Wednesday, 22 August 2012

The Honeymoon Period

It's here folks, the moment some of you probably thought would never arrive. How could a man who devotes such a significant portion of his life ever fine someone willing to marry him? Well I did, and now its time for my honeymoon.

An inopportune moment for such a thing I know as we remain in contention to defend our CB40 title and struggle to retain our first division status. I won't be back until the final day of the final game (if it goes that far), but there's only one time in my life when I'm going on my honeymoon!

I would like to wish the team the very best of luck. We've had a rough time of it this season, so much emotion and upheaval but credit to the players who didn't throw the towel in. When it might have been easier to write this season off as lost, they haven't given in. We may yet be playing second division cricket next season but it won't be for want of trying.

Of course I hope we're not, and with a win and a couple of draws in the final three games we should be able to keep our heads above water. I'll keep an eye on things from the West Coast of America, as long as my other half doesn't notice.

See you in three weeks!

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Super Surrey demolish Dragons

A ruthlessly efficient bowling performance, aided by some none-too-clever strokeplay from Glamorgan helped Surrey to a much needed CB40 win at the Oval tonight.

Another toss was won by captain Batty and again he chose to bat on what turned out to be a glorious summer's evening. There was not the top order collapse with which we have become familiar and instead the top three raced on to 45 for 1. A couple of quick wickets saw the home side slip to 67 for 3 but as ever they mounted something of a recovery. First Kevin Pietersen and then the redoubtable Spriegel chipped in with scores of substance.

Another rapid cameo from Ansari propelled the total towards 200 before they began to stutter again. Four wickets fell for the addition of just 21 runs and without a very useful and unbeaten 21 from Meaker the total would've looked distinctly below par.

Glamorgan's target then was set at 220, which was a tough ask but get-able. Early wickets from Meaker who was too quick for Wallace and Spriegel who had Allenby caught on the boundary set them well off course though.

A rapid 31 from Cooke got the Dragons right back into the game but as with Surrey a flurry of wickets was right around the corner, only this one was terminal. The bowlers shared the wickets around, Batty with three and Dernbach, Kartik and Ansari one apiece before Spriegel bagged his second victim to wrap the innings up. A superb catch at point from Ansari was the icing on the cake.

It was an impressive display of bowling variety and they never really allowed Glamorgan to get away. The game was played in a good spirit with all the players wearing shirts with the name or initials of Tom Maynard emblazoned on them. Spriegel tapped the back of his shirt when he reached fifty and Dernbach pointed skyward in celebrating his wicket. The young man was never far from their thoughts tonight.

This was a must win match and Surrey delivered. With the range of emotions the players were going through tonight, I'm impressed some of them made it on to the park, never mind made match winning contributions. We now have a slim chance of qualifying but will ultimately be left to rely on Hampshire losing their final game to advance automatically.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Win or bust for emotional Glamorgan tie

Tomorrow night's CB40 tie at the Oval has been nominated as the memorial game for Tom Maynard. It is the first time the two sides that Maynard called his own have met since his passing and it will also be used as the launch for the Tom Maynard Trust. As part of that Tom's father Matthew, along with Andrew Flintoff, Steve James and others is cycling from Cardiff to London in support of the charity. You can donate to the cause here.

In amongst all the emotions that will no doubt define the game it is also a must-win game for Surrey if they are to give themselves a chance of successfully defending the title they won in 2011.

Chris Adams has named an unchanged squad from the game with Hampshire, the names and a possible XI are as follows:

Rory Hamilton-Brown
Steven Davies
Kevin Pietersen
Jason Roy
Zander de Bruyn
Matthew Spriegel
Zafar Ansari
Gareth Batty
Murali Kartik
Stuart Meaker
Jade Dernbach

Bench: Gary Wilson, Jon Lewis

There is little reason to think Adams will name a different side to that which lost to Hampshire on Sunday. The batting was as brittle as it has been for much of this season but it is unlikely that room will be made for Wilson, who was in fact very unlucky not to be playing in the first instance. De Bruyn finally found some form and was un-droppable anyway, Spriegel is a key bowler and also scored runs at the weekend, Ansari likewise and I just can't see Adams dropping any of the top four, however poor their record this season may be.

I said it before the last game so I'll say it again before this one, Jason Roy is due a big score. A haul of 98 runs from nine CB40 innings this season clearly does not reflect what he is capable of. As is so often the case with Roy it'll just take one or two strokes for something to click and he'll be away. Pietersen's first ball dismissal against Hampshire was unfortunate but can happen to anyone, it won't set him back. Hamilton-Brown is still feeling his way back in and could really do with cracking a few boundaries to make him feel at home in the middle again. For him, more than almost any other, tomorrow night will be emotional and I hope he can harness that emotion and bag himself a big score.

The bowlers on Sunday did a decent job, barring one or two big overs they kept the Hampshire batsmen largely under control. I would expect Stuart Meaker to play a bigger role tomorrow though, certainly he should bowl more than the two overs he was given yesterday.

Glamorgan have not had the best of seasons but they did record a (rain affected) win over Nottinghamshire recently so they do carry a threat. The last meeting of the two sides earlier in the season ended in a relatively comfortable win for Surrey but not before they'd been given a fright. Cosker, Jones and Harris are always a danger with the ball and Marcus North remains a classy batsman. Jim Allenby seems to enjoy playing against Surrey as well. On paper, the home side are favourites for this tie and if we get back to playing CB40 the way we know how, i.e. avoiding a horror-show at the top of the order, we should have too much for Glamorgan.

It won't be easy for players on either side tomorrow to put their emotions to one side when they cross the boundary, indeed not all of them will, some may decide that the memory of a close friend and team mate will spur them on to a big score or lots of wickets. Either way, Surrey desperately need a win to keep themselves in the running and get the winning momentum going again.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Defeat to Hampshire sets back CB40 campaign

Surrey's only remaining hope of silverware in 2012 is fading fast following defeat in a low-scoring game in Southampton. Hampshire reached their target of 176 with eleven balls to spare and four wickets in hand.

The day started in the best possible fashion as Batty won the toss, something which we can now almost take for granted. Something else we can all but take for granted is a top order collapse. Our limited overs matches this season have seen such gems as 8 for 5 against Nottinghamshire, 9 for 4 against Hampshire in the T20, 32-4 against Middlesex and we followed that up today with 38-4, including ducks for Pietersen and Roy, the men most likely to propel us to a match winning score.

Spin did a fair amount of damage early on with two wickets for Liam Dawson but Chris Wood was also impressive, himself collecting a brace of wickets. They were well backed up by Griffiths who bettered them in finishing the pick of the bowlers with 3-29.

There was only one 50+ partnership in the innings, an excellent one of 94 from Spriegel and de Bruyn, runs coming at last for the latter. He also added 41 in very good time with Zafar Ansari who dominated the scoring with a vital 30 from just 17 balls. It was largely down to the contributions of those three that the score was anything approaching respectable as the last four wickets fell for the addition of just two runs.

Hampshire's target of 176 was by no means stiff, but with the ball turning and Surrey's battery of spinners they could not rest on their laurels. It was essential that they didn't lose early wickets and although the in-form Vince fell in the fourth over Carberry, Adams and Mackenzie played sensibly to see their side to within 50 runs of victory.

A tumble of four wickets for 24 runs between the 30th and 36th overs gave the Surrey bowlers hope but Bates and Ervine saw Hampshire home with a calculated acceleration. Thirteen runs off Ansari's sixth over (after his previous five had gone for just 20, including the wicket of Dawson) was the killer blow as the home side made their target with relative ease.

This was a disappointing defeat which is a real setback in such a tightly fought group. The manner of the defeat is now becoming disappointingly familiar, a top order collapse sparks a valiant fightback, usually involving Spriegel, but ultimately we often fall short of the required 200+ totals needed.

We have two games remaining, one likely to be an emotional affair on Tuesday against Glamorgan and then the final group game a very tough assignment indeed against a Somerset side who have won six on the bounce in this format. To qualify we need to win both games and hope Hampshire lose their final game. It is not beyond a side with proven quality in the CB40, but it's a tough ask with some intense Championship cricket coming up as well.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Pietersen returns to Hampshire for CB40 clash

The group stages of the CB40 come towards a conclusion in the next few days beginning with a vital clash at the Ageas Bowl tomorrow. The big news is that Kevin Pietersen, fresh from text-gate, is available in this format for the first time this season.

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

Rory Hamilton-Brown
Steven Davies
Kevin Pietersen
Jason Roy
Gary Wilson
Matthew Spriegel
Zafar Ansari
Gareth Batty
Murali Kartik
Stuart Meaker
Jade Dernbach

Bench: Zander de Bruyn, Jon Lewis

As surprising to me as Pietersen's inclusion is Rory Burns' exclusion. Fresh from a Championship hundred this week he would've been high on confidence and it strikes me as poor practice to exclude him from the squad unless for fitness reasons, even if his CB40 returns this season have been mediocre (but from only two knocks). Again it is tough to pick which way Adams is going to go on this one so the above is more what I would like to see rather than what he will do. Much will depend on the pitch and any hint of a seamer-friendly surface will see one or both of Lewis or de Bruyn included.

We know how well our bowlers have performed in this format in 2012 and whatever the makeup of the attack tomorrow I am sure they will perform, putting the Durham match down as a mere blip in an otherwise high quality season. 

The batting however has been poor, and particularly so lately. No top order batsman in the squad is averaging above 30, and the likes of Jason Roy will be looking to set the record straight with a big score. Hopefully the rest of the batting can feed off the presence of Pietersen in the side.

Hampshire are a point above us in the table, albeit having played a game more, so they are clearly a dangerous side. Their batting has been reliant on Vince and more recently Mackenzie, but they do have Carberry returning from injury which is a major boost to them. Briggs and Wood lead them in terms of wickets but they also rely on Mascarenhas and Dawson to tie batsmen down early on and in the middle overs.

Surrey will have just two games remaining after this and a win would take them a point clear of Hampshire at the top of the table, with a game in hand. Needless to say then, a win would be most welcome indeed. They will have gained a lot of confidence from the win over Middlesex and they know their game much better in this format. Momentum at this stage of the season is key as vital games come thick and fast.

Batty's six scripts nail biting win

Middlesex and Surrey don't really do boring, middle of the road cricket. The last Championship encounter between the two sides ended in a tense final day win for Middlesex by three runs. Today's game was no less intriguing but this time Surrey emerged the victors by the comparatively comfortable margin of 8 runs.

Going in to the final day the home side were firm favourites on a turning pitch against an inexperienced batting lineup. The day began in perfect fashion as Kartik picked up the key wicket of Robson with his sixth delivery. There was a feeling that Middlesex might be fortunate to make the lunch break as the third wicket went down soon after, Batty collecting his second scalp, Tom Smith edging to Kartik at leg slip.

Denly and Malan then steadied the ship for Middlesex with a 43 run partnership. Malan looking the much more comfortable of the two as he was positive from the off. Denly's wicket, leg before to give Batty his third wicket, brought another as Dexter fell, also to Batty. When Balbirnie and Malan fell within six overs of that it looked as though the game was up for Middlesex at 101-7 with 153 runs still required.

It wasn't over though, not by a long shot. Steven Crook came to the crease and was instantly positive, advancing down the track to crack Batty for two fours. He and the debutant Rossington compiled a superb 96 run partnership at a good pace and the captain began to look very short of ideas. He belatedly made a change, bringing Dernbach into the attack and the pace bowler delivered, bowling Crook with a slower ball in his second over of the day. It was a massive relief for Batty.

When Rossington was caught at slip by Roy off just two balls later it looked as though the game was up...again. But it wasn't...again. Roland-Jones and Murtagh, who forged a good 44 run partnership in the first innings steadily brought the total within reach. Batty persisted with spin almost throughout the entire day, save for seven overs from Dernbach it was slow bowling all the way. Some of the fields Batty set were overly defensive in the circumstances and he seemed to be dead set against mixing up the bowling.

When the target dipped below 20 runs Kartik bowled a no ball and the game seemed to be heading in Middlesex's direction. With the partnership edging towards fifty and the set batsmen sensibly turning the strike over I had all but given up. However Batty, with one last push, managed to crowbar and LBW decision out of umpire Nigel Cowley to win the match. His celebration, down on his knees mid-pitch, said it all.

This was an absolutely vital win as one of only two fixtures that remained at the Oval. It takes us 18 points clear of Lancashire on the same number of games and 21 clear of Worcestershire who have a game in hand. It was not a vintage performance but there are plenty of positives - Burns and Harinath making maiden Championship tons, some runs for Davies and wickets for Kartik are all good signs, and it is crucial that we continue on an upward curve for the final three games.

We know that one win can spark a revival in fortunes and I hope that is the case with this result. The players worked extremely hard over the course of four days and deserve the plaudits. Well played.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Twin tons leave Surrey in charge

A fascinating final day awaits the London rivals as Middlesex require 209 runs, and Surrey need to find 9 wickets for a much needed victory on either side.

What the home side wanted was a quiet morning session of sensible accumulation to establish a firm base of a second innings lead. For once, that is exactly what was delivered. Rory Burns and Arun Harinath reeled off the kind of two hour session we've been pining for all season. Turning over the strike and hitting the bad ball to the boundary to form a crucial 217 run partnership, Surrey's second biggest for any wicket this season.

Harinath fell but not before they had both hit maiden Championship hundreds and forged a record second wicket partnership for Surrey against Middlesex. They matched each other run for run, never more than 13 runs apart in their scores. Soon after the visitors had the new ball the ever-excellent Roland-Jones did the business, taking three quick wickets and ultimately the final 9 Surrey wickets disappeared for just over 100 runs. A good and timely 44 from Davies the only significant contribution outside the top three.

That left Middlesex with a very stiff looking target of 254 to win. Ordinarily not beyond a batting lineup containing the extravagant talents of Denly and Rogers, but on a turning pitch with Murali Kartik to face, it felt substantially bigger.

Linley and Dernbach began with the new ball but could not find a way through the openers. Dernbach in particular was expensive and was hauled off after just three overs. Kartik's initial spell brought no success but Batty's introduction to the attack was immediately successful with the huge wicket of Chris Rogers leg before for 19 runs.

Middlesex saw out the remainder of the day without sustaining further damage and won't be hugely disappointed with the position they're in. With many, many overs of spin to be bowled, and an inexperienced middle order they face a tough task, but the target is not beyond reach.

Surrey are firmly in the box seats and should not be entertaining thoughts of losing this one. Today was a pleasing continuation of yesterday's good start, and just as Adams must take the blame for batting collapses, so he must take some credit for spirited comebacks such as today's. Tomorrow is as important a day of Championship cricket as we've had all season, Murali Kartik holds the key to what would be a morale boosting and vital victory.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Surrey fight back hard on day two

After a below par day one Surrey toiled away on day two to gain parity, and perhaps edge slightly ahead of Middlesex on the second day of this Championship game. They ended the day on 86-1, just two runs shy of Middlesex with the pitch sure to present a tough challenge as the game wears on.

The day started well for the home side as Dernbach trapped Robson leg before early on in a rain interrupted morning session. The players didn't get back on until well into the afternoon but Surrey continued to plug away.

The game looked to be getting away from Surrey as their rivals moved 20 runs clear with just three wickets down but then came the fightback. Middlesex's inexperienced middle order crumbled under the pressure piled on them by Surrey's spin twins as they lost six wickets for 24 runs. Another frustrating tenth wicket partnership, the second highest of the innings, gave the opposition plenty to cheer about before Kartik ended the innings to give him his first Championship five-for of the season.

That gave Middlesex an 88 run lead which based on our first innings batting performance could well have been matchwinning. Indeed when Ansari was caught off the bowling of Roland-Jones for a duck with just 13 runs on the board there was an air of the familiar about the situation. However Rory Burns and Arun Harinath had other ideas as they put together a doughty, fighting and most importantly unbroken partnership of 73 runs to drag Surrey right back into contention.

Spinners Balbirnie and Smith were not able to present the kind of threat posed earlier in the day by Kartik and while Roland-Jones was played with extreme caution (six of his nine overs were maidens) he was only allowed a single success.

With nine second innings wickets still intact and the scores almost level, Surrey will be much the happier of the two sides. Chasing anything north of 200 on this pitch will be extremely tough, indeed even 150 might prove a stern task.

Day one was unquestionably a disaster for Surrey, but credit to the team for showing a bit of fight on day two and dragging themselves back level. Tomorrow morning's session is absolutely critical, keeping wickets in hand is a must and with plenty of time still left in the game, sensible accumulation rather than lusty hitting is the order of the day.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Roy plays lone hand as Surrey capitulate again

Barring a few notable exceptions, this has not been a vintage season for Surrey's batsmen and the innings today at the Oval did nothing to change that. Middlesex closed 99 for 1, just 45 runs behind having skittled the home side for just 144.

On a cloudy and humid day Gareth Batty won yet another toss and for the second consecutive game elected to bat first. The rationale being that this pitch has been prepared specifically with the spinners in mind, so it was a case of avoiding batting last at all costs. Jon Lewis, in poor form with the ball, Chris Jordan and Spriegel were all left on the sidelines.

Without a frontline spinner in their side Middlesex needed a fine performance from their bowlers, and boy did they get one. Rory Burns, in such good form of late, was the first to go in the third over off the bowling of Murtagh. Ansari was gone soon after for just 10 which left Surrey 28-2 as the players left the field for a rain break. A recovery was needed but did not materialise as three more wickets fell before the 50 run mark had been breached. Zander de Bruyn failed with the bat again, scoring his third duck in his last six innings during which time he's scored just 25 runs all told.

The returning Hamilton-Brown scored just two before he was clean bowled by Murtagh and Harinath was soon leg before to Roland-Jones. The 24 year old Middlesex (but one-time Surrey Second XI) bowler has somehow avoided detection by the England Lions set up but he has 110 first class wickets from 28 games at a cost of just 21 apiece. Ironically after such a fine bowling performance he may be replaced by Steve Finn if Finn is not selected for England tomorrow.

Jason Roy plugged away, thrice scoring back-to-back boundaries and added 32 with Davies and 41 with Kartik but the innings was done and dusted soon after he had passed 50. He took a single from the second ball of the 45th over and Murtagh made him pay, taking wickets with consecutive balls to bring an end to the Surrey proceedings and take him past 50 Championship wickets for the season. Roy has quietly been getting on with things of late, while most others have been losing their heads, he's kept his, averaging 46 in the last four games.

All told it was another poor effort with the bat. Only three counties have scored fewer batting bonus points than us this season and it may end up costing us dear.

Middlesex had more than 30 overs to face before the close of play with Robson and Rogers delivering the kind of steady start which has been largely absent for Surrey. Neither Dernbach nor Linley, both bowling straight and looking for swing, were able to make a breakthrough with the new ball (though Linley did have a loud LBW shout against Rogers in his first over - but the dreaded no-ball returned to haunt Surrey). In truth Linley, who bowled a spell of six overs for 28 runs, offered little threat to the batsmen. The players will have taken some small solace from having gotten rid of Rogers late in the day, bowled by a Dernbach yorker.

For the umpteenth time this season it seems, Surrey face an uphill struggle to save the game. There was turn for Kartik late in the day but despite having ten overs in which to weave his magic he ended the day without a wicket. One has to assume that spin will play an increasing part in the drama to unfold over the next few days, and it is thanks to Middlesex's shortcomings in that department that we're not completely dead and buried.

We've handed all the cards to our opponents yet again. Time and again the same mistakes are being made. Chris Adams claims that the plans he puts in place are great, they just aren't put in to practice on the field. That's all well and good but what about the preparation of the players, the coaching? Someone should take responsibility for the continuing shortfalls in performance. I fail to see how that someone can be anyone other than the Cricket Manager. We are not yet completely out of this game, there's much cricket to be played, but we haven't half made this one difficult for ourselves.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

No Pietersen for crucial Middlesex clash

Who am I kidding, they're all crucial from now on. The first of two remaining home games this season begins tomorrow and our North London rivals are the visitors. Two major bits of news, Kevin Pietersen will not play despite not being engaged with England and Rory Hamilton-Brown makes his long-awaited Championship return.

Chris Adams has named a 14 man squad for this game, the names and a possible XI are as follows:

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

12th men: Matthew Spriegel, Tim Linley, Chris Jordan

This is as hard a team to pick as there's been this season in my view. There is no doubt that the groundsman will have been asked to prepare as dry a pitch as possible to accentuate our advantage in the spin department. That begs the question of whether Adams will be bold enough to go in with just two seamers thereby strengthening our brittle batting. He could alternatively play Chris Jordan in place of a batsman, probably Arun Harinath (though de Bruyn has done little to justify his place of late). It seems likely that both Spriegel and Linley will miss out either way which is hard on them, continuing their in-out-in-out season of first team cricket.

The good news is that Hamilton-Brown is back in the fray. He has not played first class cricket since that dreadful game against Sussex at Horsham, missing five games in the process but despite that he remains comfortably our leading scorer in Championship cricket. The Hamilton-Brown we'd come to know before June's horrible turn of events would be a massive boost to the team right now.

The not-so-good news is that Kevin Pietersen won't play. The club did apparently enquire as to his availability for this game but he's nowhere to be seen. That means one of two things has happened, either the man himself said he didn't want to play or the ECB have told Surrey he's not available. I sense the latter is more likely, but neither would reflect well on those involved. Whatever has gone on behind the scenes, not being able to select KP at a time when our batting is suffering is a huge blow to our chances.

Middlesex have problems of their own. Their form has taken a turn for the worse with losses to Durham and Sussex in recent weeks and if they're not careful they could be dragged into the relegation mire. Their main spin bowling option, Rayner, will miss this game with a hand injury leaving them relying largely on Tom Smith's left arm spin. They have also dropped John Simpson in favour of Adam Rossington. That's not to say they're without threat, Roland-Jones and Murtagh have more than 80 wickets between them and Denly and Rogers have registered over 1,500 runs.

Given Middlesex's form and home advantage, this is nothing less than a must win game. The weather could play a part with rain forecast at some point on most of the next four days, but hopefully there will be enough time for a result to be had. A defeat here would be a big blow to morale and would make lifting the team for the final month of the season extremely difficult. If the batting, inspired by the former captain's return, can begin to fire and deliver enough runs so that Kartik and Batty can do the business with the ball on a turning pitch, we may begin to see things turn around.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Momentum could be key in Durham CB40 clash

Surrey's jolly to the North East is completed on Saturday with a trip back to the Riverside (or Emirates Durham ICG) for their ninth fixture of this year's CB40.

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

Steven Davies
Rory Hamilton-Brown
Jason Roy
Gary Wilson
Rory Burns
Matthew Spriegel
Zafar Ansari
Gareth Batty
Murali Kartik
Jon Lewis
Jade Dernbach

Bench: Zander de Bruyn, Chris Jordan

As is typical for Chris Adams it is a spinner heavy squad, with five spin bowling options (and three wicket keepers to boot). Its a formula that has served the club well in this format so there is no reason to abandon it now.

The batting is the biggest concern. Of the 21 teams in this competition only five teams have scored fewer runs than Surrey and yet we're sitting pretty atop the group. We have relied on our bowlers strangling the opposition batting and they will look to do so again. With only one (Burns) of the nine batsmen named in the squad in any kind of form it would take a massive reversal in fortunes for us to post a big total. Zander de Bruyn's form in the CB40 is barely better than his woeful Championship form so I hope he is dropped for this game, as Gary Wilson returns and Hamilton-Brown's journey back to full first team fitness continues.

Jade Dernbach was wayward but occasionally lethal against Notts and picked up three wickets in the Championship game against Durham. In the continued absence of Tremlett and Meaker he will be expected to take wickets up front. I would expect Spriegel to continue his job as opening bowler, he was quite exceptional against Notts as he reeled off 8 overs on the bounce to return figures of 2-21. He and Ansari have been critical in keeping the run rate down, indeed of bowlers who have bowled ten overs or more in the CB40 they are both in the top ten most economical.

Durham will be on a high after polishing us off in a little more than two days in the Championship. Although they have lost four of their eight matches in this format so far they are still a danger. They are one of only two sides to have beaten us in the CB40 over the last two years and their batting form is superior to ours. They have three batsmen with 200+ runs to our one. Muchall, Stoneman and Mustard have all been in the runs, while Benkenstein, Stokes and Collingwood all pose a threat. Their leading bowler in this format is Chris Rushworth but Ben Stokes is clearly in good form with the ball. Scott Borthwick will be hoping for some turn and if the wicket is the same that the Championship game was played on he may get some, though this would also play into Surrey's hands.

Our form in the CB40 has held up impressively this year and it is obviously the format that Adams and his charges feel most comfortable in. They have a good formula and are sticking to it - it goes to show what can be achieved with consistent game plans. After the hammering in the Championship game the last thing we need is another defeat, and a win would put us in a very competitive position to progress.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Sorry Surrey slip to innings defeat

Surrey failed to even take the game beyond lunch on day three as Durham ran out easy victors by an innings and 38 runs to jump to seventh place in the Championship table.

The day started badly for Surrey and, broadly speaking, got worse fairly rapidy. The sixth ball of the day, bowled by Chris Rushworth, did for Tim Linley as the nightwatchman fell leg before wicket. The tail did at least manage to hold the Durham charge a bit, the 7th, 8th and 9th wicket partnerships were the three highest in the innings - though this says more about the top order failings than it does about the lower order.

Rory Burns' dogged innings was ended by Graham Onions, his 38 came from 130 balls and was comfortably Surrey's best score of the game. His reputation continues to grow, he seems to be able to find a way of scoring runs and is certainly not one-paced. Spriegel and Batty kept Durham at bay for another 12 overs before the former fell to an excellent Ben Stokes catch off the bowling of Thorp. The innings was ended before the next ten overs were out as Scott Borthwick picked off the tail enders.

This is an embarrassing defeat against fellow strugglers Durham, who leapfrogged us in the table. A poor decision to bat first followed by a poor display with the bat killed any hope of winning this game very early on day one. Thanks to having one of the paltry three points we collected in this game shorn off because of a slow over rate (again), we now sit perilously close to the relegation spots. Worcestershire look as though they may struggle to defend their total against Warwickshire, we have to hope they do as they still have a game in hand over us.

In the post-match interview Chris Adams drew the parallel with this time last season, when we were badly beaten by Kent and had to win our final four games to be sure of promotion. There is some merit in that, insofar as it ain't over till it's over, but the two situations are not the same. Last season we had a high quality spinner in prime form and we were facing Division Two opposition. With the greatest of respect to the clubs involved, facing Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Essex with Pragyan Ojha to do the bowling is not the same as facing Middlesex, Somerset and Nottinghamshire without Pragyan Ojha.

Adams hopes to have Rory Hamilton-Brown to call on in the next match and his return cannot come soon enough. He should step into Zander de Bruyn's shoes, he is averaging just 18 from 20 innings this season. With two of the final four games at the Oval, and against two teams without quality front-line spinners, we have no choice but to prepare raging turners and hope Murali Kartik can justify his pay cheque and win us both of them. Such is the brittle nature of our batting there is an argument for bringing in a short term overseas replacement to shore up that department, but Adams' comment post-match make that seem very unlikely.

It is true that all is not yet completely lost. Lancashire and Worcestershire are not in great form either and although Durham appear to be coming good at just the right time, we only need to finish above two teams to survive. The problem is that like winning, losing can become a habit and with so few in-form batsmen anywhere in the squad, it is hard to see where the next win is coming from. Something dramatic needs to happen, and it needs to start happening next Wednesday against Middlesex.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Poor Surrey slide towards defeat

With two days still remaining in this game, Surrey are staring head-long into the abyss with just five second innings wickets still intact but 112 runs in arrears.

They began the day with hopes of quick wickets, of seeing the back of Benkenstein and Collingwood to get into the Durham tail, but nothing of the sort took place. The not out pair overnight added another 71 runs to extend their steady partnership. Once both batsmen had been dismissed they had put their side exactly 100 runs ahead, and Phil Mustard was playing positively.

Mustard forged partnerships of 39 with Collingwood and 72 with number nine batsman Callum Thorp. Thorp was eventually last man out for 32, four runs better off than any Surrey batsman has managed in this match. A lot of lbw appeals went begging for Surrey, including one involving Mustard when he was initially given out but then reprieved. 

By the time Surrey finally ended the innings they were looking at a 181 run deficit, Durham's total of 310 was by a distance the best first innings total at the Riverside in 2012. They also recorded their best fifth and eighth wicket partnerships of the season.

Conditions were far better for batting today than yesterday, bringing further into question the decision to bat first, but it was another day to forget for Surrey in the field. For the second consecutive match we contributed 10% of the opposition's total in extras, Jon Lewis was again particularly culpable, handing over 14 runs in no balls and significantly contributing to an over rate which was at times minus three (and could result in another penalty point).

Another disciplined Durham bowling performance got them off to a good start. Ansari fell victim to a fine Collingwood catch off Rushworth for just one in the seventh over and Arun Harinath registered another disappointing innings with the bat, he was leg before to Stokes in the 15th. De Bruyn completed another in a string of matches to forget when he was run out for five, Roy became Stokes' second lbw victim and Steven Davies then fell with less than two overs remaining as he became the third wicket to fall in the final ten overs of the day.

The Surrey players will be hoping against hope that somehow Rory Burns and their tail end can mount a mammoth resistance, knock off the 112 run deficit and then build something resembling a lead. As we saw in the Middlesex game at Durham even a total of just over a hundred can be dangerous in the fourth innings. But Stokes' excellent performance with the ball this match, and the presence of Graham Onions in the opposition bowling attack make that a remote possibility.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Durham threaten significant first innings lead after day one

Durham will be much the happier of the two sides after day one as they closed just ten runs behind Surrey with six first innings wickets in hand after a very competitive day's cricket.

Chris Adams sprung something of a surprise by dropping his marquee overseas signing, Murali Kartik, for this game along with Chris Jordan as Tim Linley and Matthew Spriegel were preferred. It begs the question, why was Gareth Batty left out for the Guildford match if he was preferred to Kartik here? Some more confusing selections to ponder from Surrey.

On the field Batty won yet another toss and he went against the grain in choosing to bat first. Only once has a side won the toss and chosen to bat first at the Riverside this season. Interestingly that one instance has resulted in by far the biggest first innings total there this season, but that innings aside teams batting first have averaged a total of just over 122 runs.

Batty's rationale was that this pitch is only going to deteriorate, time will tell if he was right. Surrey duly delivered a score just a fraction above par, all out for 129. The opening overs saw some attritional cricket, after five had been bowled just six runs were on the board and although Ansari edged behind for just one in the sixth over, the first 20 saw just one Surrey wicket fall and the opening exchanges seemed to have gone the way of Surrey.

However we slipped from a positive 41-1 to a depressing 80-7 as seven wickets fell in 16 overs. Again the senior batsmen in the side disappointed massively, Davies and de Bruyn mustering just 12 runs between them. A run out in the final over before lunch was also terribly disappointing cricket. Arun Harinath showed good application and the tail cobbled together 50-or so runs, but ultimately it was some high quality, disciplined bowling (and a couple of questionable shots) which won the innings for Durham.

Surrey will have had those low Riverside totals in mind when the home side began their reply, and it was positive for the visitors before too long. Dernbach had Stoneman caught in the third over and although another 13 overs passed without a wicket Durham were not getting away. Three wickets then fell in ten overs to leave Durham 58-4 and Batty would've had hopes of a possible slender first innings lead. However Benkenstein and Collingwood, using all the experience of almost 470 first class matches between them, wrested control back with an unbeaten 61 run partnership.

There was some uneven bounce in the pitch, as early as the ninth over balls were shooting through seemingly without bouncing, and others were bouncing sharply. Batting last, as Durham will be, won't be an easy task but first we have to restrict the first innings lead. With only Mustard and Borthwick as batsmen to come early wickets will bring Surrey right back into the game. But if Collingwood and Benkenstein are allowed to bed in again, we may not get a chance to test their batting a second time round.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Surrey go north for crunch Durham match

Five games remain for Surrey to retain their first division status, the first of those five begins tomorrow against relegation rivals Durham.

Chris Adams has returned from his mid-season break to name the following 13 man squad, and a possible XI is as follows:

Rory Burns
Zafar Ansari
Arun Harinath
Steven Davies
Zander de Bruyn
Jason Roy
Chris Jordan
Murali Kartik
Jon Lewis
Tim Linley
Jade Dernbach

12th men: Gareth Batty, Matthew Spriegel

This is as tough an XI to pick as we've had all season. Given the nature of the pitch it is a bad time for Adams to have to do without Stuart Meaker and Chris Tremlett. 90% of the wickets at the Riverside this season have gone down to seam bowlers. Spinners have been successful just 24 times with the red ball in 2012, although intriguingly 14 of them were in the most recent fixture there where Ian Blackwell ran riot with a second innings seven wicket haul to win the game against Australia A. That game aside, I would not expect a spin-friendly pitch to be prepared and given the experience at Guildford, Batty may well miss out again.

Therefore it seems likely that quick bowlers will play a significant part, which makes a reprieve for Chris Jordan likely despite a poor showing at Edgbaston. He has 10 wickets this season at a cost of 50 apiece, and has given away more than four runs an over in the process. Given that he is only averaging 12 with the bat, I wonder whether a gamble on George Edwards might have been a better bet. A return to form for Lewis and Linley would be timely, while Dernbach looked very sharp indeed in the CB40 game against Nottinghamshire.

The batting nerves were settled somewhat on a placid pitch in Birmingham. The likes of Ansari, Burns and Roy may well find runs harder to come by with Graham Onions steaming in on a green pitch though. All of their fighting spirit and character, of which they showed plenty in the last Championship fixture, will need to be summoned to post a good total. I would rather see Spriegel named than de Bruyn but I doubt Adams will take that step.

Durham have had a wretched season but things have been looking up lately. All of their batsmen are averaging under 30 but they are not short on experience with Collingwood and Benkenstein in their top order (although they seem set to give a Championship debut to Keaton Jennings tomorrow). They also have the extravagant talents of Ben Stokes to call on. Their bowling is where the real strength lies. In Onions, Thorp and Claydon they have plenty of experience, plus Scott Borthwick should the pitch offer any turn.

We currently lie seventh in the Championship table, level on points with Lancashire and 15 points clear of our opponents in this game. Any points in this fixture will take us above Lancashire, but given the respective placings of the two teams, we have to be looking at a win. The weather is set fair and the Riverside pitch is almost certain to offer a result. Defeat would be a huge setback but victory could be the spark to fire an impressive run in.