Saturday, 30 June 2012

Subdued Surrey battered by Hampshire

A hectic period of Twenty20 cricket for Surrey began in the worst possible fashion as Hampshire steamrollered us by seven wickets at the Ageas Bowl.

After eight days without a game it must have been tough for the players to get their game faces on again, more so for some than others, and within 15 balls of our innings having elected to bat first four wickets had gone down with just nine runs on the board.

Davies was the first to go, clean bowled playing back to a Dawson delivery that was only a fraction short. Murali Kartik, again promoted to number three was again back in the pavilion for a duck after playing a poor stroke off Mascarenhas and being caught at short third man. Jason Roy followed in short order, playing a very tame shot he was caught in the same position off the same bowler.

Rory Hamilton-Brown, playing his first game since the death of his good friend, didn't stay in the middle for long. He faced five balls for his three and was run out when there was never a run on, his partner, Wilson, clearly called "no" five times but RHB turned and ran anyway. A slow turn and a small slip saw him well short of his crease as Bates whipped the bails off. Rory didn't look himself, although it was admirable that he wanted to turn out for his team, he may not quite be ready for the rigours of first team cricket just yet.

A (very) small recovery followed but Spriegel and Wilson gave away their wickets at just the wrong times. Wilson walked past a Dawson delivery that turned and Spriegel timed one beautifully straight into James Vince's waiting hands. 42-6 follows 62-5 against Kent, 32-4 against Middlesex and 68-5 against Essex. Top order batting has not been our strong suit and it must be infuriating for Adams whose team selections, bowler heavy, rely on runs from the batters.

Batty and Ansari played sensibly to drag the total up towards 100, Ansari playing particularly calmly for his 38 from 35 deliveries. 94 was the final total and despite the presence of eight bowlers in the side it never looked anything close to enough runs.

The Hampshire openers began sedately, picking off just 16 runs from the first four overs. The fifth over, bowled by Stuart Meaker, turned the game decisively in their favour though as 18 runs came from it. Murali Kartik's next two overs put something of a brake on proceedings as he took 3-9, including two leg side stumpings courtesy of Steven Davies. But it wasn't enough to swing things back towards us, his were the only wickets in the Surrey bowlers' column. Defending a total of under 100 requires more than one bowler to get among the wickets.

There was, in reality, never any pressure on the Hampshire batsmen and they eventually made it over the line with 27 balls to spare. For the umpteenth time this season, I'll say it's harsh to place any blame on the bowlers as it was the batsmen who failed yet again.

For me Adams got the selection wrong, we were at least a batsman light. Whether that had any bearing on the batting of the top four, under extra pressure as they were, its hard to say. But in light of our batting performances this season I think packing the bowling to such an extent was a poor decision. Nannes was better today than in recent games, but I think he or Meaker should make way for a batsman - presumably Kevin Pietersen - for Monday's return fixture at the Oval. I still maintain that the order of the top five needs to be considered as well, Wilson should be moved up and Roy moved down. Rory Burns in for Hamilton-Brown may have to be looked at as well.

With only ten group games this year, a real hammering from close rivals is just what we did not need. Half way through the group stage we have just four points on the board and are rooted to the foot of the South Group, albeit with two games in hand. The next seven days are now even more important to our season.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Busy T20 period begins against Hampshire

Surrey's players will have had a little more than a week off since the emotional game at Chelmsford last Friday night when they face Hampshire tomorrow. The fight they showed against Essex was hugely impressive in the circumstances, and hopefully the brief rest period will have allowed them to recharge their batteries somewhat. They'll need it because they have six games coming up in the next eight days.

Chris Adams has named a 14 man squad to travel to the Ageas Bowl for the game, the squad and possible XI is as follows:

Jason Roy
Steven Davies
Rory Hamilton-Brown
Rory Burns
Matthew Spriegel
Gary Wilson
Zafar Ansari
Gareth Batty
Murali Kartik
Stuart Meaker
Chris Tremlett

Bench: Zander de Bruyn, Chris Jordan, Dirk Nannes

Gareth Batty will continue as captain for the time being as Rory Hamilton-Brown gets an extended break from the pressures which the captaincy brings. He will be allowed all the time he needs to get his head back in the right place. He will probably continue to bat at number three, and again there will be a fair bit of pressure on his shoulders and those of Davies and Jason Roy, who you have to feel is due a big score.

I can't see a place in the side for Chris Jordan so the decisions come down to Burns or de Bruyn, and Meaker or Nannes. Despite his relatively low score against Essex I think Burns should be given another go at number four. His form for the Second XI suggests he is a better bet than Zander de Bruyn at the moment and he is a bright spark in Surrey's future. Nannes has returned figures of 1-67 from his three games this year and has been our most expensive bowler by a distance so far. Although Meaker hasn't been very economical either, he represents the bigger threat at the moment for me.

A lot of the wicket-taking in the four games so far has fallen to Gareth Batty, so Tremlett's return to the side, taking wickets in the process, is a huge plus. Kartik hasn't proven much of a threat, but he has been economical and strangling sides is often what we do best.

Hampshire have the same record as us this year, winning two games and losing two. They are on a bit of a roll, having beaten Middlesex and Kent reasonably comfortably in their most recent games. They are without Michael Carberry who has a knee injury, but Adams, Vince, Ervine and Simon Katich pose a real threat to Surrey's bowlers. In Australian allrounder Glenn Maxwell they have something of an unknown quantity but he has impressed with bat and ball at times already. Chris Wood is a bowler I always enjoy watching, and Danny Briggs' quality is well known.

The next eight days will decide whether or not we progress in the Twenty20. It's tempting to say that in the circumstances cricket is irrelevant, but I don't subscribe to that, and I doubt the players would either. The Adams doctrine, packing the bowling and backing your batsmen, can take us all the way and beating Hampshire tomorrow could set us off on the kind of run that can define the remainder of our season. Also, as of Monday's game (also against Hampshire) Adams will have the talents of Kevin Pietersen to call on - a welcome boost.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Tom Maynard - 1989-2012

It's the kind of news that leaves you utterly numb, completely speechless and close to tears. The life of a young man, and prodigiously talented cricketer, was snatched away in the early hours of this morning.

Tom Maynard might've been just 23 years old but he was already a crucial part of Surrey's team as a batsman and as one of the finest fielders in the squad - he had the safest of safe hands whether at second slip or patrolling the deep in a Twenty20 match.

He had been with the club only a season and a half, after joining from Glamorgan in early 2011 and he was immediately a hit with Surrey. It was clear that this was a man worth keeping an eye on. He hit his maiden first class hundred against his old side in April and never really looked back.

He finished the season with over 1,000 first class runs and only Zander de Bruyn, 12 years his senior, hit more hundreds and no one hit more sixes in first class cricket. He ended the Twenty20 tournament as our leading run scorer and was also a key part of the CB40 title-winning side.

He wasn't a beautiful player to watch, but he was electric, always liable to hit the ball bloody miles from a perfectly good length. He hit the ball so incredibly hard that when he reached the end of his follow through with a sudden stop it was as if the bat was bending in his hands. This year his level head and clever batting stood in stark contrast to the travails of his senior top order colleagues. I always felt he batted with the tail so much better than anyone else in our batting order, always the mark of a thinking cricketer.

It felt almost inevitable that he would play for England, and I even wondered if he might make it to the World Twenty20 later this year so rapid was his progression. It is sad that his last innings for Surrey were not played with quite the vigour we would associate with Tom Maynard, but I'll only ever remember those towering sixes and leg-side thumps he scored on his way to yet another big score.

A truly horrendous time for his family and friends, and for everyone at the club by whom he was held in the very highest regard. England and Surrey may have lost a magnificently talented cricketer, but they've lost a son, brother and mate. All our thoughts should be with them at this awful time.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Luck runs out as Kent win again

Chris Adams' high risk, high reward selection strategy, let's call it the Adams Doctrine, which brought such handsome rewards against Essex and Middlesex, came a cropper against a Kent side which is fast becoming our bogey team.

Adams made two changes to the team which faced Middlesex, bringing in Maynard from the naughty step for the horribly out of form de Bruyn and Jade Dernbach, released by England yesterday, for Dirk Nannes.

Rory Hamilton-Brown won his third consecutive toss, and for the third time in a row chose to bat. Continuing that theme, for the third time in as many games the top order batsmen struggled to get going. 31-3 against Essex, 32-4 against Middlesex and now 39-3 against Kent - the top order batting just is not working at the moment.

Poor old Gary Wilson is bearing an enormous burden and it was another fine rescue job from him today. He was dropped twice along the way, but ended 53 not out from 41 balls to give himself an average of 140 in the Twenty20 this year. Steve Davies was the next highest scorer with 31, the only score of 30 or more from any of the top four batsmen in three games so far. Spriegel couldn't replicate his heroics from Thursday, he came to the crease with the score on 51-4, but the rate was well below 5 runs per over. Such pressure on the scoreboard makes it difficult for him to get settled, as we know he likes to do.

Our lowest total of the competition so far, 116, never looked like enough against a Kent side well used to beating us by now! Such a low score can be chased down with one big-ish score, and Kent's skipper delivered that, Rob Key carried his bat for 51 as they chased the total with three and a half overs to spare. There were eight tight overs of spin from Kartik and Batty, but the Kent batsmen didn't spare Meaker or Ansari who ended with chastening figures of 1-63 from fewer than five overs between them.

We've been here before, a side with so many bowlers is all well and good, but the top order have to give them something to bowl at. Gary Wilson can only do so much, someone in the top four has to step up to the mark. Jason Roy is averaging ten from three matches, Hamilton-Brown just six. Their confidence in the bowlers is admirable, but today's results show that can only go so far.

Adams did re-jig the top order today, asking Roy to open the batting with Hamilton-Brown taking his number three spot. I don't think that's the answer, Roy should be moved down the order with a more stable, in form batsman moved up. There is also the option of bringing in Rory Burns, scoring freely for his club side, to stiffen the batting but the fact that he didn't make this 15 man squad suggests he is not in Adams' immediate thinking.

Another defeat to Kent is of course disappointing and with a slimmed down competition, and frankly rubbish weather lingering, it could be damaging. But we can't expect to win every single game. We know the talent is there in this squad to win these games comfortably, but the form just isn't there in the batting at the moment to make it a sure thing. Hampshire are up next at the Oval on Wednesday - it's a televised game so the ideal moment for a Roy, Maynard or Hamilton-Brown spectacular, and it can't come soon enough.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Same squad for Beckenham clash

Chris Adams has kept faith with the same squad of 14 players who took on Middlesex at Lord's this week as he goes to Beckenham, looking to avenge a double defeat by Kent last season.

The squad and possible XI is as follows:

Rory Hamilton-Brown
Steven Davies
Jason Roy
Zander de Bruyn
Matthew Spriegel
Gary Wilson
Zafar Ansari
Gareth Batty
Murali Kartik
Dirk Nannes
Stuart Meaker

Bench: Chris Tremlett, Chris Jordan, Tom Maynard

Yes, that amounts to the same side that trotted out in the gloom on Thursday evening, and why not after the thumping win they delivered? If I was Adams I'd be tempted by two changes though. First, I'd be seriously considering bringing in Tom Maynard for Zander de Bruyn. De Bruyn has not looked his old self this season and a couple of weeks rest, after a lot of cricket already in 2012, might be just what he needs. Maynard is also a greater threat in the field - assuming he has recovered from his injury. The original car "accident" has now been modified to a car "incident" in a quote from Chief Executive Richard Gould. The speculation around exactly what caused that has done the club no favours whatsoever.

The other change, which is perhaps a little hasty, would be to give Chris Tremlett a run out ahead of Dirk Nannes. Nannes, like de Bruyn, has not carried the threat he did last season thus far. He's bowled four overs for 37 runs and no wickets. That itself may tell a story though, since he played no cricket in the IPL this is the first time he's bowled competitively since late March, and may need some more time to get back into his groove.

The top three simply have to improve in this game. They have a top score of 22 between them in the first two games and have played some pretty ill-advised shots in getting out. I have said before and will say again, I think a more stable batsman in amongst the top three would be a good idea. Matthew Spriegel showed his value on Thursday, he takes a while to get going but once he does he can hit the ball as far as anyone. He is also a hugely intelligent cricketer, as is Wilson. One incident that marked this out for me on Thursday was a mix-up which resulted in a near run out. Rather than get flustered, the pair of them just bedded down for an over, not gambling on risky twos, it was enormously impressive. He could play the anchor role at the top while the strokemakers play around him, and once he's set, he can join them in the boundary fun. It's not a move I expect Adams to make though.

What more can one say about our phalanx of spin bowling? After two matches spinners have bowled 25 out of 37 overs, they've taken 12 of the 17 wickets to fall and have cost on average just 5.7 runs an over. Their control has been extremely impressive, in those 25 overs they've bowled just two wides. The way they squeeze the life out of the opposition's batting order is a sight to behold - in concert with some excellent fielding of course. In the Middlesex game, Hamilton-Brown showed why he should bank on himself for a few more overs in this format, he took 2-5 in just six balls. He has a better Twenty20 strike rate than Lasith Malinga!

Kent did the double over us last season, due in large part to failing to control Azhar Mahmood (and a frankly bizarre knock of 25 from 45 deliveries by de Bruyn), he remains a huge threat with bat and ball. The same applies to Darren Stevens. His experience, plus that of Rob Key and Brendan Nash, allied to the youthful exuberance of players like Sam Billings who looked very handy in a televised game earlier this season, makes them a dangerous side.

As with Essex, the one area where we do have a significant advantage over Kent is in the field, so hopefully we can make that count. As has been said before, we've won two from two with barely a contribution from the top order. If any of that top three can find their mojo again, we could be out of sight with an in-form middle order to follow. The weather, depending on where you look, seems set fair for tomorrow and with so many washouts, just getting a game in will be crucial for both sides.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Surrey demolish Middlesex despite top order travails

Two games in to the Twenty20, Surrey have registered two excellent wins after following up last night's back-from-the-dead win against Essex with another fine comeback at Lord's. 

Rory Hamilton-Brown won the toss and again chose to bat but Surrey's top order batsmen had a shocking time of it. Having stumbled to 31-3 last night they went one better tonight reaching 32-4 before a rain break threatened to derail the entire match. A Duckworth-Lewis chase at that point would've been an absolute doddle for Middlesex.

After coming back on, off and on again because of rain though Middlesex failed to capitalise on their position. Gary Wilson and Matthew Spriegel began to build a fine fifth wicket partnership, in fact it was the finest of fifth wicket partnerships, equalling the domestic Twenty20 record. They played incredibly intelligent cricket, knocking it around for singles and picking off the bad ball for a boundary. In short they did exactly what our top order batters haven't done enough this season - they played the situation to perfection.

Two of the more unheralded players in the Surrey squad, they both reached their high scores in T20 cricket and the top order had Gary Wilson to thank for bailing them out once more, as he did yesterday evening. From having Surrey on the ropes at 32-4 Middlesex were suddenly staring down the barrel of chasing a 150 run total. Another failure for the top order is a massive disappointment, the phrase "Jason Roy can't believe he's just done that" is now becoming an all too familiar refrain for BBC commentator Mark Church. And his top order colleagues don't have much to write home about, Zander de Bruyn's position must come into question soon.

Just like Essex before them Middlesex raced out of the blocks despite losing Joe Denly early. They made it to 64-1 in the eighth over before an almighty collapse. In the next eight overs they lost seven wickets for the addition of just 35 runs before rain forced an early conclusion.

Again it was the post-powerplay spin which won the day for Surrey. Gareth Batty was again absolutely crucial. His unerringly accurate off-spin was too much for Malan and Stirling, the innings top scorers, he then also accounted for Rogers and Berg as he finished with superb figures of 4-13.

Despite still looking a batsman light Surrey again batted intelligently to get a more than respectable total. They then backed it up with more high quality, accurate bowling to strangle all the life out of the opposition's innings. With Tom Maynard still to come in to this side, and Chris Tremlett on the sidelines, we are looking in a strong position in the group already. On to Beckenham to face Kent on Sunday and Adams' men will want to keep the momentum going.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Surrey pull another rabbit out of another hat

Surrey's 2012 Twenty20 got off to a winning start thanks to another magnificent performance from the bowlers. In the end, the 17 run margin flattered Essex slightly in a match that ebbed and flowed, unusually so for a match in the shortest format.

Chris Adams elected to field a spin-heavy side and if I'm honest, I didn't think it was the right route to go. That method works in CB40, where the batsmen have more time to build an innings. But to go into a T20 with only five specialist batsmen smacked of suicide.

Once again, Adams proved himself a better coach than I. Although our batting was below par and perhaps the failure of the top four was down to the pressure they were under, we scrapped and scraped our way to a competitive total.

The Davies/Hamilton-Brown pairing was restored at the top of the order, and Davies was off to a flyer with 19 from 12, before walking past one from Phillips and getting stumped. Much then relied on Roy and the captain, but neither were able to capitalise. Hamilton-Brown skied one having gotten away with a similar shot the ball before, and de Bruyn was yorked by an excellent Graham Napier delivery. 

Roy played a frustratingly injudicious shot off Masters' bowling and Spriegel was bowled by a fiddly ten Doeschate delivery to leave us tottering at 68-5. But Gary Wilson, playing the situation and the pitch perfectly and in concert with Ansari and Kartik managed to drag us up to respectability. 128 looked below par, but neither did the pitch appear very easy to score on.

You could be forgiven for thinking otherwise considering the start of the Essex innings as they raced to 44-0 in the 5th over. But the Surrey bowlers never allowed them to truly get away, their was always a sniff and once an opening was prised, we seized on the opportunity.

Relentless overs of spin from the aforementioned Kartik, Spriegel and Ansari put the brakes on and Gareth Batty did the real damage. He returned figures of 3 for 20, including the key wickets of Shah and Bopara, he gave the batsmen absolutely nothing. All the spinners bowled full of length, with little room for error, and they were very impressive in doing so.

The Essex tailenders were left with far too much to do and Surrey ran out comfortable winners. I still think another batsmen wouldn't go amiss but if Maynard is fit tomorrow, I believe he should come in for the out of form de Bruyn. Wilson deserves to keep his place in the side.

Middlesex tomorrow will present another major threat. Their batting, with T20 dangermen like Stirling and Morgan, will be hard to keep quiet and they have a fine selection of limited overs bowlers.

But the Twenty20 campaign is off to the best possible start and hats off to RHB's troops for an excellent fighting performance. The side won't be the same tomorrow, but we will face the auld enemy at the Home of Cricket in very high spirits.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Maynard missing for T20 opener

Chris Adams has named a 13 man squad for the first match of the Twenty20 season against Essex tomorrow night. The major surprises are the absence of Tom Maynard and the presence of Mark Ramprakash.

The squad and possible XI is as follows:

Jason Roy
Steven Davies
Rory Hamilton-Brown
Mark Ramprakash
Zander de Bruyn
Gary Wilson
Matthew Spriegel
Zafar Ansari
Murali Kartik
Jade Dernbach
Dirk Nannes

Bench: Gareth Batty, Stuart Meaker

The selection of Ramprakash is a surprise not because of a lack of quality on his part, though his lack of form is well documented, but because he didn't play a single limited overs fixture in 2011. Despite claiming he was fit and ready to play in all formats, the feeling was that Adams had him pegged as a Championship-only player. Apparently not, in Maynard's absence (due to a shoulder injury after that car accident he had at the weekend) the coach has opted for experience over youth. I personally would have looked to the likes of Rory Burns, or Tom Lancefield before going back to Ramprakash, but t'was not to be. It's hardly a vote of confidence in the young batsmen at the club.

The balance of the squad suggests that it'll come down to a choice between two of Spriegel, Ansari and Batty, as well as a straight choice between Meaker and Dernbach. Nannes and Kartik, as the hired guns, will surely start. Batty's form this season with the bat has been patchy, as has Spriegel's but the former's recent Second XI fifty (and a very impressive one by all accounts) may give him the edge. Ansari seems likely to play whenever available, he represents one of the brightest spots anywhere on the Surrey horizon at the moment.

The choice between Meaker and Dernbach is less clear cut, Meaker's form of late has been superb but Dernbach brings his allsorts deliveries - vital in T20. Given that Dernbach is only available for this game before heading off with England, it would seem odd to name him in the squad and then not pick him.

The batting in this game will be more reliant than ever on a strong start from Roy and Davies (or Davies and Hamilton-Brown if Adams elects to go back to that pairing to open). With Ramprakash and de Bruyn in questionable form, the time may be for Gary Wilson to step up to the mark and deliver big runs, as he has been doing in the Second XI of late.

Spriegel and Ansari are more than capable of adding quick runs from the lower order, especially the latter. I often think, as Spriegel tends to take a few balls to get going, he might be better used up the order in Twenty20s, but Adams doesn't seem to agree.

Twelve overs from Nannes, Dernbach and Kartik is plenty for a captain to play with, as long as there are runs in play. Eight more overs from Ansari and a combination of Spriegel, de Bruyn and Hamilton-Brown should also stop teams from running riot completely.

Despite a very comfortable win over Essex at the Oval last year, they are still a very dangerous side and ended 2011 with an almost identical T20 record to us. The in-form Ravi Bopara is not available, but in Shah, ten Doeschate, Napier and Frankin they have some of the most destructive Twenty20 batsmen on the county circuit. Their bowling contains a mixture of experience in Masters and raw left-arm pace in Mills, along with the tricky spin of Tim Phillips. The one area where we comprehensively out-did them last year was in the field, we'll have to exploit that again this year wherever possible - that could prove the difference.

The forecast for tomorrow evening is inconclusive, but it looks as though rain could again play its part. It should though be a fine game between two pretty evenly matched sides, Surrey definitely have enough on paper to come out on top.

Friends Life Twenty20 Preview

After the disappointment of not reaching the latter stages of the 2011 competition, Surrey have high hopes of doing so this year. Their high-octane batting and quality-packed bowling mean that such hope is not misplaced, but will they deliver on undoubted promise?

The slimmed-down competition begins at the Oval tomorrow with a game against Essex, who we beat comfortably at home last year and hot on the heels of that is a game at Lord's on Thursday.

We are counted as the odds-on favourite and have been tipped by a few pundits as likely winners this year. But then we were also tipped as potential County Champions as well, so what do they know. There is little doubt that we have a powerful top six, but despite that I still think we lack the balance of the very best sides.

The absence of a powerful allrounder is the main concern. The reluctance to rely on one of de Bruyn or Hamilton-Brown, or even a combination of the two, to deliver four overs means that we have a relatively long tail. While Matthew Spriegel has signalled a return to some batting form in the Second XI of late, much pressure may fall on the shoulders of Zafar Ansari to provide lower order fireworks. Which, to be fair, he did deliver by and large when called upon last season.

Last season was a relatively fallow one for Hamilton-Brown at the top of the order as he registered just a single 50. He was eventually demoted from the openers' slot and replaced by Jason Roy. But Roy himself didn't have the best of times, despite hitting four 50s his high score was just 53. Adams will probably stick with Roy at the top of the order and he'll want to hit the highs of 2010 when he scored Surrey's one and only hundred in Twenty20 cricket. Davies, the man who's come closest to adding to that (with a 99* against Sussex last year) will also continue at the top of the order. For some unfathomable reason Craig Kieswetter has been preferred to him for England - their loss is Surrey's gain.

I expect de Bruyn to be in the side initially but if he fails rediscover his touch one of Lancefield, Burns or Wilson (when not away with Ireland) will be waiting in the wings. Tom Maynard should, in my opinion, now be batting above de Bruyn in the order in all competitions. Our top scorer from last season, he is a key cog in the batting order which makes his recovery from a "shoulder injury" all the more important. It seems Kevin Pietersen will come into contention for the games in July - a mouthwatering prospect at the business end of the competition.

The bowling options for Adams to call on are plentiful. Four slots will be available for a combination of Batty, Kartik, Meaker, Lewis, Tremlett, Linley, Nannes and Dernbach (although because of England commitments Jade will only be available for the first game). Whatever Adams does, he'll be leaving some serious talent on the bench.

Nannes is a certain starter if fit, as is Kartik. Linley only played two Twenty20s last season so he's unlikely to feature. Dernbach will surely play when available, his variation is a priceless asset in T20 cricket.

That leaves Tremlett, Lewis, Batty and Meaker fighting over two slots. In Dernbach's absence, Meaker will probably be at the head of the queue. He played 10 fixtures in which he took only six wickets and went at almost 10 runs an over in the process, but he is a far better bowler now than 12 months ago.

The return of the Chris Tremlett, who bowled one of the best spells of pace I've seen in a T20 against Hampshire last year, is a massive plus for the team and he'll be ready to step in should Meaker fail to perform. Batty was a mainstay in the T20 side last season but Kartik's presence and Ansari's superior batting and fielding may edge him out. Lewis played fewer than half of Gloucestershire's games last season and frankly could do with a rest anyway. Also, his propensity to bowl no-balls could be very costly.

A bowling attack spearheaded by Dirk Nannes and Jade Dernbach is dangerous in most formats but especially so in Twenty20. When Dernbach is absent, Meaker and Tremlett will be able deputies. Kartik and Ansari, left arm spinners both, will be adept in keeping the middle overs quiet, racing through their overs.

This is the tournament many of our players will be looking to for major success. Jason Roy and Tom Maynard have already tasted some of the interest from overseas leagues having played in the Bangladesh Premier League earlier this year. The prospect of playing in the Champions League later in the year is a big draw. I'd like to think that they want to win if for Surrey and Surrey alone, but we have to be realistic, they deserve a chance to play on the biggest of stages. Whatever the motivations we have the tools to go all the way in this competition, and should be aiming as high as possible.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Sussex complete deserved victory

The task was simple enough, bat out the day and the game is saved. It proved too much for Surrey though as a determined Sussex bowling effort saw them to victory by 10 wickets despite a fine rearguard effort from Rory Hamilton-Brown.

Hamilton-Brown, who came to the crease with the score on 145-4, was left with too much to do thanks to the failures of his top order colleagues. He stood firm with another lengthy innings. In 32 matches before this season he'd only ever see out 100 or more balls four times, in 2012 he's done it four times in just eight matches including this innings of 47 from 167 balls. He was eventually last man out leaving Sussex needing just 22 runs from six overs. The captain was however also involved in one run out, and one near run out, which is criminal when you're clinging on for dear life.

Mark Ramprakash, with 37 from 102 balls was more like his old self towards the end of his innings today, his first nine runs came from 70 balls but the next 28 came from just 31. Hopefully it is a sign of things to come. But he, Davies and de Bruyn were all dismissed when well set, although de Bruyn was dropped twice on his way to 21, his poor form could cost us dear.

The victory was no less than Sussex deserved, and to their credit they bowled well for the most part and in the match situation they held all of the cards. Yardy was able to rotate his main seamers around while Panesar, with relentless accuracy, completely tied up one end - he bowled 21 maidens in 32 overs. Ed Joyce and Chris Nash saw them to victory in just 11 balls.

Make no mistake, this game was lost in the embarrassing 40 over innings of 124 all out on day one. Yes the bowling could maybe have been better against the Sussex tail, but really all that did was serve as notice of how poorly Surrey's batsmen had played. Save for six mad overs on the second day, we were outplayed in every single department and in every single session.

Half way through the Championship season and we've registered just a single victory. Yes we've been close to winning one or two others, but more often than not we've been fighting to save games early on. The batsmen simply must buck up their ideas, as it stands only Hamilton-Brown looks willing and able to play an innings of substance. One batsman does not make a batting order. It's looking a lot like a battle to survive over the next eight games, and it feels like an awfully long time since anyone was tipping us to win the County Championship.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Poor Surrey face battle to save game

A see-saw game sawed away from Surrey on day three as Sussex, led by another inspired Luke Wells innings, took complete control of the match. The classy young left hander now averages 101 in three matches against us. Surrey go into the final day 188 runs in arrears with nine second innings wickets still intact.

Sussex began the day 90-6, reeling from the burst from Stuart Meaker the previous day but the Surrey quick would not add to his tally of three wickets. The Sussex tail enders, along with Wells, conspired to add a monumental 264 runs to effectively bat us out of the game.

It was a depressingly familiar situation, too many times this season and in seasons before we have allowed tail end batsmen to get away with murder. Clearly the pitch was no minefield but for the final four batting pairs to add 140 runs more than our entire team managed is unacceptable. That included an entertaining (if you're a Sussex fan) 80 run partnership from James Anyon and Monty Panesar. Yes, that Monty Panesar. We were unusually poor in the field as the day wore on, perhaps because heads were beginning to drop.

To ram home the point that this is a problem, the average tenth wicket partnership against us this season is 26. To put that into perspective the average third wicket partnership against us is 22, and the average fourth wicket partnership is 27. We are adept at reducing top orders to dribbling messes, but don't seem able to clean up the tail. With bowlers of such talent it is hard to say what is the problem, I can only come to the conclusion that it is a failure to formulate plans for lower order batsmen. It's that or a failure to execute those plans, either way, it's not good.

Meaker, Lewis and Kartik plugged away and at least managed to keep the runs down in tricky windy conditions, but Dernbach and Batty failed to do the same. Dernbach was particularly poor, although he was unlucky not to pick up a couple of wickets late in the day. At one point he had only bowled just eight of 95 overs, a sure sign that his captain had no confidence in him. Between them, Dernbach and Batty bowled 26 overs all told, for one wicket (Batty got Panesar to end the innings) and 123 runs at almost 5 runs per over.

So from a position where we might've hoped for a small first innings lead, or at the least a deficit around the 50 mark, Sussex's lead in the end was 227 and all hope of victory was long gone. Jason Roy and Mark Ramprakash emerged to open our reply and had 14 tricky overs to face. Ramps was subdued as Roy took the bulk of the strike and played a very sensible innings to his great credit. His demise was brought about only by a brute of a delivery from Magoffin which reared up from a good length. That delivery, and a couple that snapped and bounced from Panesar will be giving the batsmen nightmares.

Ramprakash and nightwatchman Meaker saw the final 11 balls of the day out as Surrey closed on 39-1 with a mountain to climb, or if not climb, at least not fall off. What will tomorrow bring? The weather looks set fair so we probably won't be able to rely on any rain. It would be magnificent to see Ramprakash return to form to save the game, but that would be very much against the grain. You have to assume the bulk of the work will have to be done by Davies, Maynard (if he has recovered - he was off the field for the entire day after sustaining minor injuries in a car accident) and the captain.

If we make it through tomorrow unscathed there will be some positives to draw on, but we will have the weather to thank for avoiding an embarrassing defeat. If we do get rolled over cheaply, defeat will be nothing less than we deserve. After this game Adams has a month free of Championship cricket to work out what his best side is. He needs to decide who plays where, and stick to it.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Another Surrey fightback gives hope

There might've been only six overs possible on day two, but they might just prove to be six of the most important overs of Surrey's season.

In conditions not dissimilar to those which Surrey had to contend with yesterday morning, Sussex were on, then off, then on before finally going off before after about an hour of the day. In that time though Surrey dragged the game back to near parity, if not edging themselves slightly ahead.

Stuart Meaker set the ball rolling by forcing Yardy to glove a rapid short delivery to Mark Ramprakash with the very first ball of the day. The second ball of his next over crashed into Gatting's off stump before Murali Kartik got in on the act with the first ball of his second over, Luke Wright edging behind to Davies.

Meaker then picked up his third wicket in 13 balls trapping Brown LBW and leaving Sussex 87-6. From being 80-1, Sussex added just six runs while five wickets fell, Surrey's bowlers were once again rampant. What was so impressive was that Meaker was right on the money from the very first ball, and didn't let up. Credit of course is due to the bowlers but also to Hamilton-Brown who chose to open with Kartik when the cloudy conditions might have tempted him to go with Lewis or Dernbach.

From being miles behind the curve Surrey can realistically hope to sneak a small first innings lead. With two full days left, and a more hopeful forecast, there is still every chance of a result in our favour. That is no mean feat and this is a team which is again showing real character and fight. If they could get the batting and the bowling to fire in the same match we'll be unbeatable.

What is key, apart from the bowlers continuing their brilliant work, is that the batsmen back them up with a more gritty performance. Clearly this is not a situation that is going to deliver an enormous second innings total but sensible accumulation should result in something that will put Sussex under pressure. The next two days should be fascinating.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Brittle batting hands Sussex the initiative

Given the weather forecast we can perhaps count ourselves lucky to have had the 63 overs of play we did. As it was, rain did force an early close but Surrey were doing their level best to make result in Sussex's favour possible despite the gloomy conditions likely over the next few days.

The batting woes that have dogged Surrey's first innings throughout 2012 returned with a vengeance in what was maybe the worst effort of the lot today. Barely 40 overs were played out for Surrey's 124, reliant heavily on lower order runs from Batty, Lewis and Kartik.

Adams sprung the first surprise of the day, sending out Mark Ramprakash to open the batting after Sussex won the toss and chose to have a bowl. His opening partner was, almost equally surprisingly, Jason Roy with Davies moving to his (and Roy's) preferred middle order batting slot.

Sussex began well with the ball, their burly (Anyon) and lofty (Magoffin) opening bowlers testing the batsmen from the off. The makeshift opening pair didn't last, Roy was out in the 8th over once again trying a big shot early in his innings. He is his own worst enemy at the moment and I think Adams has to take him under his wing. Ramprakash was next to go, for just 8, and four of them came off a streaky edge. It seems three successive fifties for a club side is not an indicator of sufficient form to counter high class Division One bowling.

No one was able to stop the rot as Hamilton-Brown, Davies and de Bruyn all fell in the space of 8 balls for the addition of no runs to leave the innings in tatters at 32-5. Conditions were far from ideal with drizzle falling and the players off for short rain breaks, but that should not excuse some poor shot selection.

Maynard played typically aggressively but he was soon sixth man out for 17. Lewis and Batty saw the side to lunch, their mini recovery took the score to 96-6 before Batty fell and Lewis departed an over later, two more quick wickets left us 97-8. Kartik and Meaker took the score past the hundred mark but neither Meaker nor Dernbach could offer much support to Kartik, the last wicket fell with the score on 124 and he was left unbeaten on 23. The bowling was indeed very good, and it was far from a batsman's paradise, but equally it was not a pitch on which a side with our talent should be getting shot out for 124.

The Sussex reply began promisingly with Joyce tempted outside off stump by a Lewis delivery and was caught behind with the score on 11. But there was to be little joy thereafter as Wells and Nash mounted an attacking partnership. They added just under 70 runs in 20 overs to take Sussex within 50 of Surrey's total. Only Lewis and Kartik, who captured the wicket of Nash shortly before the rain intervened, were able to offer the captain anything approaching control. But as so often this season, its hard to blame the bowlers too much, in the face of such a paltry total the opposition batsmen were under little pressure.

Sussex, with 8 wickets in hand and only 43 runs behind will see rain as the only thing between them and victory. Surrey will have to hope an inspired Murali Kartik or Stuart Meaker burst of wickets drags them kicking and screaming back into contention.

It's hard to put a finger on what is going wrong with the batting this season, but a complete absence of a settled top order cannot have helped matters. In eight Championship matches Adams has tried eight different combinations in the top six, including five different openers, four different number threes and four different number fours. The only men to have batted in the same position every innings? Maynard and Hamilton-Brown, lo and behold the pair of them top the batting charts. If the rest don't know what their role in the side is, how can they apply themselves to said role?

Admittedly a fair amount of this upheaval has been forced on Adams; Davies' and Rudolph's absence, Pietersen's inclusion and Ramprakash's wretched form for example. But the point remains, this is a million miles from a settled side, and one that is constantly chopping and changing will struggle to post competitive totals. Our average first innings total this year is 210, and worryingly the average duration of those innings is just 65 overs - we're failing to even see a second new ball in the majority of first innings efforts. Tellingly we have just 8 batting points on the board in 2012.

The rain will probably save us in this match, but whatever play there is tomorrow we have to hope for a spirited fightback, our bowlers are certainly capable of that. But Adams now has a job on his hands to make Surrey a formidable side, and indeed one capable of survival in Division One.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Ramprakash returns for crucial Sussex game

The emergency cry has gone out, Mark Ramprakash has answered. A month since he played his last First XI game for the club, Ramps returns to Adams' 13 man squad for the crunch match with Sussex at Horsham.

The squad and possible XI is as follows:

Steve Davies
Jason Roy
Mark Ramprakash
Zander de Bruyn
Rory Hamilton-Brown
Tom Maynard
Gareth Batty
Murali Kartik
Jon Lewis
Stuart Meaker
Jade Dernbach

12th men: Gary Wilson, Tim Linley

Where Ramprakash will bat is a matter for debate, there has been some talk that he will open the batting in Jacques Rudolph's absence. I've said before that I think Maynard should move up the order, so I would rather see him at the top, but I suspect Adams may elect to go with Roy. It really is anyone's guess at this stage though. Ramprakash has been given another chance to impress on the back of three fifties for his club side Stanmore, and the coach will hope he can play the anchor role. Gareth Batty at number seven makes for a very lengthy tail, so someone will have to bat long.

Gary Wilson is presumably in the squad as batting cover for Maynard, who was off the field for a long period in the Scottish innings today. He may have taken a blow on the finger when attempting a catch of Dernbach's bowling. Wilson for his part is in good form, scoring runs in recent Second XI Twenty20s, as well as two hundreds in recent Seconds Championship games.

Whether one of Lewis, Dernbach or Meaker is rested remains to be seen, but I suspect Linley will miss out again. Neither of the three front-line bowlers have bowled a great deal of overs in recent days thanks to the weather, and we need to win this game, so I think Adams will go with his preferred attack.

The big difference in this squad of course is the presence of Murali Kartik. Horsham has seen a lot of wickets for spinners in the last couple of seasons, Monty Panesar has 14 in his last two visits there, and Saeed Ajmal took 6-124 to bowl Worcestershire to victory there in 2011. An attack with three high quality seamers, an in-form all rounder in Batty and an attacking left arm spinner in Kartik is a mouth-watering prospect.

We know from the game at the Oval that Surrey and Sussex are pretty evenly matched.  Sussex though are a stronger outfit now than the one we faced then, they have Panesar back in the fold as well as their overseas player, Steve Magoffin. James Anyon and Amjad Khan, who took 11 wickets between them at the Oval, are also dangerous though its unlikely both will play tomorrow. Their batting wasn't great in the recent defeat to Middlesex but Wright and Nash scored runs in the game against Nottinghamshire. Murray Goodwin is having a season not dissimilar to Ramprakash, he has just 118 runs from 11 Championship innings.

Sussex are Chris Adams' Division One 'benchmark' side. They are just three points ahead of us in the table in sixth place so a win would be very welcome indeed. In reality it looks as though the weather will win out with rain forecast for most of the next four days. Another washed out draw is not what we need with Worcestershire just 11 points behind us, and a potentially dangerous Durham propping up the table. If there is much play, we should have a good chance of winning, our bowling is stronger for the addition of Kartik and if Ramprakash is in any kind of form our batting looks instantly more substantial. Fingers crossed the rain holds off just enough to get a good game in.

Rain thwarts Surrey in two games

The Great British Summertime returned to scupper Surrey's latest efforts to maintain their 100% start to the CB40. Both Sunday's game with Hampshire and today's with Scotland fell victim to heavy rain.

Against Hampshire the start was delayed and when they finally did get going the game was reduced to 29 overs aside, but the way Rory Hamilton-Brown and Steven Davies set off you could've been forgiven for thinking it was 20 overs. They raced to a fifty partnership before the fifth over was out and were setting the side well on course for a dominant total. Shortly after Davies was expertly snapped up at slip off Danny Briggs the rain brought the day to a premature end.

Hampshire are a good side and it would've been a real boon to record a win over them at this stage, given the position we were in it has to go down as a point lost.

Today's game with Scotland always looked likely to be a shortened affair at the very least. As it happens I was surprised to see even 23 overs at a very chilly Oval. Surrey, asked to bowl by their opponents started a little sloppily with three wides in the first two overs, along with a dropped catch of Dernbach's bowling, but normal service was resumed shortly after.

Both Dernbach and Meaker used their pace well in settling just short of a good length. The tactics paid dividends in Meaker's second over as he hurried MacLeod who offered a simple catch to Davies behind the stumps. In the seventh over Dernbach dug another delivery in and Josh Davey mis-timed his shot to Jon Lewis at mid-on. Four balls later Dernbach had his second wicket as he trapped Wallace LBW for a duck.

Kartik was introduced into the attack in the 11th over and after his first six balls disappeared for nine runs, including two boundaries he hit back as Chalmers looped a very simple caught and bowled chance right back at him.

Thereafter Scotland recovered very well. Mommsen and Symes looked far more at ease than their colleagues who preceded them, Symes in particular looked in very good touch, delightfully reverse sweeping Kartik for four and helping a Meaker delivery over the boundary for six. When rain intervened they had put together a very good 78 run partnership at almost eight runs an over.

Despite the Scotland recovery Surrey were still in a strong position. The pitch looked to be playing well and our powerful batsmen would have caused problems for the Scottish bowlers.

We will have to hope that two no-results don't cost us in the final analysis. Durham, who lie third with two games in hand could go level on points with us if they win them both. Of course in the CB40 only one team from each group qualifies, so every point is vital. Attention turns immediately back to the Championship as tomorrow Adams' troops head to Horsham to face 'benchmark' team Sussex in a crucial match.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Kartik bowls Surrey to win in Wales

Surrey's CB40 winning streak continued in Cardiff today as they beat the odds to defend a small total. Glamorgan won the toss and put Surrey in to bat under cloudy skies and with rain looking likely.

Surrey's batsmen set off like a rat up a drainpipe, or more accurately Steven Davies did. Davies faced 21 of the first 28 balls of the innings and scored 33 runs from them. Hamilton-Brown, perhaps feeling left out on 3 from 5 deliveries in the fifth over was cramped a little by a good ball from Glover and was caught at slip.

Jason Roy came in and looked fidgety, he did manage to hit an absurdly massive six into the trees outside the ground before he fell to Simon Jones. There then followed a suffocating spell from Jim Allenby and Dean Cosker who between them bowled 16 overs for 43 runs and took three wickets. All told, after a bombastic start which saw the first 7 overs return 59-1 for Surrey, in the next 33 overs we scored only 113 runs for the lost of 8 more wickets. Steven Davies, who ended with 58 excellent runs from just 48 balls, was the only batsman who played with any fluency. 

It was in the face of some good Glamorgan bowling though, and not just from Cosker and Allenby. Jones, Owen and Glover returned late in the innings and even with a powerplay in hand Surrey were not allowed to motor at any stage. In the last five overs de Bruyn, the set batsman, faced 14 deliveries but only managed 8 runs, and no boundaries. It was an exercise in clinging on and without him we'd have been in deep trouble, but he's still not at his very best.

The target for Glamorgan then was 174, not big by any means but Surrey knew that once the hardness of the new ball was gone scoring would be tough. With experienced campaigners like Marcus North and Martin van Jaarsveld in the opposition lineup early wickets were crucial, and Surrey's fine bowling attack delivered just that.

Jade Dernbach started untypically offering a bit of width to the batsmen but in his second over he sent down a fine ball to take a thin edge from Walters' bat. After an initial over from Meaker, Jon Lewis came into the attack and replicated the fine job of Allenby, bowling his first five overs for just nine runs, and picked up the key wicket of van Jaarsveld in the process.

The pressure then was on Marcus North, with Gareth Rees struggling to score at the other end. It wasn't to be for North though as he was bowled by Spriegel's second ball as he came into the attack to replace an the injured Zander de Bruyn. Murali Kartik was given his first over for Surrey soon after and it took him just two balls to make an impact as he put Rees out of his misery, he was LBW for 12 from 38 deliveries.

Kartik continued an excellent start as he tossed one up and clean bowled Wallace who was looking to slog sweep. Hamilton-Brown shuffled his bowlers around well, though I was surprised at the number of overs of pace that were bowled with five wickets falling to spin, and with so many tweakers in the side - Gareth Batty didn't bowl a single ball, and Spriegel finished with very odd figures of 0.2-0-0-1.

Kartik added another couple of wickets but was denied a five-for by the rain in Cardiff, the players went off with the score on 107-9, Glamorgan 55 short of the Duckworth-Lewis par. In reality, Surrey were on top right from the word go, we bowled accurately and fielded quite superbly, it was a master-class in defending a(nother) small total.

If I was to nit-pick, I'd suggest that some of the batsmen need to look at the shots they played to get out, but de Bruyn and particularly Davies dug them out of a hole. Davies' innings stands out - while he scored 58 at a strike rate of 120, everyone else combined scored 253 at a strike rate of 72.

Four wins from four then, and the start to Murali Kartik's Surrey career will give Adams particular cheer. Tomorrow, if the weather holds off, his side return to the Oval to face Hampshire which will be a real test of their mettle - they'll want a lot more than 172 to defend against that lot. Experience this season might just lead Hamilton-Brown to believe this side can defend almost any total though, our bowling is relentless and the fielding is razor sharp. In the CB40 we are a seriously strong unit.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Kartik set for debut in weekend double-header

The Jubilee weekend gives little time for celebration for Surrey's players as they face three CB40 games in four days, a period which could go a long way to defining their chances of retaining the trophy.

Chris Adams has named a 13 man squad to take on Glamorgan, Hampshire and Scotland, the squad and possible XI is as follows:

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

12th men: Gary Wilson, Tim Linley

No real surprises in the 13 names selected then. Murali Kartik comes in as overseas replacement for Jacques Rudolph, who surprisingly actually only played one CB40 game for us in the end. Zafar Ansari is not available due to university commitments, the sooner he gets that out of the way the better from Surrey's perspective. I am a little surprised that Gary Wilson was named in the squad ahead of Rory Burns, who has been in good form for his club side.

The bowling attack looks very strong, as ever. Meaker and Dernbach have been Hamilton-Brown's preferred opening bowlers and both have gone at less than five runs per over this season in doing so. The skipper will then look to a combination of Lewis, Batty, Spriegel and Kartik to tie the opposition down in the middle overs before turning again to his quick men. What we have done so expertly, this year and last, is rotate bowlers really well and as a team we race through the overs, not giving the opposition a chance to draw breath.

The batting does however look one short. While Maynard, Hamilton-Brown and Davies have been in good form, de Bruyn, Spriegel and Roy have brought little to the table in terms of run scoring. Because of the quality of the bowling Hamilton-Brown will be confident of defending almost anything above 200, but it would be good to see some others in the runs. Spriegel in particular, who has not yet been able to replicate his batting form of 2011 (though his bowling has been very impressive). You always feel there's a big knock just round the corner for Roy, and his second innings effort against Warwickshire hints that he may be coming into some form.

Surrey's first opposition, Glamorgan, have had a bit of a rough time of it at the start of 2012. Before the arrival of Marcus North they could barely buy a run but he has inspired some more confident batting. They will also have the talents of Martin van Jaarsveld to call on, and their back up batsmen, including Rees, Wallace and Wright are effective players on their day.

Glamorgan's stand out bowlers, Huw Waters and James Harris have not been named in the squad but in Simon Jones, Dean Cosker and Will Owen they have a blend of experience and youth, they won't be a pushover.

Hampshire, who Surrey face on Sunday (weather permitting!) meanwhile look an altogether stronger outfit. Unbeaten until their defeat to a strong Nottinghamshire outfit last night, they carry threat throughout their side. Their batting, led by Carberry and Adams, ably assisted by Katich, Vince, Ervine and the finishing talents of Mascarenhas is very strong. I'm a huge fan of their young bowlers too, Briggs and the left armer Wood may not be terribly experienced but are high quality.

Given our form in the CB40 we should be looking to beat both sides this weekend and Scotland on Tuesday. Certainly the Hampshire game looks the most challenging of the three, but Adams won't take the other two lightly either. Three more wins would put us on 12 points, and in a very strong position in the group.