Monday, 30 July 2012

Ansari and the weather save Surrey on final day

Surrey's game with Warwickshire petered out into a rain affected draw, with 35 overs lost to the weather over the final two days. But the weather wouldn't have mattered had Zafar Ansari not played the sort of rearguard innings that the situation demanded. He ended unbeaten on 83 to rescue the game.

In his first class career before this innings he had faced just 553 deliveries, yesterday evening and today alone he faced 257 balls. He was ably assisted late in the day by a controlled innings from Jason Roy, the likes of which we rarely see from him but it was no less impressive for that. He ended with 42 from 101 balls (having been 9 from 55 balls at one stage) to stave off any fears of a collapse after Harinath and de Bruyn departed for not many runs.

Warwickshire were guilty of some lapses in the field, de Bruyn was dropped twice by close-in fielders but ultimately that didn't cost them a huge amount. Ansari and Roy did a fine job of digging in for their side. After the mammoth total that the opposition posted batting out the game, even bearing in mind the rain and the flat pitch, will have given the team a good lift.

A draw is only worth three points these days, but that's three more points than we'd have ended up with had we collapsed in a heap today. Those three points could be critical come September.

There is plenty to take heart from in this game. In the absence of an experienced pro in any kind of form, the younger players stood up. Ansari is clearly something quite special, always calm and composed, he is not only a key batsman for Surrey's future, but also a future captain. Towards the end of the day there was a hundred in sight but he maintained his composure, he batted for the team, not for himself.

However it's not all rosy. Facing the prospect of the next Championship game without Meaker or Tremlett, Jon Lewis in the midst of a lengthy lean spell and Dernbach returning from injury, the bowling is now also a concern. Linley must be considered, and Jordan must not on the strength of this showing.

We have come away from Trent Bridge and Edgbaston with draws. Although neither was a vintage performance, we have stood up to be counted against the best in the division. The next game, against Durham, now takes on extra significance. It goes without saying that we must avoid defeat and really a win is all but essential.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Surrey face massive battle to save game

Surrey closed day three still 247 runs behind with ten second innings wickets in hand, and face having to bat through day four to save the game.

Surrey's first innings had begun so positively, although Ansari was lost to a fine Woakes delivery Burns and Harinath put on a superb fighting recovery with an 83 run second wicket partnership. Harinath though could not last a single over on day three as he was caught behind off Keith Barker. That was part of a collapse of six wickets for 58 runs. Burns was the fifth of those to fall for an excellent 77 but de Bruyn, Roy, Davies and Jordan added just 30 runs between them. Chris Jordan scored five fewer runs than he gave away in first innings no balls. To say he owes the team some runs is understating matters.

A battling performance from Batty, Meaker and Lewis dragged the Surrey total in to respectability but the follow on target of 421 was always going to be a massive ask. Warwickshire eventually took the final wicket, that of Murali Kartik, with the total at 286. They gave away just 10 extras, or 3.4%, while we handed Warwickshire over 10% of their total.

Burns and Ansari strode out again late on the third day to face the new ball, and again they showed that there is nothing to be terrified of in the pitch. What will be encouraging them is that Jeetan Patel is yet to take a wicket in 17 overs. But Warwickshire have an awful lot of quality besides him. Batting out three sessions is not beyond us, but it is a mountainous task.

To make matters worse Durham pulled off a cracking come-from-behind victory against Middlesex by just 15 runs to move to within 12 points of us. With the steely Paul Collingwood at the helm, and bags of experience in their lineup, that win may just prove a spark to their season. The game with them at the Riverside is now utterly crucial, a game in which they will presumably be able to call on the services of Graham Onions, while we will be without Stuart Meaker. Worcestershire, just eight points behind us, now have two games in hand. In short, the task of staving off relegation is getting ever harder.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Surrey fight back late on day one

Warwickshire will probably feel they have the edge at the end of an up and down day one, but two wickets late in the day will give Surrey reason for hope overnight.

Chris Adams joined Rory Hamilton-Brown on the sidelines for this game. He has apparently been given leave to recover from the events of June and subsequent weeks. Where someone's health, mental or physical, is concerned then clearly that must take precedence and I hope he recovers quickly. However I do think the timing is slightly odd, coming just after a period when we had a full week without a game. That aside though, the strangest decision is that of the club. To make no reference to it when the squad was announced, or even this morning, leaving the supporters in the dark somewhat is most unwelcome. It can only lead to speculation (including by me, which was perhaps unwise).

The club is now left in a situation with a captain on indefinite leave, a vice captain that never captains and a coach who appears to have been ordered to take time off. Not an ideal situation for what Richard Gould himself refers to as an "arduous" run-in.

On the field, Gareth Batty returned to the side and promptly lost the toss. His opposite number elected to bat first under sunny skies. Chris Jordan was selected ahead of Tim Linley and Jade Dernbach was also left out, presumably for reasons of fitness.

The first session most definitely belonged to Warwickshire. A good opening spell of fast bowling from Stuart Meaker drew no wickets, but did give him figures of 5-3-6-0. At the other end Jon Lewis was expensive, conceding 36 runs from his opening salvo of seven overs. It was announced today that Meaker will play for the England Lions next month, meaning he will likely miss the Championship games with Middlesex and Durham. He will be sorely missed, since a sterling start to the season his new ball partner Lewis has taken just five wickets in five games at a cost of 70 runs apiece.

Warwickshire made it to 130 without loss before Chris Jordan made the breakthrough, clean bowling Varun Chopra. That began a good afternoon session which saw them take four wickets and reduce the opposition to 197-4. The resurgent Troughton and stand-in keeper Johnson put together a fine recovery and it wasn't until the second new ball in the 86th over that Surrey made another breakthrough. Johnson fell to Meaker and the same bowler had Rikki Clarke superbly caught by Rory Burns.

That left Warwickshire 322-6 and with their noses slightly ahead. 43 of the home side's total came in extras, with 22 runs coming from no balls by Jordan and Lewis. Giving away runs like that is criminal. Troughton is still at the crease on 74, with Woakes for company on 12. That very pair put on over 200 together at Taunton last week, so getting one of them early tomorrow is of paramount importance.

The wicket is, by all accounts, dry but only two of six wickets to fall did so to spin. Given that we have two spinners (Batty seems reluctant to bowl Ansari as a third spinner) I hope the wicket will take increasing turn tomorrow, and Jeetan Patel has an off game. We are still very much in this game but early wickets tomorrow morning are an absolute must.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Squad named for tough Warwickshire assignment

Chris Adams and his relegation-threatened troupe travel to Edgbaston this weekend to face Division One pace-setters Warwickshire. It could prove to be their toughest test of a troubled season.

The 13 man squad, and a possible XI is as follows:

Zafar Ansari
Rory Burns
Arun Harinath
Zander de Bruyn
Steven Davies
Jason Roy
Gareth Batty
Murali Kartik
Stuart Meaker
Jade Dernbach
Jon Lewis

12th men: Chris Jordan, Tim Linley

The name conspicuous by its absence is of course Matthew Spriegel's who after one innings in a rain-ruined game seems to have been summarily cast aside, with no apparent reference to an injury. Frankly I am bemused by this decision, and not for the first time this season. I have nothing against Chris Jordan but why should he get so many more opportunities to prove himself in Championship cricket when Spriegel gets barely any? Spriegel, whose contract extension expires at the end of the year, must be increasingly frustrated at being left on the sidelines. He has not set the world alight with his performances this year but he is a solid pro, an excellent fielder and has captained the Second XI on many occasions.

Arun Harinath, who would have played two games ago but for an injury, replaces Spriegel in the side. If the batting order in this week's Second XI game is anything to go by, he will slot in at three rather than continuing the opening batsman merry-go-round. Ansari and Burns performed more than adequately against Nottinghamshire and Burns made another good 80+ score for the seconds. I have my doubts as to whether Ansari is a long term option at the top though, I feel he is much better suited to the middle order.

The batting is a conundrum at the moment, the experienced members of the top six are short of form and those in any sort of form are short of experience. Somehow they have to find a way to make it work.

On the bowling front Jade Dernbach makes a welcome return from the side injury which kept him out of much of England's ODI series against Australia. Assuming he is fit I would expect him to slot into the side, despite Tim Linley's seven wicket haul against Warwickshire's Second XI. Given how prolific Jeetan Patel has been for Warwickshire this season I would guess Adams will plump for two spinners, meaning the captaincy will return to Gareth Batty. As for the vice captaincy, well, who knows?

Warwickshire are not top of the County Championship by accident, they are a seriously good outfit. Their top order batsmen have not been in the best form, though Chopra has over 500 runs to his name, but it hasn't really mattered, such is the strength of their middle and lower order. Rikki Clarke is averaging 67, Chris Woakes 51. Their one weak link, skipper Jim Troughton, is no longer a weak link with scores of 134 and 81 in recent games. Their bowling is strong too, Patel is a low key overseas signing but no less effective for it, he has 34 wickets at 22 this season and Woakes, Clarke, Barker and Wright will all chip in as well.

If we thought Nottinghamshire were a tough side to face, title-chasing Warwickshire are tougher still. The weather may have a say on Sunday, but otherwise this game looks set fair. Surrey can take heart from their game at the Oval earlier this season though, where they reduced Warwickshire to 37-4 chasing 222 before Ambrose and Clarke saw them home.

Six games remaining, six games in which to retain our first division status. If our bowling attack performs to the level they should, we can run any side in the country close. But Warwickshire are a tough, experienced side who churn out results with ruthless efficiency. If we can get a result at Edgbaston it could prove the spark to revive our season, if we're steamrollered, it could spell the end.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Surrey play it safe with draw at Trent Bridge

After losing considerably more than half the game to the weather, a positive result was always unlikely and so it proved as the stand in captains shook hands on a draw just after 6pm today.

The Nottingamshire coach, Mick Newell had said yesterday that he expected both captains to be amenable to forcing a result and apparently Zander de Bruyn was offered a scenario by Chris Read in the morning but declined. Instead he elected to secure some bonus points with bat and ball. It may seem a negative decision from de Bruyn but he was probably mindful of the poor batting form of much of his side.

Read and Voges resumed for Nottinghamshire on 178-5 and the Notts skipper was positive from the word go. De Bruyn kept faith with Chris Jordan who'd bowled a testing spell on Wednesday, as he threw him the ball this morning but Jordan couldn't replicate his form of two days previously. He bowled nine overs for 39 runs and was rarely threatening.

Jon Lewis was brought into the attack at the other end and picked up the wicket of Voges leg before for 59, he and Read had added an excellent 145 runs in good time. Read continued to be positive, as did his new partner Ben Philips and the pair added 75 in just 15 overs. Read's innings was cut short just two runs shy of an excellent century by Stuart Meaker. Meaker continued his good work throughout the morning and also picked up the wickets of Philips and Adams to end with 5-78, including 3-30 from ten overs today. It was his third five-for of the season and took his tally for 2012 to 35 at just over 20 apiece.

Surrey had therefore secured maximum bowling points and had a little more than 50 overs to secure as many batting points as possible. Ansari and Burns were again sent in to open and made a much better fist of it than against Lancashire. They forged our equal-best opening partnership of the season, not bad for a pair who only boast 14 first class matches between them. They were parted when Ansari got a good ball from Andy Carter and was bowled for 31.

That brought Jason Roy to the crease and he continued his recent resurgence. He and Burns put on an entertaining partnership of 82 in less than 11 overs to push Surrey towards a first batting point. Burns' dismissal, again bowled but this time by Adams for a quite excellent 79, brought about a mini-collapse from 167-1 to 177-4 as de Bruyn and Davies also departed in quick succession.

However Jason Roy continued on his merry way as only Roy knows how. He raced to 50 from just 38 balls, reaching the milestone with a trademark straight six off Samit Patel. Later in his innings he reverse swept the England spinner for successive sixes before he was stumped off the same bowler trying for another big hit, his 83 came from just 50 balls. There was a hundred for the taking and its a shame he didn't get there, but his rapid fire innings propelled Surrey to a first batting point and towards a second at 215-5.

Matthew Spriegel, who had also been finding the boundary nicely, was also out with the score on 215 as Andre Adams found his mojo with a spell of three wickets for 19 runs. That left Chris Jordan and Stuart Meaker needing to find 35 runs in 9 or so overs to secure a second batting point. Meaker did the bulk of the work with 29 not out from 36 deliveries to complete another impressive match. The 250 mark was reached with two balls to spare.

A draw at Trent Bridge is no mean feat, even if the weather did play a huge part in this game. However with Worcestershire winning at Old Trafford three of the bottom four in the table now look mighty close. We are four points ahead of Worcestershire, who have a game in hand over us, and a point behind Lancashire, over whom we have a game in hand. There are still six games remaining and all is to play for, but we have to start winning games if we want to be sure of safety. The rest of the season will be a huge test for Chris Adams, I have no doubt that we have the players to survive in this division, but it will still be mighty tough to do so.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Solanki signs on for 2013

The proud recipient of the 2010 Surrey Cricket Blog award for Opposition Player of the Year, Vikram Solanki, has signed a two year deal with Surrey from 2013.

Chris Adams said just last week that the recruitment process would begin immediately, but I wasn't quite expecting the first signing to be confirmed so soon. Given that Adams said that he would be looking for experience, and Solanki's contract was up for renewal at Worcestershire this year, it seems a perfectly logical choice.

Moreover, Solanki is a wonderful batsman to watch and has almost 300 first class matches under his belt, scoring 31 hundreds in the process. At 36 years of age, I'm slightly surprised that he's been given a two year deal but he would have been unlikely to sign for a single season and the fact that Adams was desperate for wise old heads will not have gone unnoticed by Solanki himself.

Although he's not had the best of years in 2012, averaging just 26 in the Championship so far, he was far more impressive in 2011 in scoring over 1,000 runs at 42, all but topping the Worcestershire batting and bagging himself three hundreds. Hopefully he can replicate that for us, rather than his 2012 form. He is also a more than handy limited overs players, as we found to our cost in the CB40 in 2010 where he scored a sparkling hundred.

A cursory glance at our batting order for the last couple of games tells its own story. There is bags of potential, but not many years of first class experience between them. Of course we'd all like to see an XI packed with Surrey players born and bred, but having that and having success just is not possible in the short term. Solanki will be a leader in the dressing room, that will be what Adams has signed him for, and it's hard to fault the logic of that. He may not score millions of runs, but I'm sure he'll be worth his place in the side.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Surrey on top, but Read and Voges fight

The wonderful summer of 2012 continued unabated today as 54 overs were wiped from the day's play at Trent Bridge. At the early close of play Nottinghamshire were 178-5.

Play started on time this morning as Surrey won the toss and elected to field. The man calling the toss for Surrey today was not Gareth Batty as we have come to expect, but Zander de Bruyn in his stead. Such were the seam friendly conditions that Adams decided he could not go in with two spinners and the stand-in skipper was the man jettisoned. Given that Steven Davies was appointed vice captain at the start of 2011 it is strange that de Bruyn was called on to skipper instead, indeed it makes it harder to ignore the fact that Davies has not yet signed an extension to his current contract which expires this year.

Whether Batty was party to the decision or not (one hopes he was), I think this was an odd call, in an increasingly long line of odd calls. Batty is widely regarded as the glue that has held the dressing room together in recent weeks so to see him cast aside in favour of Murali Kartik is disappointing, Kartik himself has hardly set the world alight with his Championship bowling. If spin was going to play such a small part in the match, is Kartik really a much better option than an in form Batty? 

Meanwhile, Tim Linley was preferred in place of Chris Tremlett who was not risked for a second consecutive Championship match, and Chris Jordan also came in as a fourth fast bowling option.

The match began at a frenetic pace with openers Hales and Wessels carrying on where they left off in last night's CB40 match, five balls in the first two overs were pinged to the boundary. By the end of the fourth over Nottinghamshire had 30 runs on the board. However in the sixth over came the breakthrough, Tim Linley finding the edge of Wessels' bat to send him back for a run-a-ball 23.

His dismissal served to quieten things down somewhat as a period of three overs for two runs followed. As the pressure built Jon Lewis picked up the wicket (rather fortunately) of Alex Hales who could only watch as a ball he'd defended dribbled on to his stumps. De Bruyn had introduced Jordan to the attack and the effect was almost immediate as he trapped Lumb lbw with the first ball of his second over. It was a fine start for Jordan who reeled off three maidens with his first three overs.

Meaker was then let loose and similarly he had success in his second over as Samit Patel edged a ball going down the leg side. Always a poor shot to get out to but in truth Meaker had started excellently despite conceding six from his opening over. That left Notts 59-4 but so powerful is their batting that you're never truly on top until you get well into the tail.

Surrey made good progress in that direction though as Meaker picked up his second wicket with the dangerous James Taylor edging him into the slips. At 84-5 we were looking rampant. However Chris Read and Adam Voges had other ideas. The same pair had put on 143 to stymie the Middlesex bowlers last week and while dodging the showers today they put on another 94 together, and will return to the crease unbeaten tomorrow morning.

It is the kind of captain's knock we've come to expect from Read, and Voges is the sort of overseas player Chris Adams probably dreams of. The bowling wasn't at its best though, 28 boundaries came in 42 overs and only one bowler (Jordan) was able to restrict the flow of runs to below four an over. Voges was also dropped on five by Spriegel in the slips off the bowling of Meaker. He could yet make us pay dearly for that mistake.

As ever it is very hard to tell where the balance of power lies in a match when only one side has batted, but Surrey will probably sleep relatively easy tonight. Of course they would like to have seen the back of one of Read or Voges today but persistent cloudy conditions tomorrow, if they don't dump too much rain, should keep the bowlers interested. Our batsmen will already have seen some variable bounce today which won't make their reply terribly easy, but the bowlers can go some way to relieving a bit of the pressure with early wickets tomorrow.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Spriegel finally called to Championship action

After being roundly trounced by Nottinghamshire in the CB40 on Sunday we now face the prospect of the same opposition in the Championship. As with all the remaining games, this is a pretty crucial fixture, not to mention a demanding one.

Chris Adams has named a 13 man squad, the names and a possible XI are as follows:

Zafar Ansari
Rory Burns
Zander de Bruyn
Steven Davies
Jason Roy
Matthew Spriegel
Gareth Batty
Jon Lewis
Murali Kartik
Stuart Meaker
Chris Tremlett

12th men: Tim Linley, Chris Jordan

Broadly the same side then that faced Lancashire last week, the one big (huge) omission being Kevin Pietersen who will be with England for the first test starting on Thursday. This is an especially big game for the man chosen to replace Pietersen, Matthew Spriegel, who last played Championship cricket in August 2010. In the meantime he has performed excellently in the limited overs games, and for the Second XI, now it is time for him to show his ability against the best. Gary Wilson also misses out thanks to some more Ireland duty.

I think the batting looks very frail, notwithstanding de Bruyn's tentative return to form last week. Rory Hamilton-Brown's indefinite compassionate leave continues, with the expectation now edging towards him not playing again this season. Against a strong Nottinghamshire bowling outfit Adams may yet elect to start with Jordan ahead of Murali Kartik to bolster the batting somewhat, and also offer a fourth seam bowling option at a ground where spin bowlers often take a back seat.

The opening partnership will continue to be a source of debate. Presumably Arun Harinath is still suffering with his thumb injury so the question is, will Ansari and Burns continue, or will Spriegel step up? Spriegel seems to me the most natural choice, but if they wanted him to open why not select him in the Lancashire squad? I suspect Ansari and Burns will be persisted with. Ansari showed a good deal of application and although Burns shouldered arms to a good delivery, it was simply a mis-judgement and it would be harsh to discount him as a possible opener on the basis of that one ball.

Meaker, Tremlett and Lewis toiled away on a flat wicket at a small ground in Guildford so it is tough to say whether they bowled especially well or badly. Meaker was apparently struggling a touch with a sore back and Tremlett is still feeling his way back in from injury. Trent Bridge is historically good to seamers so our threesome should be licking their lips. Jade Dernbach is still absent with a side injury.

Nottinghamshire have the significant psychological advantage of having brushed us aside, albeit in a different format, just a couple of days ago. They are unbeaten at Trent Bridge this season and although they have only won one of four fixtures there, they've been unlucky with the weather on occasion. Indeed the weather will probably play a role over the next four days as well as showers are forecast for much of that period.

Their bowling is strong, led by the evergreen Andre Adams who has a remarkable 46 wickets at 15 apiece this season (though only 15 of those have come at home, at a slightly worse average of 20). Equally they are not found wanting in the batting, Voges, Wessels, Read and Lumb (who was absent from the CB40 game this evening with a back problem) have all stood up this season, and worryingly Hales and Taylor have yet to really fire in the Championship. Across the last five years they have probably been the best county in terms of results, that doesn't happen by accident.

Make no mistake, tests this season won't come much bigger. Our depleted batting should look at this as an opportunity to put down a marker and show Chris Adams that they deserve a run in the side. Before the last game Adams said he wanted to win four from the last eight matches. Presumably that calculation is now four from seven, including this trip to Trent Bridge, and trips to Old Trafford, Edgbaston and Taunton. This isn't going to be a walk in the park.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Poor batting costs Surrey dear

Surrey suffered their first CB40 defeat of 2012 at Guildford today as Nottinghamshire ran out comfortable winners by five wickets with 57 balls remaining. It was Surrey's first defeat in this format since losing to Durham in August 2011.

In truth it could have been an awful lot worse. You know those five specialist batsmen Adams named in the squad? After 19 balls of the Surrey innings they'd all been dismissed and we were floundering at 8-5. Not unfamiliar territory given that just last month we were 9-4 at the Rose Bowl, but still another shockingly poor effort from the top order. There was a bit of bounce generated by the Nottinghamshire opening bowlers but equally there was some very poor shot selection.

Surrey's record low 40 over total of 63 looked in serious danger, and the record low 40 over total in history (Middlesex's 23 in 1974) wasn't out of the question. However there was a mini recovery from Spriegel and Ansari who put on 38 until the latter got a leading edge off Jake Ball. He'll be disappointed at getting out when he did, having ground out 16 runs from 48 balls.

Ansari's dismissal brought captain Batty to the crease and he and Spriegel continued the recovery putting on 43, the highest partnership of the innings. They were threatening a total around the 150 mark before Batty succumbed, caught behind of Gurney. Jon Lewis characteristically hammered a few boundaries in a quickfire 16 but Surrey could only struggle to 123 all out, failing to see out 34 overs of their innings.

Murali Kartik was the last man out, tamely flicking to short fine leg four balls into the batting powerplay which was called bizarrely late with the final pair at the crease. Only Spriegel, who top scored with 39 can claim any credit. Nottinghamshire's opening seam bowlers Gurney and Pattinson ended the day with combined figures of 7-49 off 13 overs.

For a side with their batting talents to call on a target of 124 was never going to be terribly threatening for Notts, especially on a small ground. Spriegel, opening the bowling, continued his sterling work as he reeled off 8 overs for just 20 runs and didn't give up a boundary until the 47th ball he bowled. It would've taken four similar efforts to give Notts anything like a scare, but there just wasn't the kind of scoreboard pressure that can start the nerves jangling.

When Hales hooked Meaker to Rory Burns it was 39-2, but with James Taylor at the crease the result never really looked in doubt. The required rate didn't dip below three an over, the bowling (one Stuart Meaker over which went for 20 runs) was dogged and a flurry of wickets fell late in the day as Notts stumbled from 96-2 to 105-5, but there were simply nowhere near enough runs on the board.

The shortage of batting, in the absence of Pietersen, has been badly exposed today. Adams yesterday signalled his intent to begin a recruitment drive, and on the evidence of today you'd have to say he's not wrong to do so.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Back in CB40 action for Notts visit

A brief sojourn back into the world of Championship cricket makes way for a return to limited overs cricket, but in the place of Twenty20 we're now back to forty over cricket as Nottinghamshire visit Guildford tomorrow.

Chris Adams has named a 13 man squad for the game, the players named and a possible XI is as follows:

Jason Roy
Steven Davies
Zander de Bruyn
Zafar Ansari 
Gary Wilson
Rory Burns
Matthew Spriegel
Gareth Batty
Murali Kartik
Stuart Meaker
Jon Lewis

Bench: Chris Jordan, Tim Linley

Even bearing in mind Adams' penchant for bowler heavy lineups the squad above, with just five specialist batsmen, looks very light in the batting. Kevin Pietersen returns to the England fold so Zander de Bruyn's tentative steps back into form could prove crucial, and Jason Roy will hopefully respond well to the pressure of being one of the senior batsmen in the squad.

Again the bowling looks strong, although Chris Tremlett is given a break after his exploits against Lancashire. The side above has just two frontline seam bowling options, so de Bruyn may be called upon to turn his arm over. In this competition so far Adams has liked to rely on Jon Lewis for some of the middle overs so Spriegel might be asked to bowl in the powerplay overs with Meaker.

Nottinghamshire meanwhile have named a horribly strong looking batting lineup with six internationals in the top seven. The bowling isn't bad either with Pattinson, Gurney and Mullaney to call on, plus Samit Patel doing the spinning. They have a record of two wins and two defeats from their four CB40 games this year and lie six points behind us in the table, though with two games in hand a win over us tomorrow would make them strongly placed to qualify.

We have shown time and again in this format that we can beat the odds in defending low totals or scraping over the line chasing. Such is the strength of the opposition tomorrow that if we come out on top we'll be firm favourites to win this competition again. 

Friday, 13 July 2012

Pietersen masterclass floors Lancashire

Surrey wrested control on their latest Championship match at Guildford back from their Northern opposition today thanks to a stunning exhibition of cricket from Kevin Pietersen. They closed the day just 55 runs behind on 430-5.

The England batsman, playing perhaps his last championship game of the season, clobbered his way to 234 off just 190 balls. With 30 fours and 8 sixes, an impressive 72% of his runs came in boundaries. Lancashire's left arm spinner Simon Kerrigan, a talented young bowler with 92 first class wickets at 27 apiece under his belt, was dealt with particularly harshly. From the 63 balls he bowled to Pietersen, KP swatted 115 runs. In fact of the Lancashire bowlers only Glen Chapple was able to exert anything resembling control over Pietersen.

It was an innings out of the top drawer, a knock that few cricketers anywhere in the world could play. He went to lunch on four from six balls, and in the 19th over he was on 8 from 12, but that was the last time his strike rate dipped below 100. He thrashed 106 runs in the afternoon session and 124 more in the evening. He might just have half an eye on bettering his current first class best, a 254 not out he scored for Nottinghamshire.

KP's innings might have stolen the show, but of equal importance in a wider context was Zander de Bruyn's 94. Although he fell short of his first hundred of the year, it hopefully signals a return to something like the magnificent form he showed in 2011. He struggled to get strike and turn his score over after lunch, but as tea approached he seized the initiative, only to get out just before the break. He will be a key player as the Championship reaches its climax. 

There was a period about an hour after the lunch break where the pitch began to misbehave a touch, the odd one bouncing sharply off a good length, others scuttling through at shin-height, but Pietersen and de Bruyn rode it out well. All told Surrey scored 188 runs between lunch and tea for the loss of just one wicket.

The other innings of the day pale into if not insignificance, then certainly less significance. Jason Roy was a touch more reserved than usual in making 38 off 51 balls. Steven Davies played second fiddle (who didn't?) to KP in scoring 22 back in the middle order. Chris Adams made another left-field call in asking Zafar Ansari to open with Rory Burns. Burns, in a not unfamiliar role that he has fulfilled at lower levels, shouldered arms to the first ball of the innings from Chapple and was comprehensively bowled. Ansari though was unruffled, as we have come to expect from him. He may have only scored 21 but such is his cool demeanour, not to mention talent, that I think he most certainly has a place in Surrey's future top order.

Worryingly though it did continue Adams' merry go round openers policy. That is the seventh opening pair he's tried in ten first class matches this year. Presumably this will become eight when Harinath is fit again. My point about a settled batting order from earlier in the season may have been torpedoed by events outside of anyone's control, but the openers nonetheless remain a real concern.

Earlier in the day Lancashire chose not to declare overnight, batting on for half an hour or so this morning, and managed to do some damage in that time. 60 runs came off the nine overs they batted for this morning with yesterday's centurion Croft scoring 50 of them, 37 of which came in boundaries. With 485 runs on the board Lancashire held all the cards. Now Surrey are in the ascendancy and though anything other than a draw is most unlikely now, remarkably Surrey look the only side who could force anything.

I would expect Pietersen will be given license to compile as high a score as possible tomorrow morning and Surrey will look to assess the situation once his innings is over. Clearly the pitch still poses little in the way of a challenge to the batsmen, and again the weather may disrupt matters, but today will go down as one of Surrey's better with the bat in 2012.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Surrey under pressure as Lancashire consolidate

Surrey could be left looking to the weather to help rescue them from a perilous position in this latest Championship game as Lancashire used day two (or the 50-odd overs that were playable) to bat and bat some more, ending the day on well placed on 425-7.

The day began on time again and Surrey had the better of the first hour, in terms of wickets at least. None of the three batsmen which fell in that time were down to Surrey's plans being executed especially well, but wickets are wickets. Ashwell Prince was first to go, plonking Murali Kartik right to Zander de Bruyn. Tom Smith was then run out by the same fielder and Gareth Cross whipped Stuart Meaker straight to Zafar Ansari to give Meaker his 30th wicket this season and leave Lancashire at 298-6 and in danger of squandering a great position.

But although three wickets fell in the first hour or so but Surrey were then made to wait again by Croft and captain Chapple who put together the second 120+ run partnership of the innings. Kartik and Lewis were accurate but Tremlett and Meaker struggled to find another breakthrough. Bizarrely Batty tossed the ball to de Bruyn immediately after the lunch break and he proceeded to bowl a spell of 3-0-25-0 to really get Lancashire back into the groove. All told Lancashire added 32 runs in the four overs post-lunch and our bowlers really were creating very little, admittedly on a slow pitch.

Eventually Jon Lewis' relentless wicket to wicket bowling brought about Chapple's downfall, lbw for a well made 46 runs. He and Croft had arrested the slide from 233-2 to 298-6 and had put Lancashire well ahead in the game. Soon after the Chapple wicket fell the rain arrived as forecast and the players didn't make it back out.

The forecast for tomorrow is much the same as today so provided there is no heavy rain overnight it should be an on-time start with showers coming later in the day. I would hope, in the interests of pursuing a result, that Lancashire will declare overnight and try and bowl us out twice inside what they manage to get out of the last two days. They must surely be aware of our recent troubles with the bat, but perhaps the Kevin Pietersen factor has them spooked.

The innings of Horton and Croft show that although this pitch isn't one made for the strokemakers, you can prosper if you bed in and get yourself settled. Today was another disappointing day but this pitch seems to be offering progressively less for the bowlers. Of course there is now significant scoreboard pressure, and you never play the weather, but it would be hugely disappointing if from here we managed to manufacture a losing position. This is a chance for the batsmen to nudge themselves back towards some form and salvage the draw.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Lancashire take charge on day one

Woodbridge Road somehow managed to dodge the worst of the showers today as miraculously 81 overs were playable. Surrey's return to Championship cricket didn't quite go to plan though as Lancashire ended the day in the driving seat at 245-3.

Chris Adams sprung no surprises with team selection as Tim Linley and Chris Jordan were left on the sidelines. Lancashire's position at the end of the day will be ever more a source of frustration to Adams and his skipper Batty as he won the toss and sent them in to bat. On the face of it that didn't seem the worst decision, Guildford is an out-ground which has been under covers for much of the last few weeks. It was also likely to be an on-off day, which is always tough on the batting team.

However, Lancashire played their hand very well. There was not a huge amount in the pitch by all accounts, but neither did Surrey bowl especially well. Chris Tremlett, playing his first Championship game for Surrey in almost exactly a year, opened the bowling with Jon Lewis but neither was able to force a breakthrough.

Lancashire progressed well to 47 without loss and once again it was left to Stuart Meaker to make the first inroads, which he did in the 14th over having Moore LBW for his 28th wicket of the season. The next wicket, also in Meaker's column, didn't come until the 50th over though as Horton and Brown forged a 122 run partnership to seize the initiative.

Another 50+ partnership between Ashwell Prince and Horton, who in the process went to an excellent hundred. Days when the players are on and off a number of times are very difficult for batsmen to find fluency, but Horton played the situation well to post his second hundred of 2012. He finally fell to Tremlett just nine overs before the close but Steven Croft played out the remainder of the day with Prince to leave Lancashire in the box seats.

This was not the barnstorming return to Championship cricket we'd hoped for. Perhaps the bowlers struggled to adapt from a month of playing the shortest format and in hindsight electing to bowl was perhaps not the right call. However, we dropped a couple of catches and there is bounce in the pitch though so with 17 overs in his legs today Tremlett should be looking to make good use of that tomorrow (and cut out the no balls). His final spell of 5-2-9-1, as opposed to 12-4-35-0 for the rest of the day, suggests he improved as the overs ticked by. 

Our batsmen should look to their Lancashire counterparts, who accumulated rather than flashed their way to scores of substance. With the weather and a pitch that doesn't hold too many devils, we should not be entertaining thoughts of losing this game.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Championship cricket returns at Guildford

After a month of crash bang wallop Twenty20 cricket Championship cricket is back on the agenda. So much has happened in the intervening period that it feels like an awful lot longer than a month since the players last ventured out in whites.

Chris Adams has named a very different looking squad to that which faced Sussex, unsurprisingly. The 13 names and a possible XI are as follows:

Steven Davies
Jason Roy
Kevin Pietersen
Zander de Bruyn
Rory Burns
Zafar Ansari
Gareth Batty
Murali Kartik
Jon Lewis
Stuart Meaker
Chris Tremlett

12th men: Tim Linley, Chris Jordan

Kevin Pietersen remains with the squad to get some four day cricket before the South Africa series starts and his experience (not to mention his talent) will be invaluable. Rory Burns and Zafar Ansari are the men chosen to replace the irreplaceable Ramprakash and Maynard. Who opens the batting will again be interesting to see, with Ramprakash having done the job at Horsham. Arun Harinath was set to partner Steven Davies in this game before he suffered a thumb injury at the weekend, so I would expect one of Roy or possibly Burns to step into the breach.

The bowling attack looks very strong, Tremlett looks set to make his Championship bow in 2012 and in Jon Lewis and Stuart Meaker he has two well rested and willing allies. Kartik and Batty will tie down batsmen, and Ansari is there on standby should the skipper need to change things round. Such a strong bowling attack does not come without risks though. The batting, with Ansari at six, looks on the thin side. I don't doubt Zafar has it in him to bat in the top six one day but it is possibly a bit early for him. His head is so firmly screwed on though that I don't expect him to disappoint.

Lancashire, the reigning County Champions, have disappointed so far this season. They have, like us, registered just a single victory in the Championship and indeed lie only eight points ahead of us in the table. They are dangerous though. They have three players with over 400 runs this season in Prince, Horton and Croft and their bowling covers all bases with Chapple and Shahzad spearheading the seam attack and Keedy and Kerrigan doing the spinning.

The bottom four sides in the Championship are playing each other this week and both games may well fall victim to the weather, which will leave us back where we started, but with one fewer fixture in which to rescue matters. Our batsmen are, by and large, searching for form and our bowlers don't have many miles in their legs at the moment. This will be a real challenge for Surrey to get back in business, if they can dodge the showers and get some runs under their belt it will go a long way to setting them on their way.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

A Twenty20 win at last

Surrey can take some heart from signing off their 2012 Twenty20 campaign with a win against one of the leading sides in the competition. It was a win that looked very unlikely at one stage.

Chris Adams sprung another couple of selection surprises. Although maybe we shouldn't regard the selection of de Bruyn ahead of Burns as a surprise any more. He also selected Chris Jordan, not necessarily a bad call in itself, but it was in place of Murali Kartik, who has been pretty impressive in the T20s this season.

Sussex won the toss and chose to bat, which I always think is a bad move with the possibility of a rain affected game, but for the first (and as it turned out, only) nine overs of their innings it looked like the right decision. Although the start was relatively quiet, just 10 runs came from the first two overs but from then on the Sussex openers began to cut loose.

Perhaps with half an eye on the weather Luke Wright and Chris Nash went on the attack. 23 runs came from Tremlett's first over and all told 93 runs came between overs three and nine. As the rain began to fall heavily Sussex were looking very strong indeed.

The rain break was lengthy and the umpires only deemed any more play was possible at 6pm. They decided that Surrey had five overs to flay 62 runs. Such situations are even more of a lottery than Twenty20 normally, but with Kevin Pietersen and Steven Davies to open the batting, and Jason Roy in the locker, you always felt there was a chance, however slim.

Davies cracked his first ball from Mike Yardy for four but fell to an excellent Chris Liddle catch the very next ball. The first over was quiet and left Surrey a required run rate of almost 14. When Jason Roy was out to another Liddle catch in the second over, the game looked all but up - and I must admit I didn't hold out much hope.

Kevin Pietersen had other ideas though. He and Wilson took 30 runs from the next 12 balls to leave just eight needed from the final over. Wilson was caught off the final ball of the fourth over so it was left to Ansari and KP to finish the job. The pair ran hard to take four off Luke Wright's first two balls and the stage was set for a Pietersen special. He duly finished the job in style, aiming a six straight at BBC London's Mark Church in the commentary box, it landed against the window with a loud thud. The perfect way to end his Twenty20 campaign.

Pietersen ended unbeaten on 36 runs from 16 balls and you'd have to say there are not many batsmen in the world that could have done it with such apparent ease. He might be something of an outsider but I think his presence in the side this last week has been a real boost and I for one am pleased he's going to be in the Championship side for the Lancashire game at Guildford.

Three wins from ten games does not reflect the talent in our side, of course, but neither do the numbers give an idea of quite the turmoil that the players have been going through. I won't go through it all again now but suffice it to say I think they have shown a massive amount of courage and character to get through it together. I don't think the management have made the right calls on selection, and the batsmen didn't always pick the best shots, but I cannot fault the attitude shown.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

One last Twenty20 hurrah for 2012

Surrey's final Twenty20 group game takes place at Hove tomorrow with only pride at stake, Surrey are out and Sussex have already secured first place in the group. It will be the toughest of challenges against a table-topping side with quality throughout the order.

Chris Adams has made one change to the squad from yesterday, the 13 men and possible squad is as follows:

Steven Davies
Kevin Pietersen
Jason Roy
Gary Wilson
Zafar Ansari
Rory Burns
Matthew Spriegel
Gareth Batty
Murali Kartik
Chris Tremlett
Dirk Nannes

Bench: Chris Jordan, Zander de Bruyn

The man rested is Stuart Meaker, despite having bowled fewer than 11 overs in the last 20 days. Adams is looking to the Championship match at Guildford which is not far from a must-win game in the context of our season in the longer format, I suppose were Meaker to be injured in this final group game he would've looked foolish. Chris Jordan replaces him and given that there is nothing riding on the game I'd be tempted to throw him in, but I think Adams will go with the seam bowling pair from last night; Nannes and Tremlett.

I can only hope that Rory Burns is given another run out in place of de Bruyn. I really have nothing against Zander but he hasn't been at his best of late and Burns should be able to test himself against a top class Twenty20 side. Davies, Pietersen and especially Roy will be looking to continue their good work from yesterday when we finally managed to put together a strong top order batting performance.

Sussex are the standout side in this year's Twenty20. Nash, Prior and Wright is an absurdly strong top three in domestic limited overs cricket. Both Wright and Prior have strike rates north of 150, in Prior's case north of 200 - no batsman with over 100 runs in the whole competition is anywhere close to that. Their bowling is relentless too, Chris Liddle looks quicker than last year and his left arm bowling is tough to get away, Beer, Yardy and Rippon are handy spinners in Twenty20 cricket.

The all round improvement last night was plain for all to see. Save for a couple of overs here and there in the field we were excellent. A couple of times players have stressed that they do not want to look to the emotional events of the last few weeks as an excuse, which is an excellent attitude but its impossible to think it won't have been playing on their minds constantly. But the team looked brighter and more energetic last night, so Sussex will not have it easy tomorrow in spite of our position in the table. If we can keep Prior and Wright quiet, and our top three continue their resurgence, we should give them a good run for their money.

Another defeat but vastly improved

A seventh consecutive Twenty20 defeat was doled out by our London rivals last night in a thrilling game which ebbed and flowed. It was a loss alright, but not a demoralising one in the slightest.

Adams added Gary Wilson to the squad from Thursday, he had returned from Ireland duty and he was slotted straight back into the side. Bizarrely this was at the expense of Rory Burns rather than the horribly out of form Zander de Bruyn. This was another in a series of confusing selections from Adams. Not only was de Bruyn unlikely to prove the matchwinner, Burns is a key player in the future of Surrey, something that the 36 year old de Bruyn cannot lay claim to.

Gareth Batty won another toss and contrary to Thursday evening elected to bat first. It looked a good call as they were to play on the same strip as Thursday's game, which took some turn towards the end of that match.

For once we avoided a disastrous start with the bat. Davies and Pietersen played well in forging a 76 run partnership from the first ten overs, creating a formidable platform for the rest. Davies' driving through the off side was particularly impressive as the pair picked off the bad balls and ran sensible ones and twos.

Davies dismissal, bowled by Smith, brought Jason Roy to the crease. He nudged the ball around for his first 11 runs, from 10 deliveries before cracking the first of three straight sixes. It had become a signature shot for Roy before his recent run of poor form, and it was a delight to see him dishing it out again. He went on to make 40 from 26 deliveries, hopefully signalling a return towards something like his best form.

Pietersen continued to pick off runs but his dismissal came at precisely the wrong moment. He was caught behind off the part time bowling of Dawid Malan just as he and Roy were looking to hit the gas. His dismissal turned what could've been a daunting 175-180 total into an eventual total of 154. Still, it was a massive improvement on what had gone before.

The bowlers started poorly, or rather Nannes and Kartik did, with 35 runs leaking from their first two overs. To be fair to them, it wasn't always terrible bowling but some good aggressive placement from Neil Dexter.

As always seems to be the case Surrey pulled matters back towards themselves once the powerplays were over as Middlesex fell from 51-1 to 70-4. When Gareth Berg fell to Kartik, leaving them 106-7 the game looked to be Surrey's for the taking, but a very cool partnership between Ollies Rayner and Wilkin, the latter just 20 years old, took Middlesex to the brink of victory.

Gareth Batty, perhaps nervous about going back to Nannes early, chose to give de Bruyn the crucial 18th over to bowl and he did not deliver the goods. One horrible full toss and one limp short ball were dispatched to the boundary, leaving just 12 needed from the final two overs.

Chris Tremlett delivered a reasonable over but Rayner and Wilkin were able to pick nine runs from it. That left Dirk Nannes just three to defend in the final over. The wicket first ball of Rayner gave us all hope, as did the run out, by a very intelligent piece of fielding from Batty, of Wilkin two balls later. However, with nine wickets down Tom Smith sent the penultimate ball from Nannes to the boundary giving Middlesex a one wicket win.

Yes is was a defeat, and yes it was to our closest rivals, but there are reasons to be cheerful. This was more like the Surrey of old, there was energy and power with the bat and they were lively in the field. Roy's return was enough to make any Surrey fan smile, and the sight of Pietersen marshalling the troops in the field was good to see. There is still some way to go, but the team did us proud last night.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Disappointing Twenty20 campaign continues

Surrey crashed to their lowest all-out total in Twenty20 cricket tonight as Kent humbled them with a 48 run victory. It was a sixth consecutive defeat, although tonight there were more reasons for optimism than might be immediately apparent - almost exclusively in the bowling department.

Gareth Batty won the toss and, correctly in my view, elected to bowl first. He chose to bowl spin at both ends, opening with Kartik and Spriegel. It paid off as Northeast skied a catch to a tumbling Kevin Pietersen off the last ball of Spriegel's first over.

Dirk Nannes, preferred to Stuart Meaker, started much more like the Nannes of old, although he offered a touch of width in his second over and was punished. Chris Tremlett immediately settled just short of a length and was rewarded with the thin edge of Billings' bat through to the keeper.

Surrey's bowlers continued to chip away, two wickets fell to Zafar Ansari and he probably could've had a couple more. Tremlett returned late in the innings and bowled a much fuller length but was still difficult to get away. Nannes, in contrast, claimed two wickets with short deliveries. It was a good team bowling effort, Batty continued his good form in four overs which gave the batsmen very little, though he didn't pick up a wicket.

Kent's final total of 136 looked below par, and even with a batting lineup very short of form it should have been a gettable total. Again though, that was not to be as a poor start got worse. Pietersen, a couple of balls after scoring his first boundary of the 2012 Twenty20 campaign, was leg before to a good Mark Davies delivery.

Jason Roy was the next to go as he moved across his stumps and was bowled by Azhar Mahmood. He looks all at sea at the moment, it must be an incredibly tough time for the bloke. I had thought before the upheaval of the last few weeks that Roy needed an arm round the shoulder, that appears now more true than ever. Jason, none of this is your fault, you're in a bad patch of form but you're still a star and will be for a long time to come.

Rory Burns, who looked so composed on Tuesday and was promoted to number four, played a pretty poor shot leaving the side 18-3. Davies fell on the same score edging behind off Mahmood. De Bruyn and Ansari managed to steady the ship somewhat, but it was all too steady as the required rate climbed inexorably. Kent were bowling well and are a far better fielding side than the one we lost to last year.

By the time Ansari was clean bowled by Stevens the game was, in reality, long gone. Kartik was run out without facing and de Bruyn followed soon after, stumped off Adam Riley. Spriegel, Batty, Tremlett and Nannes were never likely to rescue the situation, despite some lusty biffing from the skipper.

The side seems to be at a very low ebb at the moment, which is entirely understandable in the circumstances. Adams has an enormous job on his hands with a side that is in something of a transition in the middle of a season. The batting is very poor at the moment and, in truth, it has been for much of this season. You get the feeling one special performance might turn things around, but so deep is the rut that they are in, its hard to see where that is going to come from. Tomorrow sees the visit of Middlesex to the Oval, a fine fixture to rediscover a bit of form.

Adams sticks to his guns for visit of Kent

With hope of progression in the Twenty20 now completely extinguished for Surrey, a Kent side who can still make the latter stages come to the Oval this evening.

Adams has stuck with the same 12 names as he picked for Tuesday's game. The squad and possible XI is as follows:

Steven Davies
Jason Roy
Kevin Pietersen
Zafar Ansari
Rory Burns
Zander de Bruyn
Matthew Spriegel
Gareth Batty
Murali Kartik
Stuart Meaker
Chris Tremlett

12th man: Dirk Nannes
After his horror show performance on Tuesday, where his two overs disappeared for 34 runs, Dirk Nannes should make way. He simply has not performed to the level we saw last season, one wicket for 129 runs, and an economy rate of almost 10 runs an over is not what you expect from your overseas strike bowler. Chris Tremlett will hopefully return to the side in preparation for Championship cricket next week.

Zander de Bruyn is almost certain to play again despite a strike rate of only 76 in five Twenty20 matches this season. In fact three of our top order batsmen, Pietersen, Spriegel and de Bruyn himself have a combined strike rate of just 83. Thank goodness Steven Davies has been rollicking along at 150. Jason Roy, who has also been struggling for runs lately, will probably retain his spot at the top of the order, though I personally think he could benefit from being shifted down. Rory Burns came in at number seven on Tuesday and looked at least one, probably two places too low in the order. I had wondered if Mark Ramprakash would be afforded one last hurrah at the Oval, and maybe he still will tomorrow, though it seems unlikely at this stage.

Gareth Batty has been our stand-out bowler in the T20 this year with 10 wickets. His economy rate is truly impressive, giving away just 4.6 runs an over, none of the other top 15 leading wicket takers in the country come within a run of him.

Kent, who we've developed a bit of a habit of losing to in Twenty20 of late, need a win to have any hope of progression. They have some in form batsmen in the shape of Northeast, Billings and the evergreen Stevens, all averaging 30+ this season. Their bowling has been less impressive but in Davies they have a bowler who can keep things quiet with Ball, Tredwell and Mahmood to attack and take wickets.

What is essential tonight is a more stable platform. Top order collapses have become the norm, so even if it means a very quiet opening, preserving wickets should be the aim this evening. The weather should hold out, and perhaps for some the funeral of Tom Maynard yesterday will have been an emotional but cathartic ordeal. It will still be a while before things get back to normal, whatever that is, for the players, but going out tonight to show what they're made of would be a great start.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Ramprakash to hang up his bat

When the news emerged late last night in the Telegraph that Mark Ramprakash will be announcing his retirement tomorrow it was somehow less of a shock than it might have been had it broken at, say, the end of last season. Ramps being dropped earlier in the season had effectively prepared us for this eventuality. Insofar as you can ever prepare for the retirement of nothing short of a legend, scorer of 61 First Class hundreds for Surrey. To put that into perspective, he's scored twenty more centuries for Surrey than Rory Hamilton-Brown has played matches for Surrey.

Nevertheless, for someone who hit the ball so gracefully and effectively for so long, this is one of Ramprakash's more curious bits of timing. The announcement coming as it will in the middle of a very difficult week for Surrey. One could quite easily make the argument though that he's more than earned the right to go precisely as and when he chooses, and now is hardly the time to dwell on such issues, not much could dampen the enormous affection Surrey supporters feel for him.

I had always imagined he'd go out this year on a high with a big hundred in our final game against Lancashire, just as he ended the 2007 season with a big hundred against that same opposition. But it seems it is not to be. We don't yet know for sure when Ramprakash will call it a day once and for all, but "with immediate effect" looks to be the favourite.

That should not detract from a stunning career, even if 200-odd matches of it were for our rivals from across the river. He is certainly the best batsman I've ever watched for Surrey, by some considerable distance. His presence at the crease, especially in those two golden years where he averaged 100 over an entire season, was always a comfort. If he was still there, Surrey were still in with a chance of a big total. Even this year when he was struggling terribly to get the ball of the square I always thought a return to form was just around the corner.

He is a Surrey legend, and a hero of mine, pure and simple. In 158 matches with Surrey he's scored almost 16,000 first class runs at just under 70 (yes, you read that right, seventy), 5,000 List A runs at 47 and 1,700 Twenty20 runs for good measure. Not to mention those 61 hundreds. They are incredible, but numbers do not do the man justice, nor for that matter could any words I can come up with.

Yes he was a grumpy bugger when he got out, and on more than one occasion he's incurred the wrath of the England and Wales Cricket Board for overstepping the mark. But who cares? He's a genius. Watching Ramprakash bat was to watch a master of his craft, unquestionably one of the best two or three county batsmen of the last twenty years. The best if you ask me.

Despite that fiery reputation he always seemed to have an impossibly calm manner at the crease, and an effortlessly cool walk for good measure. He swaggered like some sort of cricketing Disco Stu, I adored watching him bat. Maybe it was always meant to be that he'd end his career on 114 first class hundreds, the same number as Sir Viv, a childhood hero of his.

I would love to see him take up a coaching role at the club, our young and talented squad could do a lot worse than inherit some of Ramps' dedication and focus. But whatever he goes on to do I wish him well, we might not see him again in a Surrey kit, but we'll see plenty more of Mark Ravin Ramprakash I'm sure. So long Ramps, all the best.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Hamilton-Brown stands down as skipper

Surrey have announced officially that captain Rory Hamilton-Brown is to take a complete break from cricket as he grieves for his good friend Tom Maynard.

The statement from the club puts no timescale of any sort on RHB's break and it seems clear that after his abortive comeback against Hampshire he came to the conclusion that playing cricket at this time in his life was not the best course of action.

Clearly this is not a decision he will have taken lightly. He knew what a relative leap of faith Chris Adams took in appointing him captain two and a half years ago and indeed the confidence he has continued to place in him in the meantime. But Hamilton-Brown is letting no one down by passing captaincy responsibilities, temporarily, to Gareth Batty. 

Cricket is important, but relative to what else has gone on in the past two weeks or so, not that important. Surrey cricket will continue and Batty will, I'm sure, do a fine job of keeping the captaincy warm for when RHB returns.

Many of us will have suffered the loss of a close friend or relative, and some will have struggle to cope in those circumstances. But the pressures of leading a high profile sports team, with all the memories and associations that will stir in Hamilton-Brown's head, must magnify the strains of the situation. Taking a break, however long it may be, is the right decision.

Get well soon Rory, you can hold your head high and I'm sure the supporters and members will welcome you back with open arms.

Surrey crash to another heavy defeat

Sussex lived up to their reputation as competition favourites on another rainy night in London as they comprehensively out batted and out bowled Surrey to record a comfortable six wicket win, and secure their own progression in the tournament.

Steven Davies began the innings in frantic fashion again, picking up where he left off last night, taking 18 off Luke Wright's first over. Jason Roy also began in the same way as last night unfortunately, he didn't look fluent and was out, caught at mid on, trying to force the issue off Mike Yardy's left arm darts.

Davies followed soon after, upper cutting Chris Liddle's first ball to third man as Surrey wasted another rapid start. For once Zafar Ansari was not to prove saviour as he was out cheaply leaving Surrey tottering, again, at 32-3.

Pietersen and de Bruyn looked to consolidate and played out a turgid 14 run partnership off 20 balls. They were at least sticking in though. That is until leg spinner Will Beer came on as Pietersen obligingly lofted his third ball, a rank long hop, to long on. Matt Spriegel played out 12 balls for his 9 runs and his was perhaps the ugliest of all, backing away he was cleaned up by left arm chinaman bowler Michael Rippon. There were no devils in the pitch, this was just poor cricket from the home side.

Zander de Bruyn and Rory Burns then began to tick the score over nicely. De Bruyn was still struggling for fluency but he did resist the temptation to play a daft shot, unlike some of his top order colleagues. Burns looked much better and was very busy at the crease, he played some lovely shots in his 23 from 20 balls. He played a pretty poor one to get out though, helping a short ball from Amjad Khan straight to Styris at fine leg. Very shortly after the rain came and the Surrey batsmen didn't make it back out.

Sussex were set a target of 109 off 15 overs, which didn't look especially challenging in difficult bowling conditions. They set off like a train, Chris Nash hogging the strike and all of the scoring as Surrey's opening bowlers were unable to exert any pressure whatsoever. His dismissal, to Stuart Meaker's first ball, only heaped more pain on Surrey as Matt Prior took a liking to Nannes' second over, which he and Luke Wright hammered for 23 runs. It took Sussex just 22 balls to better Surrey's total of eight boundaries in 16 overs. By the fifth over they had already hammered their way to 68-1, a run rate of almost 14 runs per over.

Another disciplined and intelligent spell of 3-11 from stand-in captain Gareth Batty was never going to be enough to put the Sussex batsmen under any strain and they cantered home with 20 balls to spare. Surrey were never at the races, again.  Adams will have expected more from his overseas duo who in this match returned appalling figures of 0-60 between them while Meaker and Batty combined to take 4-18.

A fifth consecutive defeat then, and a third absolute battering on the bounce puts progression beyond Surrey for 2012, if not mathematically, then realistically. We simply aren't good enough. In defence of the players they are due to depart the Oval this evening for Wales, where they will attend Tom Maynard's funeral tomorrow. Cricket probably wasn't at the forefront of their minds.

It has nonetheless been a crushingly disappointment campaign, and I wonder if Adams should now look to blood some more of the youngsters in the remaining game. Burns showed a glimpse of his talents today, others should perhaps be given that opportunity as well. They can do no worse than some of their more experienced team mates.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Surrey fall to rain affected defeat against Hampshire

Surrey succumbed to another heavy defeat against Hampshire on a very gloomy night in South London, taking the edge off first Kevin Pietersen's first Twenty20 appearance of 2012.

Surrey won the toss, again, and chose to bat first, again. With just 10 overs to bat Kevin Pietersen was sent in to open in order to give him maximum time at the crease. The idea was right, but the execution was wrong, he slapped the first delivery of the game to an excellent catch from Jimmy Adams.

Cue Steven Davies who played beautifully, and without taking excessive risk, in scoring 30 runs from just 11 balls. 24 of them coming in boundaries. Zafar Ansari was promoted up the order after his calm innings on Saturday and he was in the runs immediately with two fours off Glenn Maxwell's bowling. Jason Roy, who had played second fiddle to Davies early on, had scored only four runs before hitting Dawson straight to Chris Wood in the deep. He is in a pretty lean patch at the moment and can't be in the best place psychologically.

Zander de Bruyn, selected ahead of Rory Burns, was the next man in and he continued his run of poor form. He swallowed up more than two overs of bowling in scoring just 8 runs. He managed just a single boundary, and that was off a thick edge. But for his insipid effort we looked set for a total around 100. I'm sure Burns was looking on quizzically. A fine over from Chris Wood to close the innings meant the final target for Hampshire was 85. Largely down to Davies and another classy, intelligent knock of 35 off 25 balls from Zafar Ansari.

Dirk Nannes was given the new ball and after showing a bit of promise in two and a half overs on Saturday, he began really impressively, allowing just two runs from Hampshire's first over. Chris Tremlett could not back him up though as he leaked 16 from his first including, criminally, a front foot no ball.

Nannes' second over was not a repeat of his first, with the Hampshire batsmen now settled and confident in the middle he leaked 12 runs and at the end of the three over powerplay Hampshire had raced on to 31 without loss. Even the introduction of the skipper into the attack couldn't stem the flow of runs. Surrey had no answer to the powerful, classy batting of Vince and Adams. The umpires took the players off after just over five overs had been bowled as Hampshire recorded a 19 run Duckworth-Lewis victory.

Another defeat, making it four on the bounce, makes it incredibly difficult for us to progress and in truth, we don't look like we can compete with the best in this format without the talent that all of a sudden we are missing. It doesn't help that we selected the wrong balance of players again, and I don't see that changing. Four wins from four games are needed, where have we heard that before? Nothing is impossible, but with the weather forecast as it is for the remainder of the week, it's not looking too clever at the moment.

Rain threatens Hampshire return

Surrey have an immediate chance to avenge the seven wicket thrashing doled out by Hampshire on Saturday as they visit the Oval this evening. As on so many occasions this season though, it looks like the weather might get the better of them.

Chris Adams has named 12 players to pick from for the game tonight, the squad and possible XI is as follows:

Steven Davies
Jason Roy
Kevin Pietersen
Zander de Bruyn
Rory Burns
Matthew Spriegel
Zafar Ansari
Gareth Batty
Murali Kartik
Dirk Nannes
Chris Tremlett

12th man: Stuart Meaker

Rory Hamilton-Brown has been given a bit more space to recover. He looked all at sea on Saturday and I really felt for him. He'll rightly walk back in to our side whenever he feels he's ready to do so. Gary Wilson is also missing as he disappears on Ireland duty again, his loss is felt keenly thanks to a top order lacking in any sort of form. The addition of Kevin Pietersen to the lineup is a massive bonus and hopefully Roy and Davies, likely to bat ahead of him, will feed off his presence in the side.

The absence of Wilson and Hamilton-Brown creates two spaces in the side, one of which will be filled by Pietersen and the other by either de Bruyn or Burns. Rory Burns simply has to play, he's in super form for the Second XI and I am of the view that you back your younger players in big games. As it happens, I think de Bruyn should play as well at the expense of a seamer. It is a very tough call between Nannes and Meaker. Nannes has not performed to expectations this season but looked more his old self against Hampshire. Meaker's one over was dreadful, but bowling in the face of a very small total is not his best suit, and may perform better in familiar surroundings. If push came to shove, I think Nannes might get the nod and be given a chance to rediscover his 2011 form.

The batting still looks a bit shaky but on his day Kevin Pietersen can plug almost any gap. If he hits the ground running in his return to cricket, no Hampshire bowler will be spared. For what its worth I'd consider pushing Roy down the order and promoting one of Burns, Spriegel or de Bruyn. If they could anchor, Roy will be free to do what he does best and free his arms later in the innings. Adams will back his very strong bowling attack to defend anything above 140, maybe even a touch less as has been seen earlier in the season.

The forecast though suggests we might not get much cricket this evening with heavy rain due at around 6pm. It would be a sad anti-climax if rain had the final say in our 2012 T20 campaign, but that may well be the case.