies has returned there is still a chance Burns, with his attacking strokeplay, can force his way into the side.

Beyond those there is a clutch of batsmen who have been knocking about for a few years and may see 2011 as their last opportunity to make it big at Surrey. Arun Harinath, Matt Spriegel and Tom Lancefield all have the chance to force their way into a top order which has been largely short of form in pre-season. All three have their merits, Harinath is mentally strong and has expanded his range of shots, Lancefield is a positive batsman who came close to breaking through in 2010 before injury intervened in 2011 and Spriegel offers staying power, part time off-spin and excellent fielding into the mix. Dominic Sibley in the Academy is a prodigious youngster who despite his tender age could be troubling those three as a first reserve by the end of the year - and he's an opener.

The Bowling

Without question the highlight of 2011 was the emergence of Tim Linley as a powerful force in Surrey's bowling attack. I had previously criticised him as too one-dimensional to be hugely successful - I was wrong to do so. While it's true he rarely mixes things up, he does have something approaching metronomic accuracy and when he's in a good rhythm he's very difficult to get away. The change away from the Tiflex ball may harm him and a repeat of last season's 73 wicket haul is unlikely, but not impossible.

Last season's second highest wicket-taker, Stuart Meaker, will remain an important part of our attack. I can think of few better sights last season than Meaker detonating a batsman's stumps with a searing yorker and when he's in a groove he is simply irresistible. Adams and Hamilton-Brown will have noted that using him in short-ish bursts is the best way to avoid injury. He may be called away on England Lions duty but hopefully we'll have him at our disposal for most of 2012.

Jade Dernbach was something of a stranger to our Championship campaign last season, playing just 9 of the 16 matches mainly due to England duty. When he did turn out he was less effective than in 2010, 22 wickets at 39 as opposed to 46 at 29 the year before. Like Meaker, he will probably be required by England at various points but early season we should see plenty of him and I think he'll be a formidable proposition. Likewise Jon Lewis, not a marquee signing but a phenomenally reliable and experienced seamer who offers a handy lower-order batting option.

Chris Tremlett, even more of a stranger to us than Jade in 2011, will almost certainly be absent until late-May at the earliest having had surgery on his troublesome back injury. In his 3 outings last season he didn't look at the races, returning only six wickets at 51, on all three occasions comprehensively out-bowled by Meaker. Some have suggested his England career is over but he won't want to accept that and hopefully in trying to force his way back into the fold he'll find his 2010 best again.

Murali Kartik won't join until after the IPL has finished in June. While he probably won't be able to replicate the stunning form of Pragyan Ojha from last year, he is still a fine bowler with many years of county cricket behind him. Matt Dunn and George Edwards will probably only come into contention if injuries intervene but both have the talent to more than hold their own if called upon. On the (admittedly limited) evidence of pre-season games, Freddie van den Bergh could become a fine spinner and may be considered once he returns from his studies, but more likely in the limited overs sides than in the Championship.

The rest

Gareth Batty had an impressive 2011, averaging 26 with the bat and 33 with the ball. But those figures don't quite tell the whole story, for two reasons. First, many of his 532 runs were scored precisely when we needed them most and a good few of his 36 wickets came at a time when a side was threatening to take the game away from us. Secondly, as is always the case with Batty, his presence on the field seems to lift the side, and probably annoy the opposition. Adams seems to value what he brings to the side extremely highly, not without reason.

There was talk late last season of Chris Jordan departing for pastures new but he was given a one year extension late in the day. Adams played him in the final four fixtures of 2011, admirably sticking with him - he scored 19 runs and took no wickets in the first two of those games but fought back to pick up six wickets and score 150 utterly crucial runs in the next two games. I have spoken many times of the balance a fit and firing Chris Jordan brings to the side, if he can really hit his straps he will be completely invaluable.

Zafar Ansari was a revelation in 2011 making both T20 and Championship debuts. He didn't score buckets of runs or take loads of wickets, but his cool demeanour, exceptional out-fielding and all-round potential made headlines for all the right reasons. I expect his rapid progression to continue this season once he returns from university just in time for the T20s. Tom Jewell has been knocking around the fringes of Surrey for a while now, not possessed of the pace or big-hitting talents of Chris Jordan he is often overlooked. However his bowling, consistent rather than explosive, does get wickets at Second XI level and he can bat, he just needs to step up to the next level.

Our chances?

So what does that all amount to? What exactly held us back in the first part of 2011? Without doubt a propensity to self-combust - something that was largely eliminated in those memorable final fixtures and surprise surprise, we won them all. Our young and undoubtedly talented players have another year of experience under their belts, Maynard to my mind has come the furthest and much will be expected of Roy and Hamilton-Brown in the Championship to show that they can progress similarly. The addition of experience in Rudolph, Kartik and Lewis will help in that area too. There is no reason, with the players we have at our disposal, why we couldn't win the Championship. But you can't look at it in such isolation. There are some bloody good sides out there who know how to win Championships, or in the case of Somerset, nearly win Championships. Come on now, did you really think I'd predict us winning the whole thing? We should certainly be aiming a damn sight higher than mere survival, but I think anything higher than fourth would constitute an impressive achievement - and one that we can build on in the future.

Monday, 2 April 2012

A a win

Leeds-Bradford University, playing their first game as a first class cricket side, came within a whisker of overcoming county opposition for the first time today, losing by just two runs.

Tim Linley bounded into form at precisely the right moment, doing exactly what he did on countless occasions last season, stepping up when the team needed him most. He finished the innings with 5-45 and almost 40 overs under his belt in the game. Wickets at the right time and plenty of miles in his legs might just give him the edge over Stuart Meaker for Thursday's game.

Squeaking a win over a side with a combined grand total of one first class appearance before this game might not sound like ideal preparation, but that doesn't tell the whole story. This was a Surrey bowling lineup, Linley and Jordan aside, who had little experience or form, and similarly the batting was in a far from perfect place.

The good news, clearly, is the wickets for Linley and some runs for Tom Maynard and Rory Burns. The bad news is that no one has yet made and unanswerable case to be Jacques Rudolph's opening partner.

Chris Adams now has just a couple of days to finalise his XI to step out on Thursday morning to face Sussex. There are plenty of reasons to be confident with a strong looking seam attack and decades of experience still to come back into the side. I can't help feeling that the openers issue will be playing on his mind above all though, the last thing the coach will want in our first game of the season is for a batsman to be back in the hutch in the first couple of overs.

Although the pre-season wasn't without its hitches - at no point did we really seem completely convincing and at various points the batting in particular looked shaky. However, it was a good opportunity for the bowlers to get their games in order. Now the attention turns to the real deal, we're back in Division One and a good start will go a long way to keeping us there.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Batting worries persist with one day of pre-season remaining

Surrey's 2012 Division One bow is now only a matter of days away and tomorrow marks the final day of a preseason of mixed fortunes. Surrey began the day with their opposition on 20-1, the wicket having fallen to Tim Linley the previous evening.

That put them in a strong position following Rory Burns' impressive hundred on day one. He and Tom Maynard (91) formed the backbone of Surrey's formidable 385-8 declared, with Chris Jordan's fifty the only other major contribution.

Leeds/Bradford began the day watchfully, Webb and Bush moving them to 75-1 before Webb was out edging a ball from Matt Dunn that he could have left. Dunn began his spell in wayward fashion with two wides and he failed to find his radar throughout the day. He does however often make things fashion and was always likely to be a bit rusty, this being his first outing of the season.

Two more wickets fell before lunch, both to Tom Jewell who like Dunn began his spell loosely but unlike Dunn he settled into a nice rhythm. After lunch Chris Jordan returned to the attack and his figures of 3-32 didn't reflect how well he bowled. He was quick and bowled a good, probing length, even if his line was a bit off sometimes, and the three no balls don't help matters. Dunn returned for a second spell and while he was no less wayward, he did collect two more wickets, including top scorer Harry Bush.

205 all out left Surrey with a 180 run lead but rather than enforce the follow on Adams elected to give his batsmen some more time at the crease. In order to maximise that, Hamilton-Brown was sent in to open but lasted just four balls. If it was time at the crease he was seeking then his was not the best choice of shot in the circumstances. The skipper has no score of note in pre-season, or indeed through the winter. Were he not captain, his place in the side would be in serious jeopardy. Some time in the nets is needed as well as a renewed desire to knuckle down and play a long innings.

Chris Jordan was his opening partner and now seems a serious contender for that spot against Sussex. I like the balance his presence provides to the side but I just can't see him as a Division One opener. He is aggressive and looks to score quickly, and that is too his credit, but he plays away from his body too often and against top-notch attacks you have to think that will be ruthlessly exposed. I would of course love him to prove me wrong.

He and Wilson, batting at number three again presumably to get some time at the crease, put on 45 together before both fell in quick succession. Jason Roy made 32 from just 34 balls, aggressive but probably not the big score he and Adams were after. Matt Spriegel made a measured 25, which left probably the two form batsmen at the club, Tom Maynard and Rory Burns at the crease overnight. I would expect either an overnight declaration or an early morning dash from those two before the bowlers are given another crack.

It remains to be seen but the winners from this game seem to be Rory Burns and Chris Jordan, while those less comfortable of their place in the side will be Roy and Linley. Burns now faces the real prospect of making a Championship debut next week in place of Wilson, his batting certainly looks in better order than Wilson's, though whether Burns' keeping will be up to scratch is another matter. For the record, Wilson looked solid behind the stumps today. Chris Jordan does seem to be in slightly better touch than Jason Roy with the bat and of course brings the option of his bowling. For what it's worth I'd still go with Roy because you always back your best batsmen to get the runs, but Jordan undeniably helps the balance of the side.

The choice between Meaker and Linley, if made on pre-season wickets, looks in Meaker's favour. But Adams may yet opt for Linley's control over Meaker's explosive wicket taking potential, and there is also the latter's fitness to consider as well.

So just a single day's play between Surrey and our official Division One return. The bowling seems in good order and today we looked excellent in the field. The lack of big runs from skipper and middle order tyro will be a concern to the coach. He will be hoping the return of experienced players like de Bruyn, Ramprakash and Batty, and the arrival of Rudolph, will spur them on to better form.