Saturday, 26 May 2012

Warwickshire defeat leaves a puzzle for Adams

It turned out to be the mere formality we all expected, even if we were hoping against hope that something extraordinary might take place this morning.

In the end it took Warwickshire's batsmen a little more than half an hour to knock off the 41 runs they needed. Rikki Clarke did the bulk of the work, clipping 12 runs from Stuart Meaker's one and only over of the morning. It wasn't an especially bad over from Meaker, though nor was it his best, Clarke was just able to play in the manner a batsman who only needs to find a few runs is able to.

Tim Ambrose, England's forgotten wicket-keeper, ended unbeaten at the other end on 89, a very impressive innings in the circumstances, a marker of what could be done with a bit of grit and application.

That leaves Adams' charges with just one win from seven matches. That isn't the form of title challengers and if they don't buck up their ideas we'll be in a relegation scrap. With teams like Lancashire and Durham in and around us, we could find ourselves in an almighty scramble come September.

So there's plenty for Chris Adams to ponder. His bowlers have done him proud but the batsmen have let the side down badly. One of the biggest disappointments, Jacques Rudolph, will now depart leaving a gap at the top of the order. How will the captain and coach reshuffle the troops to slot in his replacement, left arm spinner Murali Kartik?

Option one: The path of least resistance

This would see a straight batting swap for Rudolph and Kartik coming in for Chris Jordan. Exactly who that replacement batsman would be is anyone's guess. Adams may feel he has no option but to call on the experience of Mark Ramprakash, but I'm not sure this is wise given Ramps has had so few innings to get himself back into form. This means one from Rory Burns, Arun Harinath, Tom Lancefield, Gary Wilson, Zafar Ansari or Matthew Spriegel is primed for a call-up. In the most recent Second XI game both Harinath and Burns made 100+ runs opening the innings so would seem to be in the box seats. Burns also earned rave reviews for his attitude in the Sussex game in April. Zafar Ansari is probably held in the highest regard of all, but can't open the innings. Whoever it is, this leaves a side with a lengthy tail, Gareth Batty at number seven with his batting form of late is not good, but Adams may decide giving his top six batsmen a good kick up the arse is all they need. Instinctively this seems the most likely option.

Possible team: 1. Davies, 2. Burns, 3. de Bruyn, 4. Hamilton-Brown, 5. Maynard, 6. Roy, 7. Batty, 8. Kartik, 9. Lewis, 10. Meaker, 11. Dernbach.

Option two: The unthinkable - drop Batty

Coming off a game where he's taken 10 wickets this might seem a dopey suggestion, and admittedly I think it's unlikely, but it's just one to explore. This is basically the side above but with a stronger batting option at number seven. If this were Spriegel or Ansari we would miss Batty's bowling less (though neither offer quite the control that he does). Gareth Batty is a fine cricketer and he almost single-handedly kept us in the game this week, but all options should be on the table. A variation on this could see more of a reliance on de Bruyn and Hamilton-Brown's bowling and bringing in a pure batsman at number seven to further strengthen the tail, leaving just the four front line bowlers.

Possible team: 1. Davies, 2. Burns, 3. de Bruyn, 4. Hamilton-Brown, 5. Maynard, 6. Roy, 7. Ansari, 8. Kartik, 9. Lewis, 10. Meaker, 11. Dernbach.

Option three: Drop a seamer

Our seamers have done a sterling job this season, Lewis and Meaker in particular have taken regular wickets, while Dernbach has been frugal almost throughout. So dropping one of them, while Linley, Edwards, Dunn and Chris Tremlett are already on the sidelines might also seem a bit daft. But a lack of runs has hurt us this season, so one way or another some extra batting has to be found from somewhere. Given that Dernbach has taken the least wickets of the three, let's for argument's sake say he's the one to take a(nother) break. This option has the bonus of retaining Batty, but leaves us with only two seamers plus some fill-in from de Bruyn. This is not a route I can ever see Adams pursuing.

Possible team: 1. Davies, 2. Burns, 3. de Bruyn, 4. Hamilton-Brown, 5. Maynard, 6. Harinath, 7. Roy, 8. Batty, 9. Kartik, 10. Lewis, 11. Meaker.

It's worth noting that all of the above options require some runs from one Zander de Bruyn, who has just two fifties in eleven visits to the crease this season. The excellence of Maynard and Hamilton-Brown have papered over the de Bruyn crack (ahem) much of the time this season.

We need more runs in the first innings, that much is obvious. We've only passed 300 once this season and even then the opposition racked up over 500. So the question for Adams is does he back his top six to get him the runs, or does he sacrifice a bowling option for some insurance? Experience tells us Adams will always want Batty in the side (and who's to disagree?), and that he likes to have options on the bowling front. An attack of three quality seamers, a left arm spinner and an off spinner is not without charm. So the coach needs to find a way to get his top six batsmen working as a unit or we'll keep struggling to put teams under a lot of pressure. Who'd be a county cricket coach?!

Friday, 25 May 2012

Warwickshire edge towards victory

Gareth Batty completed an impressive ten wicket haul but was unable to put Warwickshire's second innings to bed on day three. They closed just 41 shy of their 222 run target, with five wickets still intact.

Surrey began the day looking to push their opponent's target North of 250 but were bundled out well shy of that. Rudolph and Maynard, the men in possession overnight, were both unable to dig in as Jeetan Patel wove his magic. The Kiwi spinner completed the second six wicket haul of a spin-dominated match. If that is to be Rudolph's final outing in a Surrey shirt, his spell at the club goes down as a huge disappointment. A single fifty in ten Championship innings is not what you expect from your overseas batsman.

Only Chris Jordan was able to offer much resistance with a timely 40. It may just be enough to prolong Adams' faith in him, though I personally would look elsewhere. Jon Lewis was again more than useful with the bat, adding 31.

Warwickshire's chase began in bumpy fashion as first Dernbach and then a three wicket burst from Batty reduced them to 37-4. But Warwickshire, with their deep batting lineup, weren't done yet. Tim Ambrose and William Porterfield compiled a 111 run partnership to steady the ship.

Batty bowled a great deal of overs and rightly so but I was slightly surprised at how little Stuart Meaker was allowed to bowl at the pair. They only faced three overs from the man most adept at producing a matchwinning burst of bowling. And when he was bowling late in the day the captain didn't afford him even a slip catcher. Hunting for wickets defending a low total, this was most confusing.

Batty continued to twirl away, eventually chiselling Porterfield from the crease to take his tenth wicket in the match. Ambrose was obdurate though and with Rikki Clarke saw his side safely through to close.

It's easy to moan about a lack of cutting edge today but the bowlers have done us proud in this game. We'd be nowhere close to winning had they not clawed us back into the game yesterday. I will praise them to the hilt today but at the same time bang a familiar drum - no balls. We've conceded 18 runs through over-stepping in this match, Warwickshire have given us just four. It's not hyperbole to suggest that could be the difference between the two sides in the morning.

Should we lose tomorrow, and it'll take something extraordinary for us not to, the batsmen must again carry the can. Given first use of a good pitch that is now taking turn, we should have put Warwickshire under far more pressure. All it would have taken was one substantial partnership - Surrey's highest in the match was just 54 while Warwickshire have registered two hundred run partnerships. Turning tracks can be difficult for batsmen to get in on, so forming partnerships is crucial.

All is not lost of course, Meaker, Dernbach and Batty on this track are capable of turning this one back in our favour. We took four wickets at the top of their order for just 37, all we need is five tomorrow morning for less than 40. But with Woakes, Barker, Patel and Wright still to come, none of them mugs with the bat, Warwickshire will be sleeping much the easier of the two sides tonight.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Surrey fight back, game in the balance

Chris Adams' men staged a magnificent comeback on day two at the Oval, restricting Warwickshire to a first innings lead of just 24 runs. The home side ended the day effectively 120-4 with Jacques Rudolph and Tom Maynard still at the crease.

Gareth Batty was Warwickshire's principal destroyer today as he bowled what must be close to his best spell for Surrey. Bowling more or less unchanged through the innings today, he bowled with good changes of pace and by and large his wickets were won by intelligent bowling. He ended with figures of 6-73, his best figures for the club. It was only through a 34 run tenth wicket partnership between Wright and Woakes that Warwickshire were able to scramble a lead.

The pitch was still playing well but was taking some turn. Surrey might have been concerned at the presence of Jeetan Patel in the opposition but it didn't seem to concern Jason Roy who as ever began in belligerent fashion. This was to be no brutal 20 and out though, he formed the basis of Surrey's second innings with 71 from 86 deliveries. He'll be disappointed to have not gone on to three figures, and shepherd his side to a matchwinning lead though. Davies completed a frustrating match, caught down the leg side after being run out in the first innings.

De Bruyn, Roy and Hamilton-Brown all fell as only 20 runs were added, Surrey fell from 88-1 to 108-4, sparking fears of an all out collapse with the lead still not past the 100 run mark. However, Tom Maynard and Jacques Rudolph saw out the remaining 13 overs of the day and stretched the lead bit by bit. It was not without the odd scare mind you, with 20 balls remaining in the day Tom Maynard aimed an almighty yahoo at Chris Wright, and he attempted two sweeps from Patel's final over, succeeding with only one of them.

For all the brainless-ness of yesterday, today showed some of Surrey's heart and fight, unsurprisingly on that note led by the indefatigable Batty. The game is a long way from safe, and with Warwickshire's deep batting Surrey will want a target well north of 250 on the board, the process of accumulating that will allow more time for the pitch to deteriorate.

Rudolph has the best possible opportunity to go out on a high and he looked determined this evening. Some runs from Chris Jordan, next man in, would be timely to say the least. You can say many things about this Surrey side, but it's hard to deny that they're entertaining and a victory against a very strong Warwickshire is now very much within their sights. The men at the crease can take their time getting back in tomorrow morning before pushing the innings on. The opposition do bat a long way down, but a pitch baked by two days under the sun, Batty's guile and Meaker's reverse swing, the pressure of a fourth innings run chase should give us the edge.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Profligate Surrey behind on day one

Warwickshire will have been surprised to end the day having faced 35 overs from Surrey's bowlers after they lost the toss on a prime batting wicket. They finished the day's play on 106-1, having seen off Surrey's careless batters for just 223 runs.

When you win the toss and bat on a sunny day in South London you expect to bat well into day two. Surrey didn't even have enough time to face a second new ball.  Criminally two of the first five wickets to fall were run outs. When 40% of the top five batsmen require no action from the bowlers in getting out, you know you've fouled up. What's worse, it was two set and in-form batsmen, Davies and Hamilton-Brown, who were run out.

BBC Warwickshire's commentator remarked that Surrey's innings was more like a one day game, and he was spot on. Just because the sun's out and the pitch is true doesn't mean you have to throw the kitchen sink at everything that comes your way. To Warwickshire's credit they rotated the bowlers well and apart from a Barker spell early on, they were rarely bowling poor lines and lengths.

As expected, Chris Adams opted for Chris Jordan's all-round talents at number seven but he failed again for a duck. Jacques Rudolph, moved to number four in the batting, also failed and now has just one innings remaining at the club. Jon Lewis, second top scorer in the innings today, is now just 15 runs shy of the man signed as an opening batsman.

Where Surrey were wasteful, Warwickshire were watchful. Where Surrey's top three scored 71 from 97 deliveries, Wawickshire's scored 96 from 211 balls.  None of Surrey's batsmen waited longer than 13 deliveries to crack their first boundary, Varun Chopra waited 23 to hit his first, Porterfield 25. Who were the unbeaten batsmen at the close of play? This might seem like a meaningless stat, and maybe it is, or maybe it's indicative of a lack of patience on the Surrey batsmen's parts. Even though it was a good pitch, Chopra and Porterfield still waited four overs to assess the pitch and situation before going after the boundaries.

Of course I am only too happy to praise the side when their swashbuckling style pulls a rabbit out of the hat. It's entertaining and occasionally effective, but that doesn't mean its the way to play all the time. There was a game for the taking today, and we didn't take it.

Warwickshire will look to bat and bat, just as we should have done. Varun Chopra already has two hundreds to his name in 2012, he'll be on the hunt for a third. The one saving grace is that hopefully the pitch will remain a good one into days two, three and four, but Surrey now have a mighty tough task ahead of them to resuscitate their chances in this game. Here's hoping they do just that.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Tough Warwickshire assignment awaits

County Championship table-toppers Warwickshire visit the Oval this week in what is set to be Surrey's stiffest test since returning to Division One cricket this year.

Chris Adams has named the same 13 man squad as faced Somerset last week. The squad and possible XI is as follows:

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

12th men: Tim Linley, George Edwards

There is no word yet as to when Murali Kartik will arrive post-IPL but this could well prove to be Rudolph's last game this season for Surrey. It's hard to conclude that his stint has been anything other than a disappointment with just one fifty in eight Championship visits to the crease. However that one fifty was an innings of real importance against Worcestershire, and he can count himself unlucky to have only played one CB40 match. He'll want to go out with at least a hundred to his name in Surrey colours and if the Oval pitch is as flat as last week's, he won't have many better opportunities.

Chris Jordan looks set to retain his place, though figures of 78 runs at an average of 9 and 7 wickets at 40 beg the question why. He simply hasn't delivered this season and doesn't appear to be in any kind of form. Some time in the Seconds might serve him well. If I was Adams I'd plump for a five man attack minus Jordan and stick Batty at seven. It's a gamble against a high class Warwickshire attack but I think Linley or Edwards look a more likely wicket taking option than Jordan.

Dernbach should return and surely Adams will resist the temptation to rest Meaker in light of his spectacular 11 wicket return against Somerset. Resting Meaker has already cost us one game this season, Adams won't want to risk making that two. Jon Lewis, Surrey's redoubtable workhorse, will also probably retain his place.

After the Somerset game the batsmen will be sitting more comfortably. Certainly Davies and de Bruyn's first innings runs last week will have calmed some nerves, but we are still overly reliant on Maynard and Hamilton-Brown.

Warwickshire have quality right through the order. Varun Chopra is one of a few opening batsmen around the county circuit with an eye on Andrew Strauss's spot in the England side and has two hundreds to his name this season. Westwood and Porterfield haven't scored heavily of late but are still strong top order batsmen, Darren Maddy and Tim Ambrose are consistent county performers. However captain Troughton has just 47 runs to his name this year and his form must be a concern.

It is Warwickshire's plethora of allrounders, Rikki Clarke, Keith Barker and the recently returned Chris Woakes that gives them such a great balance. I'm perpetually impressed by Woakes' first class figures, he really is one of the best allrounders in English cricket. They also have Chris Wright and Jeetan Patel, two reliable performers, to chip in as well.

It's no accident that Warwickshire are topping the table, they are a very good cricketing side and Surrey will have a real fight on their hands. There is no real gaping weakness in either their batting or bowling and we'll have to be on top of our game to overcome them. At least the weather shouldn't be a concern, it's set fair for the next four days. 

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Surrey juggernaut rumbles on with victory over Durham

I hope you will forgive my absence for the last few days, I had some urgent matters to attend to relating to my upcoming nuptials! Meanwhile Surrey's unbeaten start to the 2012 CB40 campaign continued as they overcame a strong Durham outfit by 60 runs at the Oval.

Surrey's form in forty over matches is extraordinary, they have won 15 of their last 16 matches in this format and have been thoroughly convincing in the vast majority of those. And so it was today as well, despite what looked like a slightly below par total after winning the toss and choosing to bat.

The 221 runs we ended up with was largely thanks to contributions from two men, Tom Maynard (77) and Zafar Ansari (60 not out). It was Maynard's first fifty of this season's CB40 and Ansari's maiden List A fifty for Surrey. Against an attack featuring four current or ex-England bowlers that is some achievement.

Durham's asking rate then was a touch above 5.5 runs an over. Their experienced and quality batting lineup will have had high hopes of whittling off the runs, but Surrey had other ideas. Despite Jade Dernbach's first two overs costing 16 runs Durham were in trouble early on as their top three came and went before the 13th over was out and with only 59 runs on the board.

Matthew Spriegel continued his good form with the ball in taking 2-14 off four overs, again it was he and Jon Lewis who restricted the batsmen in the middle overs, between them they bowled 10 overs for just 36 runs. Gareth Batty did his partnership-breaking best again, accounting for top scorers Muchall and Collingwood while Ansari also bowled six good overs of his left arm spin.

Meaker and Dernbach returned at the end to finish the job, as Durham's innings petered out. While the start to the Championship hasn't been convincing, we are a fearsome prospect in limited overs cricket. The batting hasn't yet fired on all cylinders but someone has always stood up to the task. There is a great deal of variety (and no little quality) in our bowling attack and we are a match for any side in the country when it comes to fielding. The campaign to retain our CB40 title continues apace, and we're looking as strong as ever.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Maynard fights but Somerset well ahead

Surrey face a real fight to avoid their second consecutive follow on as they closed day two on 286-6, comfortably their best first innings total of the season but still 226 runs shy of Somerset.

They began the day strongly, picking up four Somerset wickets in the first hour to leave their opponents 474-9, still in a very strong position but home side were in the ascendancy. Then the 10th wicket partnership came back to haunt Surrey just as tail end runs have done so often recently.

Disappointingly, after a good start, the bowlers opted for a bit of short pitched bowling against the final pair which didn't do the trick. Interestingly Hamilton-Brown didn't give a single over to Edwards or Jordan this morning, opting instead for de Bruyn and Batty once the opening bowlers had bowled their spells. Twins Jamie and Craig Overton put on 38 unbeaten runs to give Surrey's batsmen hope that the runs were still there for the taking. Their spell of accomplished batting allowed Somerset to declare on 512-9 and give Surrey and awkward 20 minutes to bat out before lunch.

The openers were only together for two overs as Craig Overton clean bowled Jacques Rudolph for one, his third score of less than ten in seven innings. That big hundred will have to wait till second time round. Jason Roy came to the crease and the impact was immediate, 20 runs came off the two overs before lunch.

Roy was unable to hang around too much longer after the break though as Philander accounted for him for 28 off 23 balls. Another innings of promise, Roy will feel that on this pitch he's really missed out on a big score. He must rein himself in and stick around more, as his skipper and Maynard have done so well this season.

Steven Davies didn't miss out though as he recorded his first hundred of 2012 and forged a 122 run partnership with de Bruyn who chipped in with 52. It will be a relief to both of them to be back in the runs. The dismissal of de Bruyn marked the beginning of a clatter of three wickets for five runs in four overs after tea as Surrey subsided from 188-2 to 193-5. Hamilton-Brown was among the wickets to go, only 61 of his 399 runs have been scored in first innings knocks this season as second time round has proved his happiest hunting ground.

Chris Jordan and Tom Maynard saw out the next ten overs but Jordan was then caught off the bowling of Trego for just 8. Jordan has only passed ten in two of seven innings this year, he must do more to justify the faith that Adams has placed in him. In Surrey's defence, it was a good spell of bowling from Philander and Dockrell was keeping it very tight at the opposite end. But still, there are clearly no devils in the pitch.

Maynard stood firm though, as he has done so often in 2012. His 63 not out was his fourth score of fifty or more this season and took him to 400 Championship runs, one clear of his skipper at the top of the chart. A typically gritty Gareth Batty knock of 18 off 60 balls supported him a partnership of 59 runs in 20 overs to give hope for tomorrow.

There's still a massive job to do to save this game though, whittling down the 77 runs required to avoid the follow on for starters, and then they can think about the further batting bonus points on offer. It doesn't look like the weather will help them in taking time out of the game tomorrow so it'll be a hard graft for the men at the crease. Lewis and Meaker will have to knuckle down as well. What they cannot allow is wickets tumbling tomorrow morning. If Somerset are able to bowl again early tomorrow they will have their tails up which could spell disaster.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Surrey toil as Somerset take charge

Somerset ended day one at the Oval firmly in the ascendancy on 441-5 as a flat pitch cancelled out Surrey's four seam bowlers and Gareth Batty.

Gone was the nibbling Oval pitch of earlier in April as we saw a return to the kind of pitch we're more familiar with in SE11. No wonder Mark Ramprakash was cursing being dropped, he would've looked at this pitch and seen the answer to his dreadful recent run of form.

Jade Dernbach was rested (and looking at the figures of his colleagues, he won't be disappointed) so Chris Jordan and George Edwards both played. Somerset won a crucial toss and chose to bat. They reached the 10th over without losing a wicket and 44 runs to the good, nine boundaries came from the first 60 balls as Lewis and Jordan failed to make any inroads with the new ball.

Meaker and Edwards had little more luck and although the former did snare the wicket of Barrow in his fourth over, Somerset had set the tone and looked on course for a big total almost from the word go. No further wickets fell for another 32 overs as Suppiah and Compton added 143 at better than four and a half runs per over.

Suppiah was run out by Maynard soon after reaching his hundred but Hildreth came to the crease and added 84 with run-machine Compton and 108 with Kieswetter as Surrey searched for answers, and found very few.

The new ball 16 overs before close didn't signal much in the way of a change in fortune, but Lewis did trap the motoring Kieswetter for a rapid 49 and just three overs before the end of the day Hildreth was out in the same manner to de Bruyn to give him figures of 2-34, the pick of Surrey's bowlers.

Almost 60% of Somerset's runs came in boundaries - there were 64 of them in total. As ever it's unwise to be overly critical of either side until both have batted but with virtually all bowlers ticking along at 4 an over (in Jordan's and Edwards' case, over 5) it wasn't their finest hour.

Somerset will want to bat and bat some more, they probably have something around the 550-600 mark in mind and will hope that they only have to bat once. Having seen Suppiah, Compton and Hildreth all making hay, RHB and his merry men will have big scores of their own in mind but they'd do well to be patient. Only the captain and Maynard are in good Championship form so going out looking to crash the ball to all parts from ball one could still end in tears, no matter how flat the pitch is.

A tough day at the office for Surrey then, there will be some aching bodies in the dressing room but they need to dust themselves off for tomorrow. Even for this positive Surrey side it is almost impossible to win from here but Philander (and to a lesser extent Dockrell) aside, Somerset have a very unproven attack, so losing the game should be a million miles from their minds as well.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Ramprakash dropped for Somerset game

Chris Adams has taken the bold step of dropping Mark Ramprakash, a living Surrey legend, from the squad to face Somerset for the Championship game starting tomorrow. I can't imagine it was an easy conversation to have, but it is the right decision.

Now is not the time to analyse whether or not this is the end of an era at Surrey. Adams was at pains to stress that Ramprakash has been told to go away for "a couple of weeks" to get his game in order. There are four Second XI games in that time, and Ramps himself may even elect to go back to his club. There is plenty of cricket for him to find his touch again. On Twitter he said he was disappointed, fit and raring to go. I am quite sure everyone will want to see him back as soon as possible, a pair inside a day against Worcestershire is not the way to call time on a career like his.

So the Ramprakash-less thirteen man squad, and a possible XI is as follows:

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

12th men: Chris Jordan, Tim Linley

The squad is light two big names, one already mentioned and also Kevin Pietersen, whose place in the squad has been taken by Chris Jordan. The balance of the squad suggests that Adams will elect to play Jordan at number seven but I would prefer to see the coach back his top six batsmen to get the runs and play four frontline seamers. Batty, Meaker and Lewis should be able cobble together enough from numbers 7, 8 and 9 to give a competitive total.

Although Ramprakash has been stealing the headlines, he's not the only one in need of some runs. Rudolph, Davies and de Bruyn have mustered just three fifties from 20 innings between them. Rudolph's first innings 68 suggested something approaching form so offers hope, but the other two will want to get some runs on the board. We cannot always rely on Maynard and Hamilton-Brown to score the runs.

Only Durham and Worcestershire are averaging lower first innings totals than Surrey this season, we're typically collecting significantly less that 200 runs and that has to change if we're to start moving up the table. Given the weather of late I don't doubt the pitch at the Oval will probably be a challenge for our batsmen, but it is essential that they knuckle down.

The bowling however has been excellent, and given the debut of Edwards an attack of him, Lewis and the returning Meaker and Dernbach will trouble almost any Championship side. Linley will be cursing Edwards' four second innings wickets, especially as he bagged four of his own in the first, but I think Adams likes that x-factor that Edwards' extra pace brings.

Somerset have not (at the time of writing) named their squad for tomorrow's game, perhaps they're locked in last minute negotiations with Cricket South Africa as to whether they are allowed to play Vernon Philander. The rest of their bowling can only be described as threadbare with Kirby, Hussain and Dibble all out injured. Craig Overton and the impressive Meschede didn't let the side down against Durham last week though, with Trego in support and possibly Philander too it's not all bad news for them. There's also their batting to consider, Kieswetter, Compton and Hildreth have all been in the runs.

For once the weather looks to be playing ball, for tomorrow and Thursday at least the forecast is not too bad so we should get a good start to the game. Somerset are a weaker side than normal at the moment so Surrey will hope to take advantage of that. A win here would put our season back on track after the weather scuppered recent results.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Dynamic Surrey impress despite draw

A rapid second innings fifty from Kevin Pietersen was well and truly overshadowed by bigger, better contributions from two younger members of Surrey's top order. Alas it was not enough to force victory.

After being dismissed for a dismal 113 in the first innings, Jacques Rudolph's patient 68 the only contribution of note, Surrey were asked to follow on, 172 runs behind.

At 11-2, with Mark Ramprakash dismissed for only the third pair of his career and now a real concern for Adams, Surrey were slipping into oblivion. However first Kevin Pietersen, with a measured assault of 69 from 85 balls and then the captain and Tom Maynard, turned the match on its head.

Hamilton-Brown and Maynard shared a 225 run partnership and all the while scored at more than five runs per over. By the time the skipper departed for a superb 115 Surrey were well into the lead and Worcestershire were on the rack. Maynard continued on to a highest first class score of 143 before he offered a catch off the bowling of David Lucas.

Contributions from Zander de Bruyn and Gareth Batty carried the score well past 400 and the lead to 260. Surrey's entire second innings had been scored at a rate just a tick below five runs an over. It was an exhibition of the attacking talent Chris Adams has at his disposal.

Worcestershire had 52 overs to see out in the day and started reasonably efficiently as Klinger and Mitchell saw them to 29 without loss in the tenth over. It was the introduction of George Edwards into the attack, replacing Tim Linley after a below par four over new ball spell, that began a steady tumble of wickets. In fact three fell in the space of 11 balls for the addition of no runs. Edwards was quick and hostile, and most importantly he was accurate. It's too early to laud him as the next great Surrey seam bowler, but he's made a fine start.

Wickets fell steadily, Edwards collected four wickets in the process, but Surrey weren't collecting their victims quite quick enough. Eventuallly Matthew Pardoe and Richard Jones saw out  45 deliveries towards the end of the day and Surrey's brave effort was in vain.

After losing more or less a full day's play, and with a pitch that didn't seem to be offering a great deal to the bowlers initially at least, to get so close to a result is impressive in its own right. However we're now five games down and we have only one win on the board, although mostly due to overs lost to the weather, and equally we've also only lost one game.

Chris Adams will have a number of issues on his mind. Kevin Pietersen will likely be unavailable for most if not all of the rest of the season, Mark Ramprakash cannot buy a run, and Jacques Rudolph will only be available for a couple more games. Tom Maynard and the captain who between them have scored more runs this season than all of the other top order batsmen combined, cannot carry the side in every innings. At some point the other guys will have to step up. We've collected very few batting bonus points, even with the weather in mind, and that could be crucial come the end of the season.

That aside, the bowling stocks look in rude health. Edwards is now ahead of Matthew Dunn in the pecking order but he himself will have to slot in behind Dernbach, Meaker, Linley and Tremlett when he returns from injury. Add Murali Kartik's left arm spin into that mix and we'll have a bowling lineup to match any in the country.

The cricket continues to come thick and fast and next week sees the visit of Somerset to the Oval. They've also only registered one win so far this season so both sides will be hoping for a break in the weather to get a completed game. One thing's for sure, we have talent abound at Surrey, the difficulty is getting all of it to fire at the right time. Sooner or later it will happen, and against Somerset starting Wednesday would be ideal timing.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Dogged Surrey chip away

Spots of rain and fading light truncated yet another day's play, though less so than yesterday as more than 70 overs were possible on day two.

The bowlers continued to plug away on a slow pitch and the Worcestershire innings was eventually ended with the final ball of the day from Jon Lewis, 285 all out. Maximum bowling points comfortably in the bag.

All of Worcestershire's top seven made it in to double figures but none passed 61. Moeen Ali was the top scorer with a typically fluent innings, he and former skipper Vikram Solanki formed the backbone of the innings with a partnership of 102. James Cameron added a valuable fifty as well but it's hard to say what is a par score until Surrey have at least had a good crack on this pitch.

Lewis and Tim Linley shared seven of the ten wickets to fall, Edwards picked up his maiden first class wicket - that of Moeen Ali who edged behind to Davies and Gareth Batty chipped in with the wicket of Pardoe. Since I'm constantly moaning about Chris Jordan's no-ball issues, it's only fair to mention that Jon Lewis bowled six today. A man who has sent down over 40,000 deliveries in first class cricket shouldn't be over-stepping six times in an innings. I'm splitting hairs though, his 3-79 gives him 17 wickets at 16 for the season. It is also good to see Linley back in the wickets after a lean start to the season (relatively speaking).

The nature of this pitch probably won't suit the extravagant strokemakers in our top order but with the exceptional talents of Tom Maynard way down batting at number seven a substantial total is well within our grasp. Alan Richardson, Jones, Lucas and the promising young Aneesh Kapil will have something else to say about that though. Kevin Pietersen will be relieved to learn that there is not a left arm spinner on the opposing side though.

With the bowling points in the bag Adams will be desperate to post as many batting points as well. Plenty of the top order are short of runs and Pietersen will want to show he can shift seamlessly from Indian conditions to the vastly different circumstances at New Road.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Rain the spoiler again

Only 26 overs were possible on day one of Surrey's match with Worcestershire, but that won't stop me from having my say.

Chris Adams, channelling the Surrey Cricket Blog, picked exactly the team I predicted. George Edwards made his Championship debut and Kevin Pietersen made his first appearance since last May. Jason Roy and Chris Jordan were the men who had to sit out, but I'm sure the former will be back in the side for the very next game.

Conditions were described as "dry and bright" by Surrey's own Mark Church, but Worcestershire's decision to bat first on winning the toss was still something of a surprise. Half the ground was under water but a few days ago and the clouds seemed almost guaranteed to roll in before long.

However, captain Daryl Mitchell was proved right as he and opening partner Michael Klinger made it to a rain-enforced early lunch with 58 runs on the board and no batsmen back in the hutch. It was far from easy going though thanks to a slow pitch and good spells of bowling from Edwards and Lewis in particular. It is encouraging that Edwards, whose main weapon is pace was also able to restrict the opposition and his radar remained intact.

All the bowlers went at significantly less than three runs an over and the slow nature of the pitch, combined with the rain (which meant the players never returned from their early lunch) make a result in this game look a million miles away.

The weather forecast for tomorrow is ever-so-slightly better than today and provided there is no heavy overnight rain there should be a fair amount of cricket played. With so few results around the county circuit at the moment first innings bonus points are at a premium so Surrey's bowlers will be on the hunt in the morning.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

We need to talk about Kevin

The return of the prodigal son. Well, he's not really prodigal, and he's not a son of Surrey, but he is returning. Kevin Pietersen is in Chris Adams' 13 man squad for the game against Worcestershire this week. I've a sneaking suspicion he might make it into the side as well.

If it feels like we only just played Worcestershire, that's because we have only just played them. In fact the last session of First Class cricket Surrey played was against their opposition this week, what with the washout against Durham.

The 13 man squad and possible XI is as follows:

Jacques Rudolph
Steven Davies
Mark Ramprakash
Kevin Pietersen
Zander de Bruyn
Rory Hamilton-Brown
Tom Maynard
Gareth Batty
Jon Lewis
Tim Linley
George Edwards

12th men: Chris Jordan, Jason Roy

Allowing room for an England player such as Pietersen is always a contentious issue, all the more so when he edges out a player such as Jason Roy. I think it unlikely that Adams will leave out Ramprakash, despite his wretched form this season, likewise de Bruyn who offers a viable bowling option. Rudolph, Davies, Maynard and especially Hamilton-Brown have done little to suggest they should be for the chop so Roy is probably the most vulnerable. For the record, as it is a one-off game for KP, I would probably bench Ramprakash for this game.

It'd be too easy to whinge about Pietersen being shoe-horned into the side at the behest of the ECB. That's our lot, he's England's best batsman and he needs a game to acclimatise himself to English conditions. There's no question that his presence in the side is a good thing, to my mind, and the last time he played for us he scored a run-a-ball 58 in a partnership of 118 in 18 overs with Hamilton-Brown. He is pure class.

An unfamiliar name in the squad is that of George Edwards who would be in line to make his Championship debut if selected. He has a solitary first class appearance to his name, for Surrey against Cambridgeshire (so he's played with Pietersen before!) last year in which he didn't take a wicket and went for 82 runs. Not stellar credentials you might think, but there's more to it than that. He's a tall, wiry bloke capable of propelling the ball down pretty rapidly. I don't know if he's ever been clocked but when I saw him for the Second XI last year he was very sharp, if a little wayward. He took nine wickets for the Seconds last week, so he's in good form.

Whether he plays or not will come down to whether Adams plays it (relatively) safe with Jordan, the known quantity, or takes a gamble on Edwards. I'd go for the latter, Pietersen in the top order and potentially having Maynard at 7 makes for a very strong batting lineup. The insurance of Jordan's batting isn't needed and Edwards deserves a break.  Meaker and Dernbach are of course absent on Lions duty, so Lewis and Linley will have plenty of bowling to do.

The weather forecast, for the first two days at least, isn't dissimilar to that for the Durham game so a result might be asking a bit much. The conditions for Friday and Saturday look somewhat better though so a couple of days play is a definite possibility.

Worcestershire are a good side, that much we know from their fighting performance at the Oval, but they've not had the best time of it since then. They were second best in a rain affected match against Nottinghamshire and lost heavily to Middlesex in another rain affected game last week (though that was largely down to a very enterprising declaration). Alan Richardson continued to take wickets, he recorded 5-89 in Middlesex's first innings, but their batsmen have made heavy weather of the early season period.

You have to fear the weather will have the final say in this game as well which is hugely disappointing. If they do manage to get out for a good period of time, we have a good chance of beating Worcestershire. Without Meaker and Dernbach we may struggle for penetration, but Tim Linley is an able deputy and George Edwards is an unknown quantity for the opposition. Rain or no rain, the players will be looking to kick start the second month of the season with some quality performances.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Surrey grind out Scottish victory

They always say the best teams learn how to "win ugly". Well, on a rainy day in Edinburgh, Surrey managed to overcome a spirited Scottish side and it certainly wasn't the prettiest performance.

Surrey named Gary Wilson in place of Zafar Ansari and Jacques Rudolph came in as Tom Maynard was withdrawn for family reasons. It's always sad to see a player's name off the team sheet in those circumstances and I hope Tom is back in no time.

The threat of rain didn't really recede throughout the day and after winning the toss the Scotland captain, Gordon Drummond, asked Surrey to have a bat. Rory Hamilton-Brown fell LBW to Parker in the second over and thereafter wickets fell at regular intervals, never did a partnership last for longer than 11 overs or bring more than 50 runs.

One man who did supply more than 50 runs though was Rudolph whose gritty 69 from 89 balls with just a solitary four exemplified the slow nature of the pitch. Rudolph's first 50 for Surrey came at just the right time, no one else in the innings passed 22. It was hard for batsmen to get in and time the ball sweetly. Some lower-order biffing from Lewis and Batty dragged the total to 187. Scotland's target was reduced slightly to 183 as two overs were lost to rain.

Gone are the days that Stuart Meaker and Jade Dernbach couldn't be trusted with the new ball and defending a small total. They both bowled well but their first victim didn't come until the sixth over, Dernbach having Macleod caught behind looking to run the ball to third man.

Having ridden out a good early period Scotland then subsided to a stifling spell of 3-21 from ten Jon Lewis and Matthew Spriegel overs, Davey, Symes and Watts all succumbed thanks to accurate and persistent bowling. Gareth Batty also chipped in as he caught Mommsen off his own bowling. Scotland were 66-5 and teetering on the edge.

Then came the resurgence. Richie Berrington, who has recently agreed a loan deal with Leicestershire and Majid Haq put on a rapid 50 partnership in just nine overs to give Scotland hope. However as the rain started to fall again Gareth Batty's golden arm did the trick again as Haq lofted the ball to Hamilton-Brown. It was an exceptionally well timed contribution from Batty as the Duckworth-Lewis par score shot up and off the players went with rain and hail coming down.

The players didn't emerge again and Surrey recorded a second successive CB40 win by 21 runs. A perfect start to the 2012 competition, as in 2011, and long may it continue.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Momentum key for Scotland game

Yesterday's win against last year's beaten finalists was a great way to get the CB40 underway and Surrey will be looking to carry that winning momentum to Edinburgh tomorrow.

Zafar Ansari is not available for this game due to university commitments so Tim Linley comes in, the squad and possible XI is as follows:

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

Bench: Tim Linley, Gary Wilson

Yes, you guessed it, I'm going for the same team I wanted to see yesterday. In hindsight, Adams got the selection right yesterday but without the extra spinning option in the squad now, I hope he'll go for the extra bat in Jacques Rudolph. De Bruyn and Hamilton-Brown will probably have a few overs to bowl between them.

Batty was excellent last night, he gave the batsmen very little and it was just one six from Craig Meschede where anyone looked to have the best of him. Even then, Batty promptly bowled him next ball. Spriegel though was a touch disappointing, going for 35 from his 4 overs and only scratching 11 from 16 deliveries. Everyone's allowed an off night though, and last year's game at Edinburgh was the scene of one of his best limited overs knocks to lift us to a decent total. He also picked up 2-29 in that match.

Jon Lewis, sharp caught and bowled aside, was also a bit below par and I would expect him to come back strongly. Dernbach and Meaker were excellent and for that reason I think Linley might find it hard to squeeze in.

We beat Scotland twice pretty comfortably last season and we should be looking to again tomorrow, but they aren't without threat. Last season they notched two wins in rain affected matches against Northamptonshire and Warwickshire, clearly they are no pushovers. The dangermen are probably Josh Davey, who scored an accomplished 50 against us at the Oval, and the allrounders Mommsen and Symes. Majid Haq's off-spin is also very tidy, indeed we could be facing 24 overs of spin tomorrow so the batsmen will need to get their feet moving.

With Meaker looking in supreme form and Dernbach to complement him with the new ball, followed by Batty and Lewis to keep it quiet in the middle overs we should have too much about us for Scotland to compete with.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Clinical Surrey trump Somerset

Surrey's defence of their CB40 title began in fine style tonight with an impressively efficient 105 run win over Somerset.

Somerset won the toss and under leaden skies chose to bowl first. Surrey, who selected a middle order spin trio of Spriegel, Ansari and Batty, omitted Jacques Rudolph who was relegated to twelfth man duties. Character building I'm sure.

Somerset didn't bowl especially badly but neither did their bowling carry much of a threat. Hamilton-Brown and Davies played good, sensible cricket but scored at a very healthy rate. Their partnership reached 163 in just the 22nd over before Trego bowled Davies for 72. The 2010 vintage RHB-Davies partnership was well and truly back.

Hamilton-Brown carried on his merry way but Jason Roy, looking to continue to force the pace was LBW to legspinner Max Waller for 12, looking to reverse sweep. The skipper went to an excellent hundred from just 87 balls before he tried one big shot too many and was caught on the long off boundary. It was another impressive innings of substance from our standout performer of 2012.

De Bruyn and Maynard called the powerplay and kept the rate ticking over nicely before both got out when well set. Ansari, Spriegel and Batty all contributed to a spritely end to the innings and Somerset's target was a steep-looking 296 runs.

The pitch was good but timing the ball wasn't as easy as Hamilton-Brown and Davies made it appear. Kieswetter and Compton opened the Somerset innings and while the latter looked a man in supreme form, Kieswetter was beaten for pace by a super Stuart Meaker yorker in the second over. It marked the beginning of a superb spell from the young fast bowler, he was very difficult to score off.

Trego and Compton looked to rebuild but Trego was soon Jon Lewis' first and only victim of the night, a sharp caught and bowled. Hildreth came to the crease and played well until he walked past a Gareth Batty off-break and was easily stumped by Davies. That marked a good period of spin bowling, Ansari and Batty bowling in tandem and the pair ended with six wickets for 65 runs, the genius of Adams' spinner-heavy selection laid bare for all to see.

Wickets fell all too regularly for Somerset and they never got going, Meaker clean-bowled Dockrell to win the game and finished with 3-24, easily the best bowler on show for either side. A nod to Ansari and Batty as well, the former is a supremely exciting cricketer and I for one cannot wait until he finishes his studies in order to play for us more regularly in 2012.

Somerset's bowling was weak and towards the end of the game they did bowl poorly, but make no mistake, this was an impressive Surrey performance. We've got our title defence off to the best possible start, and the game against Scotland on Sunday is a great chance to keep that winning habit up.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Depleted Somerset still a threat

Judging by the interview with Chris Adams on the Surrey website the Oval outfield seems to have stood up remarkably well to the persistent rain of the last couple of weeks. Everything looks set for the beginning of our CB40 title defence against Somerset tomorrow.

The 13 man squad and possible XI is as follows:

Rory Hamilton-Brown
Steven Davies
Jason Roy
Jacques Rudolph
Tom Maynard
Zander de Bruyn
Matthew Spriegel
Zafar Ansari
Jon Lewis
Stuart Meaker
Jade Dernbach

Bench: Gareth Batty, Gary Wilson

The only surprise is Zafar Ansari who is available earlier than expected. It's a mark of how highly he is regarded that Adams is calling him into the squad before he's finished his studies for this year. He's another, along with Roy, who I think should be in the team whenever possible so Gareth Batty may miss out. Ansari has not played a huge amount of competitive cricket lately, but against a Lancashire attack featuring Saj Mahmood, Simon Kerrigan and Kyle Hogg back in April he scored an unbeaten 50 in the second innings and top-scored in the first. He will be replaced by Tim Linley for Sunday's game with Scotland though, as he returns to Cambridge.

The presence of Jacques Rudolph puts something of a spanner in the works. In four CB40 knocks for Yorkshire last season he was a standout performer with 282 runs at 94, including a sparkling 132 against a Sussex bowling attack featuring Wayne Parnell and Monty Panesar. He opened the batting and if he is to do the same this year, Adams will have to split his preferred 40 over openers, Hamilton-Brown and Davies. If it was down to me I would bat him at number four, keeping Roy in the crucial number three slot but splitting him and Maynard. A three-four-five-six of Roy, Rudolph, Maynard and de Bruyn is a good mix of power and experience.

I wonder if Adams will be nervous of going into a game against a powerful Somerset batting lineup with only three front line seamers (although admittedly three very good ones), which might mean Batty is ultimately preferred to one of Ansari or Spriegel.

Somerset, even without injured captain Trescothick are a formidable batting side. Nick Compton is one of the form batsmen in English cricket having racked up 715 first class runs already in 2012. Jos Buttler has a frankly absurd List A record - averaging 67 at a strike rate of almost 130. It's easy to forget his impressive 86 from 72 balls in the Lord's final where only one other player passed 26 as it was in a losing cause, but it was a top class knock. Kieswetter, Trego, Suppiah and Hildreth make for a powerful top order.

Their bowling however looks far less healthy. Gemaal Hussain and Steve Kirby are injured and Alfonso Thomas is in India, leaving them with no experienced bowlers whatsoever. What they lack in experience though, they make up for in potential. Craig Meschede and Lewis Gregory are very highly thought of and George Dockrell, the young Irish left arm spinner will always be a threat.

Somerset will be out for revenge after losing last year's final and they are a dangerous side. However I think the addition of Rudolph to our middle order makes us a stronger, more balanced side than 2011. Our seamers should look to exploit the conditions, and our batsmen should look to exploit the inexperience of the opposition.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

CB40 Preview

How you might have scoffed at my assertion last year that 2011's CB40 represented Surrey's best chance of honours. Even Chris Adams was least confident about the one day competition. But so it came to pass and thus we begin this week the defence of our title won so magnificently at the Home of Cricket six months ago. What hope do we have of retaining it in 2012?

While the turnover of players in the winter was minimal there are two deceptively important parts of last year's side missing. Chris Schofield and Yasir Arafat, either absent or ineffective in other forms, were quietly effective in the CB40 matches. Is there enough talent in this squad to account for that? I think so.

The Batting

That we won last year with relatively few contributions from 2010's star performers with the bat - Hamilton-Brown and Davies - is testament to how the rest of the side stood up. Jason Roy was peerless for the most part in amassing 585 runs at 45, his consecutive hundreds against Warwickshire and Leicestershire were pre-final highlights.

The other gem was Matthew Spriegel who racked up 424 runs at 53, largely from the number six slot. Alright the average is inflated somewhat by four unbeaten scores, but the volume of runs cannot be denied. His contributions were vital. His batting was so vastly improved from previous limited overs seasons as to be almost unrecognisable. If he can continue his 2011 form with the bat, and add a few more wickets into the mix, he could (and should in my view) be pushing Gareth Batty for a place in the Championship side. Tom Maynard was also impressive, cracking 481 runs at 40, he'll want to continue that good form as he looks to press for limited overs recognition with England.

If Hamilton-Brown and Davies can rediscover the magic of two years ago where between them they scored 963 runs, whether that be at the top of the order or elsewhere, we will be very tough to beat. Zander de Bruyn, disappointing in 2011, will want to bounce back and he should bowl more than he did last year, just 28 overs in 13 games does not reflect how useful a containing option he can be.

The Bowling

Adams won't be able to field quite the same ultra spin-heavy sides he did in 2011 because of Schofield's departure, but he still has Spriegel, Batty and Hamilton-Brown to call on. As well as Zafar Ansari and possibly Freddie van den Bergh later in the season.

He does though have a wealth of quick bowling talent to call on so we should expect more overs of pace this year. Dernbach, Meaker, Lewis and Linley can all play a key role, even if the Viscount was short of his best in the CB40 last year. Tremlett will also come back into the equation before too long.

How Chris Jordan is employed will be interesting to see, Adams previously employed him as an opening batsman with license to attack late in the 2009 Twenty20 Cup. Given the under-performing Hamilton-Brown/Davies opening partnership last year, he may look again at that option as he will probably feel he needs an allrounder in the side to replace Schofield. I would personally stick with the skipper and Davies at the top of the order, in either case Jordan's bowling in this format needs to improve drastically, he was shockingly disappointing last season.

We should be right in amongst the best again this season but it will be a concern to Adams that he cannot replicate precisely the recipe that took us to victory in 2011. I think we should look to play six batsmen plus Spriegel, with Rudolph (or perhaps Lancefield or Burns, if Adams wants to look to the long term) coming in to the middle order as the additional batsman. Batty, Lewis, Meaker at eight, nine and ten, with Dernbach to follow, would make a well balanced side. There is also insurance on the bowling front if either of the five main bowlers is targeted, with de Bruyn and Hamilton-Brown ready to come in.

Surrey will rightly be confident of more success in this format and retaining the trophy is a realistic proposition.