Friday, 31 May 2013

Salvage job required as Derbyshire dig in

A much improved performance from Surrey on day two only served to limit the damage done on day one. Surrey closed the day batting and on 35-1, still 417 runs behind.

Earlier in the day Derbyshire clawed their way up to 452 all out largely thanks to a fine rearguard 72 from Richard Johnson, and Wayne Madsen pushing his score on past 150. Surrey's bowlers made a vast improvement on yesterday's efforts. Stuart Meaker in particular made significant strides. Given his talent its perplexing that he's having so many "off" days this season, only to return 24 hours later and seem like his old self after all. That elusive consistency lies between him and England honours.

Chris Tremlett continued his good work from the early salvos of day one and made his way to his first five wicket haul for Surrey as he found the edge of Johnson's bat and Wilson snaffled the catch to end the Derbyshire innings. Tim Linley was another who improved significantly and might feel aggrieved that he didn't end up with better figures than 2-99.

Through the latter overs of the Derbyshire innings the Surrey fielders would have been perturbed by the odd delivery that kept low. Although the surface was still causing few problems for the batsman, the occasional "shooter" will not have done the confidence any good. Of course, one way to avoid being bowled by a dodgy delivery is to run yourself out, which is just what Rory Burns did early in the Surrey reply. He was caught short by a direct hit when looking for a third run off a mis-field. It was precisely the sort of thing that should not happen when the opposition have just posted 450.

Vikram Solanki appeared to bat at number three rather than Ponting. Presumably that is at the behest of Ponting, who seems to be calling the shots. When Arun Harinath was injured before the Sussex game Solanki stayed at four, with Gary Wilson moving up. Ponting presumably has dibs on the number four slot. He can bat where ever he wants if you ask me. In any case Solanki and Harinath saw out the remainder of the day without further loss, which was vital in the context of the match.

At the half way point this match would appear to be heading for a draw. You'd have to say that is the best Surrey can hope for, barring a freakish innings from someone tomorrow. Derbyshire have looked every bit our equal in this match which begs the question, being the bottom two clubs as we are, where are the wins we need to stay up going to come from?

If Chris Adams thought the Nottinghamshire game was a "must win", surely this game is nothing less. Given that a win now seems fanciful,  he really should be feeling the pressure. Tomorrow is a crucial day im Surrey's season - stand tall and save the game, or whither and descend inexorably towards Division Two.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Chanderpaul and Madsen push Derbyshire ahead

A day that promised so much for Surrey ended with them staring down the barrel of a big first innings total from Derbyshire. The home side closed on 232-2 and are well set to push on towards 400 tomorrow.

Play was delayed until 3.15pm as last night's rain stubbornly refused to disappear. Earlier in the day Jade Dernbach had been called into the England ODI squad as cover for Tim Bresnan forcing Chris Adams' hand somewhat. There was apparently some thought given to selecting two spinners again but in the end the three seamer approach was adopted. Jason Roy had to make way for Ricky Ponting despite looking in good touch yesterday evening. It is true that Roy's returns this season in Championship cricket have been poor but bear in mind that he has been playing out of position. He is never going to develop into a bona fide Championship cricketer until he's allowed to develop in the middle order.

Gareth Batty lost his second toss in two days and Derbyshire opted to have a  bat. The game is being played on the same pitch as last night's nine over affair. It looked a mighty fine surface yesterday and it doubtless still looked a good one today.

Despite that the Derbyshire openers failed to capitalise. Chesney Hughes was bowled first ball by the returning Chris Tremlett and Billy Godleman fell ten overs later to leave the home side 29-2. Tremlett's opening six over spell contained three maidens plus the wicket. It was notable that he was given six overs where previously this season he'd been restricted to four over spells. That bodes well for his fitness. Linley's opening spell was less parsimonious - he gave up five boundaries in his first five overs (although nothing whatsoever apart from those five boundaries) but he too collected a wicket.

Batty will have hoped that the introduction of Meaker into the attack would account for Madsen and Chanderpaul - the spine of the Derbyshire batting. However once again he struggled with his line. He gave away a boundary off his first ball and four byes off his second, and remained expensive thereafter. The pressure built up by Tremlett was swiftly released as Chanderpaul and Madsen clobbered their way to a 50 partnership in just 51 deliveries. The early wickets had given Surrey false hope as the two seasoned pros exposed the excellent nature of the surface.

Although Tremlett returned to bring some order to proceedings he was unable to make the breakthrough. Indeed for the remainder of the shortened day no Surrey bowler managed ro find a way through. Late into the evening Chanderpaul went to his hundred off just 116 balls and Madsen looked to be following him serenely before bad light brought an early close.

It was another poor first day for Surrey. Batty was not afforded enough control by his bowlers - in the first 40 overs 12 went for six runs or more. In Championship cricket you simply can't afford to be that generous. Of course Chanderpaul is one of the greats of the modern game, but up to the start of this game his Championship average for 2013 was under 40.

This is a game we cannot afford to lose. Frankly we can't really afford anything other than a win but facing the prospect of a big Derbyshire first innings a few thoughts will already be looking towards salvaging a draw. One saving grace is that we have our very own modern great - Ricky Ponting - to bat as well on a surface that ought to cause our batsmen as few issues as it has caused theirs.

Surrey need to regain control first and foremost. If we can at least stem the flow of runs, a couple of early wickets will bring the Derbyshire middle order into play. In Tremlett and Meaker we have two bowlers who can make mincemeat of lower order on their day so there's hope yet. Restricting them to a total of around 350 would keep us very much in the game, but that requires seeing the back of Chanderpaul first thing tomorrow morning.

Batty has some experienced heads with him in the dressing room and he'll be looking to them to provide the inspiration. We are down in this game, but we're not yet out.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Rain denies flying Surrey

The inclement weather in Derbyshire won out this evening as persistent rain brought an early end to proceedings with Surrey cut off in their prime. Shortly before the rain arrived Steven Davies and Jason Roy were racing along at better than 12 an over.

Earlier in the evening Gareth Batty lost a toss for a change and was asked to bat by his opposite number. In a pleasant turn of events Tom Jewell was retained in the side, a positive show of confidence in the young man. With six frontline batsmen, two allrounders, two bowlers who can bat plenty and Jade Dernbach, it felt a much more traditionally balanced side. It was perhaps surprising that Chris Tremlett was left out but that could have been done with tomorrow's Championship match in mind.

The opening pair turned on the style in front of the television cameras as they tucked into the Derbyshire bowling. Davies was as strong as he ever is square of the wicket but also showed his skill in picking the gaps on the drive. Roy was less silken but played with no little skill. A classical straight drive followed by a Pietersen-esque flamingo flick for six encapsulated what a sublime talent he is.

Davies went to a second consecutive YB40 fifty from just 21 balls but the very next ball he tried to loft Peter Burgoyne's off spin only to be caught by Madsen in the deep. Azhar Mahmood came out to bat ahead of Ricky Ponting to maintain the rapid scoring rate but only faced four balls before the umpires took the players off.

It was an unfortunate end for Surrey who were looking good to secure an important two points. The weather robbed us of a couple of points last year as well and in such a tight group it could be decisive. We have to hope the weather gods dish out some similar treatment to our opponents.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

The cavalry arrives - Ponting and Azhar in for Derbyshire game

Surrey have sprung something of a surprise in the naming of their 14 strong squad for tomorrow's YB40 game at Derbyshire. Ricky Ponting's long awaited debut had been expected but Azhar Mahmood extending his contract beyond the Twenty20 competition had not been widely acknowledged.

Chris Adams announced the following 14 names, and with it is my best stab at an XI:

Jason Roy
Steven Davies
Ricky Ponting
Vikram Solanki
Zander de Bruyn
Gary Wilson
Azhar Mahmood
Gareth Batty
Jon Lewis
Jade Dernbach
Chris Tremlett

Bench: Tom Jewell, Stuart Meaker, Gary Keedy

Frankly, your guess is as good as mine. The XI above represents something of a departure from Adams' tendency towards spin-heavy sides for limited overs cricket but its hard to see Azhar not playing having made the journey ahead of schedule. Keedy may yet play and if he does one of Lewis or Tremlett, both of whom have bowled very well in the last couple of games, will probably make way.

Its a blow for Tom Jewell who was picked for the Durham game, dropped for the Lancashire game, picked for the Scotland game and now looks set to be dropped again for tomorrow's encounter. All the while he's done very little wrong. It's also likely to seem odd to the onlooker that we're picking a bowling attack comprised largely of players aged 35 and over, while Stuart Meaker - one of county cricket's most explosive young fast bowlers - sits on the bench.

In fact the average age of the team is starkly different to that of one picked around the same time last year. The average age of the side picked to face Durham on the 20th May 2012 was 27, this year you can add six years to that. There can't be many counties picking sides with six players over the age of 35, and only one under 25.

Of course there are two sides to the "Dad's Army" coin. For all the worries about fielding and general stamina you could counter with the eons of experience that will take the field tomorrow, whatever the makeup of the side. Ponting and Azhar are also two proven, top class performers. There's also the small matter that despite being 38, Ricky Ponting is still a mighty fine fielder, snaffling catches like this in the IPL a few weeks ago. However, what you cannot deny is that this is not a side that is going to be dominating county cricket for years to come. In a couple of years, necessarily, the majority of this side will have to be completely different.

Derbyshire have played three, won one, lost one and had a no result against Lancashire in this year's YB40. Given the forecast for tomorrow, we could have another. In their most recent game, against Scotland, they comfortably chased down 182 thanks largely to fifties from Chanderpaul and Chesney Hughes. The batting will rely heavily on those two again (unless Wes Durston has recovered from injury) and the success of the bowling will depend largely on how Mark Turner and David Wainwright perform. As with the Scotland tie, on paper, we are the superior side but come tomorrow evening that will mean little.

It will be fascinating to see what the presence of Ponting does to the batting. Solanki's hundred yesterday bucked his trend of making pretty 40s and getting out, and long may that continue. Davies too has looked in prime form without really kicking on in the last few innings. Hopefully Ponting's arrival will inject a bit more of the steel and responsibility we saw while Smith was in situ.

Should the bad weather stay away we ought to be looking at registering a third win in five YB40 matches. Such is the nature of the competition we already can't really afford another defeat. And with the Championship match starting the very next day it could set us up for a much-needed positive week.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Super Solanki secures routine win

Some brave hitting late in the day for Scotland was not enough to keep a strong Surrey performance from overwhelming them as the visitors secured their second win of the season.

Gareth Batty won the toss in Edinburgh and chose to give his batsmen the task of setting a target. The first 11 balls of the Surrey innings disappeared for 18 runs with a boundary for Davies and two for Roy. However the 12th ball accounted for Jason Roy to leave Surrey 18-1. His dismissal against Lancashire precipitated a horrible collapse but today Solanki joined Davies and put on the partnership that defined the innings.

The two ex-Worcestershire batsmen put on 119 runs together at close to six an over and when they were parted with the score on 137 Surrey had the perfect platform to launch an assault in the last 17 overs. When Davies departed Solanki was well set on 67, but two factors combined to put the brakes on Surrey's innings. First de Bruyn came to the crease and slowed proceedings to a crawl. Second, Solanki was largely starved of the strike. In the final 17 overs of the Surrey innings Solanki faced just 37 balls. 

Solanki did though move to the first hundred of his Surrey career, reaching the mark with a six, and he would end the innings 109 not out. De Bruyn meanwhile plodded to 11 from 35 deliveries before being bowled backing away to a Goudie delivery in the first over of the batting powerplay. It was probably a blessing in disguise for the Surrey innings, against the better sides we can't afford to have his go-slow batting creating pressure for the other batsmen.

Gary Wilson and Tom Jewell struck 34 off 28 deliveries between them to give the innings a bit of gloss. Scotland would require 238 from their 40 overs. Dernbach and Lewis started in the perfect fashion, giving the batsmen nothing and after the opening five overs Scotland had just 12 runs on the board. As the pressure built the Scotland opener Cross tried to up the pace only to be clean bowled off the bowling of Lewis.

Scotland then proceeded to lose wickets at regular intervals as first Tremlett and then Keedy took a brace of wickets, and Wilson effected a run out to leave the home side six down with 118 runs on the board. The required rate was heading rapidly toward nine runs per over and Scotland were sinking fast. However Callum Macleod and Majid Haq put together a fine partnership, it was not a partnership that ever threatened to take Scotland over the line, but it was a fine effort nonetheless.

Gordon Goudie's 15 runs from six deliveries gave them just a glimmer of hope, but when he and Macleod fell in consecutive overs (Macleod for a very good 59 from 60 balls) the game was all but over. Jon Lewis' excellent final over sealed the deal for Surrey who came out on top by 14 runs.

The margin should have been much greater really. De Bruyn's innings, which brought with it a period of 10 overs for 28 runs, probably lopped 20-30 runs off the total and meant that the men in after him, Wilson and Jewell, had to look to hit out from ball one. In a group where qualification may well come down to a net run rate calculation, we can't afford that kind of innings. De Bruyn's form is now way beyond the point of it being a blip, it is a sustained slump. It is time to back Tom Jewell with the ball and Zafar Ansari (when available) with the bat in this format. That Jewell wasn't given a single over today, while de Bruyn bowled his full quota of eight overs, beggars belief if you ask me.

The manner of the win might not have been convincing, but it was a win nonetheless. It keeps us firmly in the hunt in the YB40 where we now sit three points behind Hampshire with a game in hand over the group leaders. Another win on Wednesday, away to Derbyshire, and we might begin to create some of that much needed momentum.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

One week to re-boot the season

After a week in which some of the senior players were given a rest, and the remainder played out a rain effected draw against Oxford University, Surrey travel to Scotland and start a week that can kick start the 2013 season. Without a win since the start of May, we are in desperate need of some momentum.

Chris Adams has named an unchanged 13 man squad from the group that made the trip to Manchester last week:

Jason Roy
Steven Davies
Vikram Solanki
Zander de Bruyn
Gary Wilson
Rory Burns
Gareth Batty
Jon Lewis
Chris Tremlett
Jade Dernbach
Gary Keedy

Bench: Tom Jewell, Stuart Meaker

It's hard to see Adams naming a different XI tomorrow despite the demoralising defeat to Lancashire. Tremlett and Lewis bowled very well, and Dernbach is Adams' go-to man for limited overs cricket. For those reasons I can't see Meaker coming into the side, as much as I'd like him to. In the couple of games at the Grange so far this season spin has played a part so Batty and Keedy will almost certainly complete the bowling. Tom Jewell can count himself very hard done by. Since being named in the XI for the Durham game, in which he didn't get a bowl because of the weather, he hasn't featured. He played in the friendly against Oxford but it seems unlikely that Adams will pick him. With Azhar Mahmood arriving next month for the T20, one wonders where Jewell fits into Chris Adams' masterplan.

Despite the collapse at Durham, and the implosion against Stephen Parry at Old Trafford, the batting won't change (in fact it can't, we barely have a spare batsman at the club). Davies and Roy batted well in the powerplay in the last game but after their dismissals the batting completely went into its collective shell. Solanki and de Bruyn have to shoulder more of the responsibility.

Scotland have played two and lost two in the YB40 this season and despite having some talented players, they are a side we should be beating comfortably. Preston Mommsen and Richie Berrington are decent batsmen, and Majid Haq is occasionally a threat with the ball, but beyond that they aren't a match for us on paper.

With the Scotland game tomorrow, and then two games against Derbyshire to follow, Chris Adams simply has to deliver three wins on the bounce. Morale and confidence will be low but with Ricky Ponting due to arrive this week these games should be looked at as a chance to turn what has been a distinctly lacklustre start into something far far better.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Oxford friendly provides chance for experimentation

Surrey are in Oxford this week to play the University side in a three day friendly. As is usually the case with friendly matches it provides a chance for resting some of the regulars and trying out some of the fringe players.

A 12 man squad has been named and a possible XI is below:

Rory Burns
Arun Harinath
Dominic Sibley
Jason Roy
Tom Jewell
Jack Winslade
Jon Lewis
Stuart Meaker
Chris Tremlett
Matthew Dunn
George Edwards

12th man: Michael Burgess

Given how little is known of the likes of Winslade and Burgess its hard to pinpoint what roles they will play. Given that Burgess is a keeper, and one that has batted fairly low down in the order in the few Second XI Championship games he's played, it seems likely that he'll be the one to sit out with Rory Burns taking the gloves. Winslade has played as an allrounder for the 2s up to this point but he may in fact come in below Lewis and Meaker in the batting.

The side above is not short of bowling. Tremlett, Meaker, Lewis, Dunn and Edwards would make a pretty good County Championship attack never mind for a friendly. Lewis, Dunn and Edwards will just be looking for overs considering how little they've played this season, while Tremlett and Meaker will probably be out in search of rhythm. It's entirely possible that Adams may elect to play Burgess as an extra batsman, as five bowlers plus two allrounders in Winslade and Jewell could be considered excessive against a university side.

The makeup of the top order will be interesting. Jason Roy, captaining in this game, opened the batting in the two most recent Championship fixtures. However with three more established opening batsmen in the side in Burns, Harinath and the prodigiously talented Sibley he may slip down the order. I would imagine the Oxford bowlers won't be relishing Jason Roy coming out to bat at number four anyway.

Oxford's most recent fixture against County opponents was at the start of May when they were comprehensively beaten by Worcestershire. But as we showed against Cambridge a couple of years ago, you can look very foolish indeed if you underestimate MCCU sides. The Surrey players will be looking to the game to get some runs under their belts and wickets in the bag but they'll need to approach the game sensibly.

This match has fallen at a pretty convenient time for Surrey. With Wilson away for Ireland's ODI series with Pakistan and Ponting not due to arrive until June, a friendly followed by a couple of low-key YB40 matches might enable the players to regroup. A renewed effort to arrest the slide towards a losing habit is needed.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Surrey fall to third successive defeat

Graeme Smith's been gone barely ten days but in that time Surrey have managed to string together three consecutive defeats across two formats. We now have just a single win to our name in 2013 and the season already has a depressing familiarity to it.

Today's defeat, to Lancashire in the YB40 competition, was a close run thing but it was a defeat all the same. Adams opted for a high risk strategy which involved packing the side with bowlers and batting the skipper at number seven. Gareth Batty won the toss for the third game in succession and elected to bowl. It was a slightly surprising decision given the turning nature of the pitch (Lancashire picked three spinners), but perhaps Batty had the Manchester weather and a Duckworth-Lewis chase in mind.

In any case his bowlers made it look a mighty fine decision as they reduced the Lancashire top order to rubble. Before ten overs were up Lancashire were four down as Surrey's three seamers, Dernbach, Lewis and Tremlett shared the wickets around. Tremlett was especially tricky to negotiate which is hopefully an indicator of an up-turn in his form.

Spin was introduced into the attack in the 13th over and Keedy made an impression with his first delivery back at Old Trafford, as he had Wayne White caught behind to leave Lancashire 59-5. Karl Brown was busy compiling an excellent innings and he and Gareth Cross put on 30 runs to steady the innings a touch. However Cross, Hogg and Newby then fell within 10 overs and with the home side on 125-8 Surrey were looking good to go top of their YB40 group with a win.

Brown and Stephen Parry had other ideas though and they put on 38 in six overs and the last three overs disappeared for 40 runs to lift Lancashire to 176. Special mention should be made of the figures of Tremlett and Lewis who returned 4-48 from 15 overs between them on a spinners pitch. Jade Dernbach meanwhile could only manage 1-49 from seven. Given that the pitch was taking substantial spin already, despite the low total Surrey would have known they had a tough chase ahead of them.

Not that you would've known that from the way Davies and Roy started the innings. The pair despatched the eight powerplay overs for 60 runs, largely without taking excessive risk and Davies in particular was timing the ball well. The asking rate had fallen to 3.6 runs per over and Surrey were cruising. Then Roy fell to the first ball outside the powerplay and what followed was the decisive period of the game. Surrey batted out the next 15 overs for just 32 runs, scoring just a solitary boundary and losing five wickets in the process.

Gareth Batty and Zander de Bruyn halted the tumble of wickets but continued to struggle against the spinners. The required run rate climbed inexorably towards seven runs per over. Surrey then lost four wickets for 12 runs in just over two overs to all-but end the contest. A six run penalty for Lancashire's slow over rate briefly raised hopes but ultimately Dernbach and Keedy were left with too much to do.

Given the respective positions of the two sides at various points, Surrey will be very disappointed with the performance today. Lancashire were reduced to 59-5 while we were at one stage 60-0. Lancashire's spinners bowled 24 overs and returned 6-69 while Batty and Keedy bowled 16 and took 4-65. The efforts of two players, Karl Brown - who scored 80 from 84 balls and Stephen Parry - who took 5-17, stand out in this game.

A defeat early in the YB40 is always tough to recover from because the groups are so tight, but there are more pressing problems at hand. Although Ponting and Ansari will be available before too long, there would appear to be a shortage of options at the club, or a lack of confidence to give those few that are available a try. Why, for example, was Tom Jewell dumped for this game when he featured in the rained-off game against Durham without getting a chance to bowl? Despite some hope from the performance of the bowlers of late, three defeats on the bounce and some very dubious batting leave a lot of questions unanswered. Surrey need to arrest this slide towards a losing habit, and they need to do it quickly.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Notts surge ahead on day two

Another full day's play, another dispiriting batting performance by a large proportion of the Surrey contingent. Nottinghamshire ended the day 24 for 1, a lead of 91 runs with two days remaining.

Surrey started the day well as Jade Dernbach took just three balls to remove Harry Gurney without adding to the overnight score. 274 all out. It was a massive relief that the Notts tail was not allowed to add to the already excessive accumulation from last night. The total wasn't out of sight but it nonetheless required some sensible batting from Surrey to remain competitive.

By and large, that didn't happen. Rory Burns got another good delivery early in his innings and was caught behind for four. He was joined just a few balls later as Luke Fletcher beat Jason Roy's unfortunately tentative forward defensive to clean bowl him. Surrey were 9-2 and already deep in trouble. Vikram Solanki completely misjudging a Fletcher delivery that kept a touch low didn't help matters as he fell leg before to leave his side 27-3.

The procession continued through the morning session and Zander de Bruyn was the next man out. With his score on nine he played at a Paul Franks delivery he probably could have left but presented the edge and was caught at second slip. 47-4 became 49-5 on the stroke of lunch as Steven Davies aimed an injudicious fling at a wide delivery going wider only to also be caught at slip.

With the side still 225 runs behind and half the batsman accounted for it will not have been an easy lunch. After the break Arun Harinath extended his long vigil, but not by long enough. He threw his bat at a decent delivery to give Ajmal Shahzad his first wicket. It was a waste as his 24 runs had taken him 104 deliveries and roughly two and a half hours to compile. Not to mention that Surrey were still 50+ runs shy of the follow on target. Gary Wilson and Gareth Batty gave a much better account of themselves as they put on a determined 81 run partnership to first see Surrey past the follow on and then towards a semblance of respectability. Their innings were ended just four overs apart as first Wilson was caught behind off Samit Patel for 49 and then Batty was stumped off the same bowler for 41.

With the score on 152 and only the bowlers to come we could have been forgiven for giving up hope. However a tail end that had batted so insipidly against Durham instead managed to cobble together 46 very useful runs today. By the time Jade Dernbach was caught by Franks off the bowling of Shahzad to end the Surrey innings the deficit had been reduced to 66. With the bounce varying on the odd delivery perhaps having to bat last was also worth 20 or 30 extra runs for Notts. Surrey were very definitely second best. It surely cannot be a coincidence that since Graeme Smith's departure the "soft" dismissals have made something of a comeback. The Notts bowling today was certainly disciplined, but a few of the batsmen will know they got themselves out.

The Nottinghamshire second innings began as the first had done...slowly. Just 19 runs came off the first ten overs and when Meaker was introduced into the attack in the 11th he made the breakthrough, bowling Alex Hales for 17. It was a welcome wicket and we're likely to need Meaker to have a significant say tomorrow to have any chance in this game. However with the lead already approaching 100 and Notts' best batsmen still yet to come, Surrey may need to rely on some Saturday rain to rescue them.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Surrey start well but Notts fight hard

The forecast rain failed to materialise and remarkably a full day's play was possible at Trent Bridge. The game is finely poised as although Surrey had the hosts on the ropes mid way through the afternoon, an evening rally brought them back into the game.

Confusion reigned at the start of the day as Surrey first released an XI featuring a seam attack of Dernbach, Linley and Tremlett before swiftly revising it to include Meaker over Tremlett. Surrey's Mark Church was at pains to suggest that Tremlett was not injured but simply not picked. Given that Andy Flower was in touch with Chris Adams when Tremlett was not selected for Surrey's first game its hard to imagine that Adams' mobile won't be ringing again soon. From Surrey's perspective it was a good call, all three of Meaker, Dernbach and Linley have bowled well and taken wickets at times this season. Tremlett, frankly, has not.

Gareth Batty duly won his second consecutive toss as captain and opted to have a bowl. Notts' stand-in captain, James Taylor, would also have bowled and his openers won't have been relishing the task at hand. Taylor was skippering his side because of the late withdrawal of regular captain Chris Read with a stiff neck. Remarkably this is the first game Read has missed for Notts since September 2006 - a run of 98 consecutive games.

The Nottinghamshire openers trooped out at 11am to face Linley and Dernbach and it wasn't long before one of them, Alex Hales, was tropping back in again. Dernbach, bowling the third over of the day, plucked Hales' middle and leg stumps out of the ground with a perfect yorker. It's not the first time this season that Dernbach has surprised a top order batsman with such a delivery, he also accounted for Somerset's Nick Compton in the same fashion.

Surrey's opening bowlers restricted Notts very well. Linley in particular bowled a remarkable spell of 10 overs on the bounce, conceding just 7 runs in the process and forcing the batsman to play regularly. After 25 overs Nottinghamshire were crawling along at barely two runs an over. When Meaker was introduced into the attack he maintained the pressure, a relief after his poor spell with the new ball against Durham. Indeed in his fourth over and just seven minutes before lunch he snuck a delivery through Ed Cowan's gate to clean bowl him. Both openers were gone with barely 50 runs on the board.

Michael Lumb resisted well through the morning and into the afternoon session but with the score on 83 Meaker was in action again as Lumb became his second victim. Captain Taylor was joined by Samit Patel and the pair began to score more comfortably. They put on 60 together before Patel edged a Tim Linley delivery to slip. It was a deserved success for Linley who frequently bowls well without taking the wickets his bowling warrants. At 143-4 Surrey had forced an opening and they took it...up to a point.

Riki Wessels was dropped before he had scored by Solanki at slip off Linley's bowling. However the damage was minimal as Meaker returned soon after to clean bowl Wessels for just one. Surrey continued to chip away and Linley bagged the crucial wicket of Taylor just a few overs later as he played on with the score on 168. Paul Franks, returning to the Notts side, could only last a further five overs before poking at a Meaker delivery to give the Surrey quick his fourth scalp.

Nottinghamshire went to tea on 185-7 and Surrey were in the ascendancy. However a valiant partnership of 66 runs between Steven Mullaney and Ajmal Shahzad gave Notts first a glimmer and then a full blown beam of hope. Shahzad, who famously hit a first ball six to help tie an ODI for England, was admirably restrained as he scored just 8 runs from 84 deliveries. By the time they were parted the score had reached 247. Mullaney was joined by Luke Fletcher and they added a further 18 quick runs to frustrate Surrey some more. Tim Linley then trapped the danger man Mullaney leg before for a well made 68 and the visitors again had their tails up. However the tenth wicket pair of Fletcher and Gurney saw out the final four and a half overs of the day to make the day even, or perhaps even put Notts slightly ahead.

The end to the day had a tedious familiarity to it. Nottinghamshire's eighth, ninth and tenth wickets have thus far put on 92 wickets and that may yet prove the difference between the two sides. Tomorrow is likely to be another cloudy and damp day, possibly with the odd rain break. Not conditions for batting (Edit: the forecast for tomorrow has improved somewhat - it may be significantly better than today!). Getting on terms in this game is going to be quite a challenge.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Squad named for trip to rainy Nottingham

Surrey's players have had just a single day between the end of the Durham game yesterday and the start of the Nottinghamshire game tomorrow. According to Chris Adams' post-game interview at the Oval, they have spent it training rather than resting - perhaps a variant of 'naughty nets' given their lacklustre performance in the five wicket defeat.

The weather forecast for the next few days is decidedly damp so the prospect of a result is receding by the hour. Nonetheless Chris Adams has named a squad of 13 for the trip to Trent Bridge:

Rory Burns
Arun Harinath
Gary Wilson
Vikram Solanki
Zander de Bruyn
Steven Davies
Jason Roy
Gareth Batty
Stuart Meaker
Tim Linley
Jade Dernbach

12th men: Jon Lewis, Chris Tremlett

Gary Keedy has been dropped but it is perhaps unwise to read too much into that. He had a bad game at the Oval, no question, but his name was always unlikely to feature in the XI for Trent Bridge. He is replaced by Jon Lewis and it is around him that the main selection uncertainty revolves.

At Trent Bridge last year Adams sprung something of a surprise in dropping newly-appointed captain Gareth Batty and playing Murali Kartik as the single spinner, with de Bruyn captaining in Batty's absence. There's an outside chance that Batty may take one for the team again, allowing Jon Lewis to fill the allrounder's slot. Alternatively if he's feeling very bold Adams could drop a batsman and opt for a five man attack, with Lewis or Batty at number seven, but that would be quite a gamble.

Depending on his recovery from "stiffness" before the Durham game Tremlett could yet make the cut, most likely coming in for Linley despite him having done nothing to deserve being dropped. Jade Dernbach will almost certainly return after being "rested" for the last fixture and despite Meaker's poor performance at the Oval he will probably be retained. On balance, I think the side above is most likely.

The batting order is of significant interest. Jason Roy manfully stepped into the substantial hole left by Graeme Smith at the top of the order but could only muster scores of 17 and 4. I am a fully paid up member of the Jason Roy fan club but I do not think he should be opening the batting. Not because he doesn't have the ability, but because in Arun Harinath we have a better option to do the job. Roy should slide down the order from where he can inflict damage after, hopefully, a solid start from the top five. Whether Gary Wilson, Vikram Solanki or Zander de Bruyn fills the number three slot is anyone's guess.

Nottinghamshire lie two places above Surrey in the table (though with a game in hand) having won one and lost two of their games so far. With England's first test starting this week they will mercifully be without Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann who took 16 wickets and scored 162 runs between them in Notts' previous two games. Not bad for your numbers 8 and 9. Not that their batting and bowling is a great deal weaker without them. James Taylor, Alex Hales, Australian opener Ed Cowan, Michael Lumb, Samit Patel and captain Chris Read represents one of the division's stronger batting lineups - both in terms of experience and talent. Their bowling, likely to be spearheaded by Harry Gurney and Ajmal Shahzad, is also of a high quality.

This is a huge test for Surrey, should the two sides manage to get out on the park for any substantial play. Morale will be at a low ebb having been beaten at home not much more than 24 hours ago, and lying in the bottom two after four Championship fixtures. The batsmen have so far been guilty of too many soft dismissals and the bowling attack has only fired in fits and starts. If everyone performs to their potential we are capable of matching and beating the very best, but up to this point in 2013, that just hasn't happened. We need it to start happening now.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Defeat for Surrey confirms poor season start

At the close of play yesterday anything other than a comfortable victory for Durham looked unlikely. There was always the lingering hope that a pitch that had misbehaved in various ways and at various times might produce an unlikely Surrey triumph, but it wasn't to be as the visitors ran out winners by five wickets.

Surrey knew at the start of the day's play that they needed to add at least 50-60 runs to even make the chase a competitive one. Wilson and Batty made a solid start to the day, accumulating 37 runs in 12 overs. The plus side was that the lead was pushing up past 150, but conversely the pitch didn't appear to be causing the batsman any grief. Batty's was the first wicket of the day as Ryan Buckley trapped him leg before for 27. Crucially Wilson lost his wicket just two balls later and without a run being added, and Borthwick's leg spin was starting to bite. At 201-8 the lead was only just past 150 and things were looking terminal.

Meaker and Linley put on 28 bonus runs in six overs and Surrey's all out total of 229 pushed the required total for Durham to 181, which although not huge would take some chasing. Scott Borthwick finished with a career best six-fer to go with Buckley's debut five-fer on day one.

Batty opted to open the innings with Tim Linley and himself, shielding Stuart Meaker from the new ball. There could be said to be some logic in the decision, given Meaker's poor figures in the first innings. However given that wickets were Surrey's only way of inducing a Durham wobble I'm disappointed that the captain didn't show more faith in his strike bowler.

Nonetheless Tim Linley did make an early breakthrough as Will Smith was caught behind off the sixth ball of the innings. Any hope of further inroads were put to bed by a watchful Borthwick and a positive Stoneman as the pair went to lunch on 39-1. They had two further sessions to tick off the 142 runs remaining.

Gary Keedy was again poor, he produced too many four-balls and wasn't able to tie the batsmen down. On a fourth day pitch on which spinners took the vast majority of wickets Keedy failed to bowl a single maiden. In the face of a small total that simply isn't good enough to get results at this level. Keedy is a fine professional who will not be found wanting for effort but he is clearly not in the best form.

Stoneman and Borthwick extended their partnership to exactly 100 runs before Batty grabbed his first wicket of the innings, Borthwick lbw for 42. But the back of the chase had been broken and only another 74 runs were needed with eight wickets in hand. It was not until the 33rd over that Batty turned to Meaker and lo and behold he produced a wicket with his fifth delivery, clean bowling the excellent Stoneman for 67. At the very least Meaker should have been introduced when the new batsman arrived, but to hold him back further seemed bizarre tactically.

If that was an example of poor tactics from Batty, the decision to introduce Linley back into the attack was inspired. Stoneman fell with the score on 126 and Benkenstein was out as a Linley delivery stopped on him just two balls later with the score still the same. At 126-4 and 55 runs still needed there was a glimmer of hope that a nailbiting finish was in the offing. However captain Collinwood and Ben Stokes put on a steady 30 run partnership to all but take Durham home. By the time Collingwood was bowled by Keedy less than 30 runs were needed and it would've taken something approaching a miracle to deny Durham.

Stokes was joined by Mustard and the pair took their side safely home without further loss. Ultimately an inability to keep the pressure up cost us in the fourth innings. Where across the previous three innings the run rate never topped 2.9, Durham's fourth innings run rate was heading towards four an over. A home defeat after three consecutive draws leaves us in the bottom two and a little devoid of ideas.

In this match Durham were the better side but there wasn't much in it. If we'd taken our chances at the right times, notably at 221-4 in the first innings, we could have been celebrating a win tonight. It is also fair to say that Durham's spinners, with all of 49 first class games behind them, were more effective as a unit than ours, with all of 402 first class games behind them. They ended the match with 14 wickets to Batty and Keedy's seven. Surrey's spinners took their wickets at 37 runs apiece, Durham's took there's at 18. Therein lies the difference between the sides. When you prepare a turning wicket you don't expect your North East visitors to show up and comprehensively out-bowl you. To give him his due, Batty did a very good job on the whole but he wasn't supported.

The next fixture, away to Nottinghamshire, comes hot on the heels of this one as it starts on Wednesday. Morale may be on the slide, we've lost Graeme Smith and now we've lost our first Championship game of the season. The two spinner approach will now surely be shelved for the foreseeable future and Jon Lewis may even come into contention for a spot in the next fixture. There's plenty for Adams and Batty work on with a quarter of the Championship season already behind us.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Regular wickets keep Durham ahead

Surrey face the prospect of a first result in four matches tomorrow, but increasingly it looks like it'll be the wrong result as rain brought an early end to proceedings with the home side on 164 for 6, a lead of 115.

The day began positively for Surrey as Gareth Batty collected his fifth wicket of the innings, trapping Ryan Buckley lbw to end the Durham innings. It was Batty's fifth five-for for Surrey, interestingly all but one (against Middlesex last year) of those have come in the first innings. Only seven runs had been added to the overnight total and Durham's lead stood at 49 runs. In the context of a low scoring game it was a handy advantage, but the fact that they would be batting last meant that it wasn't quite a decisive one.

Surrey had most of the morning session to bat through and in an ideal world they would've reached parity having lost no wickets. As it was when lunch arrived although the deficit had been whittled away, three wickets had fallen in the process. Roy was first to go as Thorp found a way between bat and pad, adding weight to the impression that he shouldn't be bearing the burden of opening the innings. Harinath was next to go, lbw to Wood for 11 before Burns fell in the same manner to Borthwick's leg spin.

That left Surrey effectively 16-3 at lunch and in a precarious position considering the tail's capitulation in the first innings. After the break the old hands Solanki and de Bruyn had some repair work to do. However they could only muster a 22 run partnership before Solanki fell leg before to Collingwood to a ball which kept very low. When de Bruyn fell, lbw again but this time to Borthwick and after a mini recovery with Davies, there was more sign of the variable bounce. While the wickets were damaging (the lead was only 89 when de Bruyn fell) Surrey will have been encouraged by the uneven nature of the pitch and de Bruyn himself can look forward to bowling more overs tomorrow.

Wilson joined Davies at the crease and as the last recognised batting pair their efforts were always going to be crucial. Davies was batting extremely well and looked set for a second fifty in the match before, just as he did in the first innings, giving his wicket away to Borthwick. In the first innings he missed a huge full toss to be bowled, this time he slapped a huge long hop straight to deep mid-wicket on 46. With the lead at just 106 Surrey were nowhere near safety.

Wilson and Batty made it safely to the tea break but only one delivery was bowled in the evening session before rain intervened forcing an early close.

A look back at the totals in this game tells the story that this one was there for the taking. We were 221-4 on day one but threw it away. We then bowled poorly at Durham in the evening and for the first half hour of day two, allowing them a crucial opening partnership of 88. We may yet prevail in this game, with a lead of 115 and with Wilson and Batty at the crease who are more than capable of extending that into winnable territory. But frankly we could and should be in a far stronger position but for some poor execution with bat and ball. With the forecast tomorrow indicating rain delays are unlikely, a fascinating full day's play awaits.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Dogged Surrey cling on

At the half way point, this Championship clash has all the makings of a nail-biter. Although Durham have the upper hand, leading by 42 as they do, they still know they will have to bat last on a tired pitch.

Durham began the day in the driving seat with 48 runs on the board and no wickets down. The morning session started brightly for them, or more accurately dimly for Surrey as the first half hour passed without alarm for the visitors, but with a fair few boundary balls as Meaker and Keedy bowled poorly. It was not until Gareth Batty's first over that the breakthrough came as he trapped Will Smith lbw. Yet another dangerous partnership had been broken by the captain.

Scott Borthwick, unexpectedly batting at number three, then joined the fluent Mark Stoneman and they looked to be taking Durham towards parity with just one wicket down. However Zander de Bruyn was introduced into the attack and Borthwick couldn't resist playing at a delivery outside off stump and Wilson gladly accepted the catch at first slip. Gareth Batty then got in on the act again as he had the dangerous Stoneman caught by Burns at short leg with half an hour to go till lunch.

With two new batsmen at the crease Surrey had high hopes of another breakthrough before lunch, but Stokes and Benkenstein, took Durham to lunch without further loss. After the break as the partnership approached 50 de Bruyn was introduced into the attack again and Stokes couldn't resist throwing the bat at some wide filth, only resulting in sending the ball careering into his own stumps to leave Durham 170-4 and keeping Surrey in the hunt. After a lengthy rain break de Bruyn was in action again as he trapped Collingwood lbw.

Mustard joined the experienced Benkenstein and was his usual positive self. They put on 54 together and took their side towards parity with only five wickets down. However Batty then accounted for Mustard and Thorp in the space of four overs, before Tim Linley saw off Wood and Rushworth in consecutive deliveries. Durham had lost four wickets for 31 runs and Surrey refused to lie down.

Along the way there were some confusing tactics mind you. As the 80th over (and therfore the new ball) approached, Meaker and Linley were given a few overs. The new ball was then delayed by ten overs, but when it was taken Linley took his two wickets and Meaker was held back. I accept that Meaker was poor earlier in the day but with Durham's lead so slim surely it was worth at least an over or two with the new ball?

With Durham nine wickets down and the close of play approaching, it became clear that Surrey were none too keen to bat again this evening and were playing for the close. Durham ended the day on 279-9, a lead of 42.

This has been a confusing match, all things considered. The pitch has turned, but it's only been slow turn, the occasional delivery has spat and bounced but there have really been few alarms. And yet we've had two low scoring first innings. We cannot afford to let the Durham last pair accumulate too many more runs as the pitch may begin to deteriorate further from here on.

In light of the position at the start of the day, today represents a good solid day's work for Surrey and we are still in the hunt. We were again overly reliant on Batty's bowling, Keedy was very poor in comparison while the rest of the attack were workmanlike rather than deadly.

Tomorrow we need to see off the final wicket quickly, and the batsmen need to do a far better job than they managed in the first innings. Hopefully the heavy roller won't kill the pitch completely and if we can get a lead of any substance, Gareth Batty can look forward to a lot of overs on the final day.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Visitors seize the initiative on day one

Durham ended day one much the better placed of the two sides in this Championship encounter. The visitors ended the day 48-0, just 189 runs behind after bowling Surrey out for 237 earlier in the day.

Under cloudy South London skies Gareth Batty won his first toss back as captain and despite the overhead conditions opted to bat. His decision suggested that he expects the pitch to turn as the game progresses, as indeed did the selection of two spinners and the dropping to the bench of Jade Dernbach and Chris Tremlett. Given that Dernbach was the pick of the bowlers of the first three matches it seems odd that he has not been picked for this fixture.

Rory Burns couldn't repeat his first innings heroics at Lord's as he received a good Callum Thorp delivery early in his innings and edged it behind to leave Surrey 3-1. Jason Roy, who had been promoted up the order to open the innings was the next man to go, popping the same bowler to mid-off. There was some suggestion that the ball may have stopped in the pitch, but in truth it wasn't a great shot. I am convinced that Roy belongs in the middle order, especially given the conditions for batting this morning.

Arun Harinath, retaining his place at number three, and Vikram Solanki put on a 60-run partnership to restore order to proceedings. However Solanki's dismissal, plonking the spin of Ryan Buckley into the grateful hands of Will Smith at short leg, handed the session to Durham as Surrey went to lunch on 103-3. Harinath continued to accumulate with Zander de Bruyn after the break as they put on 48 together before Harinath became Thorp's third victim of the innings.

At 137-4 Durham were well ahead in the game. Although Steven Davies and de Bruyn compiled an 84 run partnership to lift the side to 221 Surrey then conspired to lose their final six wickets for the addition of just 16 runs. The ball was starting to turn but even with that in mind that's a horrendous collapse. In the context of the situation at close of play, a potentially match-losing collapse.

Still the home side had 237 runs on the board, which although less than it should have been, with two spinners in the side and the pitch taking turn already Surrey could be forgiven for not being completely crestfallen at the match situation at that point. Durham's openers came out in the evening and rattled through the first nine overs, scoring at almost four an over.

Unsurprisingly spin was introduced in just the 10th over and Keedy and Batty then bowled in tandem till close. However neither was able to make a breakthrough. At 48-0 Durham will have high hopes of batting themselves into a commanding position on day two, provided the weather holds. Surrey will hope that once they manage to prise the openers from the crease the Durham batting will prove more brittle. Given that Durham's 19 year old off-spinning debutant finished the day with 5-86, all eyes will be on Surrey's pair of spinners from the word go. An improvement on today's disappointing effort is a must.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Meaker returns for Durham Championship clash

This week's been a bit of a damp squib. Our big name international captain is out for the season, and tonight's YB40 game, despite being briefly lit up by a century from Jason Roy was ultimately a washout. However, its not all bad news as Stuart Meaker will make his return from injury against Durham at the Oval tomorrow.

Chris Adams has named a 13 man squad:

Rory Burns
Arun Harinath
Gary Wilson
Vikram Solanki
Steven Davies
Jason Roy
Zander de Bruyn
Gareth Batty
Stuart Meaker
Tim Linley
Jade Dernbach

12th men: Chris Tremlett, Gary Keedy

The unenviable task of filling Graeme Smith's shoes will fall to Arun Harinath. He will move back to the openers slot that he occupied through most of 2010. He didn't set the world alight but he averaged as many as almost anyone else did in the slot before Rory Burns came on the scene. Gary Wilson, having scored 130 and 60 against Sussex, seems favourite to win a promotion to number three.

Thereafter I hope Adams has a rethink. Davies and Roy should occupy the slots at five and six, and Zander de Bruyn should do the decent thing and drop down the order. Both Roy and Davies are in far better touch and having a man of de Bruyn's experience to marshall the tail is no bad thing.

In the two games at the Oval Adams has tried two different approaches with the bowlers. Against Somerset we fielded two spinners to little effect. Against Sussex we went for three seamers...again to little effect. In both instances it was due to a lifeless surface rather than poor bowling, so I'm not sure which approach Adams will adopt in this game. He did say at the end of the Sussex game that he felt a second spinner would've moved the game along so he may go back to that route.

I would rather see three seamers again though. Purely on form those three have to be Dernbach, Meaker and Linley. Tremlett was poor at Lord's and at various points the other three have been excellent.

Durham have surprised more or less everyone in picking up wins against Somerset and Nottinghamshire, leaving them second in the table despite starting the season with a 2.5 point deduction for breaching the salary cap. All four of their games have seen a result one way or another so they clearly look to play positive cricket. We are fortunate that in overlooking Jade Dernbach and Stuart Meaker, the England Lions opted for the dangerous Graham Onions.

This game will be a big test for Surrey. There is undoubted talent in the ranks, but will the discipline instilled by Graeme Smith begin to ebb away now that he's gone? Without a win in the first three Championship games, we can't afford that to happen.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Surrey look to continue winning start against Durham

After getting off to a near-perfect start with a nine wicket win against Hampshire on Monday, Surrey will look to maintain that good start as Durham visit the Oval tomorrow evening.

With the announcement today that Graeme Smith is returning to South Africa to nurse his injured ankle, a slightly different-looking 14 man squad has been named:

Steven Davies
Jason Roy
Vikram Solanki
Gary Wilson
Zander De Bruyn
Rory Burns
Zafar Ansari
Gareth Batty
Jon Lewis
Gary Keedy
Jade Dernbach

Bench: Tom Jewell, Tom Curran, Tim Linley

Gareth Batty will captain the side in Smith's absence. His appointment in the interim is the sensible choice. He has the respect of the players and the supporters and he has the nous to succeed. He's constantly in the ear of the opposition and sets the tone on the pitch even when he's not leading the side. Rory Burns replaces Smith as a batsman and given the form he's been in early season hopefully we won't miss the runs too much, although even in light of his exceptional talent I can't see Burns playing the innings Smith did against Hampshire.

I would expect Jason Roy to be moved up to open the innings, though Vikram Solanki could also do a fine job in partnership with Davies. I still think there would be value in bringing in one of the allrounders, Jewell or Curran, to the middle order but I sense that is an unlikely change. The bowling attack will likely be the same, although Keedy bowled poorly there are no other spinning options in the side. Jade Dernbach may be rested with the four day game starting on Friday, in which case Linley would likely come in.

Last year's games between the two sides produced two pretty one-sided games. Durham easily winning the game at Chester-le-Street thanks to a virtuoso 143 from Phil Mustard, and Surrey coming out on top at the Oval, stifling the Durham batsmen with spin. So far this season Durham have recorded a comfortable win over Lancashire at Old Trafford and lost a tight encounter at home to Essex. As ever they carry a significant threat with the bat - Mustard, Collingwood and Stokes are the key men. Given the likely nature of the pitch I would expect Breese and Borthwick to be danger men with the ball. Fortunately Graham Onions is missing with the England Lions.

Minus Graeme Smith, Surrey are probably very evenly matched with Durham. Monday's game delivered a superb performance with the bat and in the field, but there was room for improvement in the bowling. Given the loss of the captain we will have to up our game across the board, and if we do we'll be well on our way to two wins out of two.

Smith departure leaves leadership void

The news that Graeme Smith is ending his early-season stint as Surrey captain because of his troublesome left ankle is a huge blow to the club's 2013 ambitions.

When he was ruled out of the end of South Africa's ODI series against Pakistan in March there was always a nagging feeling that it could cause him issues with the county season starting less than a month later. It seems the period of rest he gave himself wasn't quite enough to see off the problem altogether. It's probably a measure of Smith as a character that he was so keen to honour his Surrey contract that he risked further injury by playing on it so soon.

It seems the problem flared up in Surrey's YB40 win over Hampshire. I did notice him glancing anxiously at his ankle mid-way through his knock of 74, and he got off the mark with a very sharp single off Liam Dawson's left-arm spin which may have tweaked it.

That innings apart its hard to argue that Smith is leaving a big hole runs-wise. His early season form has been middling. However the runs would surely have begun to flow in all forms and he unquestionably leaves a gaping chasm in leadership terms. Although he'd been at the club only a short time he appears to have made a big impact, Gareth Batty calls him "magnificent" in this article and Adams has also been effusive in his praise.

Who steps into the captaincy breach will be interesting to see. Batty is the man who springs most immediately to mind given how adeptly he fulfilled the role at the end of last season. However he always seemed something of a reluctant captain and he may not actually want the job. I'm quite sure he'd do a great job but if he doesn't take up the role, to my mind the most suitable candidate would be Vikram Solanki. Yes I know I've called for him to be replaced in the side and yes I did question whether or not he was the best signing at the time...but there are few more respected players in county cricket and he has the necessary experience to take on the captaincy in Smith's absence.

There's also the question of whether or not Ricky Ponting's spell at the club could be extended. He has IPL commitments until late-May and although he's not actually playing for the Mumbai Indians they may still want to retain his presence (somewhat churlishly). Given that he's also committed to the new West Indian Twenty20 competition which will run from the end of July to the end of August, extending his stay at Surrey beyond our Twenty20 competition may be problematic. There is, I suppose, an outside chance that Surrey may look to sign an overseas replacement for that space.

While Surrey had not made a flying start under Smith he will be hugely missed. Apart from anything else it disrupts a batting lineup that was starting to look settled. Arun Harinath will presumably now move up the order and given his knock against Sussex batting at number three Gary Wilson could get another chance there. Though what happens when he's away with Ireland remains to be seen. Smith's departure does at least mean that Jason Roy will get a run in the side, but the batting reserves beyond him are now looking a little thin.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Hampshire battered in YB40 opener

Surrey got off to the best possible start in the 2013 YB40 curtain raiser at the Oval, beating holders Hampshire by nine wickets in a one sided encounter at the Oval.
Chris Adams opted for the experience of Zander de Bruyn over the potential of Tom Jewell or Tom Curran. Other than that the side was as expected. Hampshire won the toss and chose to bat first on a pitch that looked flat but could have been expected to take spin towards the end of proceedings.
Michael Carberry and James Vince opened the batting and thanks to a loose Jade Dernbach opener Carberry got off the mark with a boundary. The first few overs belonged to Hampshire but Dernbach had his revenge in the third over as he produced a beauty to have Carberry caught behind. James Vince was joined by his captain Jimmy Adams and they continued to scored freely until Vince swept Jon Lewis tk Vikram Solanki in the deep. At 53-2 Hampshire had made a flying start but had lost their two most in form batsmen. Gary Keedy was brought on to bowl inside the powerplay and produced two decidedly average overs which allowed Hampshire to continue to accumulate well.

Zafar Ansari was introduced to the attack early and took just two balls to produce a wicket. George Bailey tried to launch him down the ground only to find Lewis at long off. The wicket rounded off a good couple of overs for Surrey where they had stemmed the flow of runs somewhat.

Jimmy Adams was the next to go in similar fashion, this time is was off Batty's spin and into the hands of Graeme Smith at long on. With four men back in the dressing room and only 89 runs on the board Hampshire had work to do. Liam Dawson and Sean Ervine responded with a speedy 52 run partnership before Ansari accounted for Dawson as he looked to get hold of Ansari but could find only the hands of Smith again.
Ervine continued to play some authoritative strokes off all the bowlers and may have led his side to a better total had Wheater not walked past an Ansari delivery to be stumped on just five, and had Chris Wood not been run out for a well made 21. Ervine then had to take matters into his own hands but was bowled on 63 as he was way too early on a flighted Ansari delivery. It was Ansari's fourth wicket as he recorded career best figures of 4-46. He is a special player and his welcome return seemed to coincide with him bowling with a touch more flight and (somehow) even more confidence. Jon Lewis returned for the final over to bowl Riazuddin for 16 and Briggs was the last man out, run out by man of the hour Zafar Ansari. Hampshire's total of 228 looked below par on a flat pitch.

Its hard to document Surrey's innings since it all seemed to happen in something of a blur. Smith and Davies strode out to bat and by the time the powerplay was out more than 80 runs were on the board. Hampshire bowled poorly at both batsmen but Davies in particular chowed down on the succession of leg side deliveries served up. The surrey total had reached 162 in 20 overs before Smith tried to launch Liam Dawson over long on and was caught by James Vince on 74.
Vikram Solanki appeared to bat at number three and the consensus seemed to be that Jason Roy, the preferred man in that slot, was otherwise engaged. Perhaps he was getting his face painted, or more likely, he was having a bathroom break as Smith and Davies appeared to be in little trouble at the time. It's unfortunate really because with 163 runs on the board it would've been the ideal time to give Roy his first knock of the season.
In any case Davies and Solanki saw the side easily to victory. In the process Davies went to his second hundred of the season and the whole affair was totally effortless. It's hard to think of a county cricketer stronger than Davies square of the wicket and when he's in full flight he just makes cricket look terribly easy. He ended not out on 127 very well deserved runs. If he's not very careful England will come calling again very soon.
It was an emphatic start to the 2013 limited overs season and when we play like that we are a very hard side to beat. Batty and Ansari make a very tricky middle overs pair. Keedy looked well off the pace and may be replaced for the Durham games, Lewis too looked a little short of overs which, to be fair, he is. Dernbach was his usual self, the occasional four ball interspersed with a lot of very-difficult-to-score-off deliveries.
I was worried that the advancing years of many of our side would count against us in this format, but maybe I needn't have. Hampshire didn't win last year's 40 over competition by accident- they're a very good side. Smith was impressive with the bat today but also in the field. He strikes me as a very sympathetic captain. He sets his fields with his bowlers, not in spite of them, and is not affronted at being told by 22 year old Zafar Ansari that he wants a different field, thank you very much. If the Championship games so far have marked us out as a tougher side to beat under Smith, maybe his limited overs leadership will add that little bit extra as well. Well played gentlemen.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

First YB40 squad named for Hampshire clash

Surrey's limited overs season gets under way tomorrow as Hampshire visit the Oval for the first Yorkshire Bank 40 match of 2013. Chris Adams has named a 14 man squad, one bigger than usual presumably because of the extended period his bowlers spent in the field against Middlesex over the last couple of days.

The 14 names and a possible XI are as follows:

Graeme Smith
Steven Davies
Jason Roy
Vikram Solanki
Gary Wilson
Zafar Ansari
Tom Jewell/Tom Curran
Jon Lewis
Gareth Batty
Gary Keedy
Jade Dernbach

Bench: Tim Linley, Zander de Bruyn

This is as tough a side to pick as I've seen for a long time. Firstly a lot depends on the fitness of Jade Dernbach. He bowled 41 overs over the course of Friday, Saturday and Sunday and may be in need of a rest. Of course, given how much of a match-winner he is in one day cricket, Adams will want to get him in the side if at all possible. If he doesn't play I would expect Linley to come in. Although Jon Lewis ended last season's CB40 with the distinctly below-par bowling average of 50, he gets through his overs quickly and doesn't give the batsman much, so I think he'll make the cut regardless of Dernbach's availability.

I think the top order is pretty solid, though I am slightly surprised that Rory Burns is being rested for this game. Jason Roy returns to the first team and it would be great to see him in the runs after a dreadful 40 over season in 2012. On the basis of previous years, and the Oval pitches we've seen so far, I'd be amazed if both Batty and Keedy didn't play. Adams also likes to have options in limited overs cricket and the side above, while long in the tail, gives a possible 24 overs of spin and a possible 24 overs of seam. If someone gets collared the skipper can turn to another solid bowling option.

Which of Tom Jewell or Tom Curran plays is anybody's guess but I'd be surprised to see both. Curran comes highly rated, but Jewell has more than earned his place in the side. I have a sneaking suspicion that Adams will plump for the surprise option in Curran. Of course Zander de Bruyn could displace either, but given how much he too bowled against Middlesex he might be given the day off.

Of course there will be pressure on the top order, as there always seems to be for Surrey in 40 over cricket, but should they post a vaguely competitive total there is firepower in the bowling to defend it. I have no doubt that we will miss Matthew Spriegel a great deal. Not just because he scored 220 runs and took nine wickets in 2012, but also because he's a fantastic fielder. Our side tomorrow will be heavily reliant on Ansari, Wilson and Roy in the field.

Hampshire have already played, and won, two 40 over games this week so their YB40 campaign is well under way. They demolished Essex by nine wickets on Friday largely thanks to 129 from James Vince and 65 from Michael Carberry. Those two are crucial to the Hampshire batting, having topped their averages last year as well. They've also got the small matter of Jimmy Adams, George Bailey, Liam Dawson and Adam Wheater to come thereafter. They'll also be able to call on 16 overs of quality spin from Dawson and Danny Briggs.

After winning our first four CB40 games last year the defence of our title rather fell apart. There were two no results and we then only won two of the last six fixtures. The same flying start would be most welcome but there is now much less power in the batting and much less dynamism in the field. Not many sides will match us for experience and nous, but with a reasonably long tail the odd four saved in the field will become all the more important. Less explosive potential in the side means limited overs cricket will probably be much harder work this season - which will make the wins all the more rewarding!

Another flat pitch, another draw

It was one of those days when cricket toys with you. Hopes were raised in the first over of the day, then dashed, then raised again before being extinguished completely more or less around tea time. In the end Surrey left Lord's with a third draw in three this year and continue to wait for their first win at HQ since 1997.

Jade Dernbach opened the bowling and picked up the wicket of Steven Finn with the final ball of the first over of the day. A clatter of Middlesex wickets was the order of the day for Surrey but instead Chris Rogers began tucking in to the bowling with aplomb. He might have had 131 runs to his name at the start of the day but he still had to start again and he was still facing a new ball, it was a masterful innings from one of the best batsmen on the county circuit.

By the time he was bowled for 214 - his second double hundred against Surrey - he'd racked up 83 from 67 balls in the morning session. Given the tempo most other batsmen had scored, it was a remarkable effort even on a flat pitch. With double hundreds from Rogers and Luke Wells, and a big hundred for Alviro Petersen, just three players have scored almost 40% of the runs against Surrey this year.

His partner in crime early in the day, Dawid Malan, upped the pace as well and their partnership of 130 runs was made at 5.6 runs an over. Malan though was out three balls after Rogers trying to launch Chris Tremlett down the ground. Paul Stirling, pushed up the order to score quickly, lasted only seven deliveries before he too fell to Tremlett. Three wickets had fallen for three runs. Unfortunately Middlesex already had 420 on the board.

Neil Dexter and John Simpson added another 90 runs at almost five an over, serving notice of how flat the pitch remained and that fact will have weighed heavily on Chris Rogers' eventual decision not to declare until the lead was 343. With only 48 overs left in the day, a scoring rate of 7.1 would have been required.

Burns and Smith got off to a speedy start with 32 runs off the first six overs suggesting they might have been entertaining the idea of an unlikely win. However once Burns fell and Arun Harinath appeared at number three, the game appeared to be up. Smith continued to score quickly despite some nervy moments against Roland-Jones, while Harinath played his normal game. As the clock struck 5pm hands were shaken and a draw was declared with Surrey 85-1.

Having taken a first innings lead of 172 this has to go down as another one that got away for Surrey. It was though a tough surface for the bowlers. Dernbach put in a fine stint and ended the game with five wickets but him aside it was a disappointing outing for the bowlers. Chris Tremlett has made it through consecutive games unharmed but has just four wickets at 51 to his name, and the two he collected today were thanks to batsmen trying to force the issue. His place in the side has to come into question once Stuart Meaker - whose extra pace we missed desperately in this game - returns from his thigh injury. I'm sure wickets will come in time for Tremlett, he's too good a bowler for that not to happen, but he's not at his best at the moment.

There are positives to take, we bowled out a good side for 166 on day two which even accounting for the most sporting surface of the match and some none-too-clever shots, was a good effort. Rory Burns and Arun Harinath can be very pleased with their efforts with the bat. We outplayed Middlesex for the first two days, but they returned the favour over the following two. We remain win-less and at the wrong end of the table after three games, there's plenty of work to do.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Surrey frustrated as Middlesex fight back

Any hope of Surrey bringing a rapid end to the London derby was gradually extinguished by a battling Middlesex performance on day three. A third successive draw looms for Graeme Smith's side as Middlesex lead by 111 runs with eight second innings wickets in hand.

The day began perfectly for Surrey as only five runs were added to the Middlesex total before de Bruyn picked up his third wicket of the innings, Collymore plumb lbw to bring a close to proceedings on 166 - 172 runs in arrears. There was some debate as to whether Smith should enforce the follow-on. Middlesex were on the back foot, there was heavy cloud over the ground and the few overs in the morning had seen some movement for the bowlers.

In the end that was enough to persuade the skipper as he sent the opposition back out to bat. What ensued thereafter was a quite extraordinary fight back from a side not short on character and guts. Early on there were a couple of edges that fell short and during the course of the innings there were some dicey run out chances, but all in all Sam Robson and Chris Rogers played superbly to lead Middlesex to safety. The pair saw off the good balls and put away the bad ones, it was intelligent cricket and it was impressive. Rogers was first to his hundred, his 59th in First Class cricket, and his eighth score of fifty or more in nine games against Surrey, and shortly after Robson went to his sixth hundred.

The heavy roller seemed to have sapped any life from the wicket. Surrey's bowlers ran in gamely throughout the entire day but they had very little to work with. Again it was de Bruyn who made the breakthrough eventually, having Robson caught down the leg side, but by that point the partnership had reached a record-breaking 259.  Jade Dernbach tested both Rogers and Robson with the short delivery but had to wait until his fourth delivery with the second new ball before he found any success - having Joe Denly caught at slip. Nightwatchman Steven Finn and Rogers took Middlesex to the close on 283-2 comfortably.

A day that promised so much delivered very little in the end, and it seems the rare chance to win at Lord's has again passed us by. Its hard to fault the effort from Surrey today despite the disappointment. You can look back at the decision to enforce the follow on but in reality the wicket has flattened out so it is likely that we would have found it difficult to force a result anyway. At the time enforcing the follow on was, in my opinion, the right call. We need a win, the overhead conditions were good for bowling and there was some evidence of variable bounce - evidence which later evaporated.

Middlesex now have all the momentum. That said I would be surprised, given the flatness of the pitch, if they are thinking about declaration any time soon. What seemed to be boiling up into a very intriguing battle now looks likely to peter out into another bore draw. It would take a considerable deterioration of the surface to make this game even remotely interesting. Well, that or some very brainless batting - from either side.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Rampant Surrey on top at Lord's

The funereal pace of the first 9 and a half days of Surrey's Championship season was all but forgotten in the evening session today as Surrey snatched control of the London derby. The visitors had Middlesex 161-9 at close, still 177 runs behind and Surrey are firmly in control of the tie.

Surrey had begun the day looking to consolidate their advantage. With the score at 267 for 4 and three batsmen still with hands to play they looked to be in a great position. However Steven Davies fell without adding to his overnight score, lbw to Murtagh in the third over of the day. Surrey secured a third batting point with three ball to spare but then the wheels came off. Surrey's nemesis Toby Roland-Jones produced a brute of a bouncer which accounted for Zander de Bruyn and the tail didn't stick around to add to Gary Wilson's valiant 30.

All in all the morning session saw Surrey lose six wickets for the addition of just 71 runs and it looked as though they were ceding the momentum to Middlesex. Paul Stirling, very definitely a part time spinner, recorded figures of 10-2-20-2 this morning, although he hardly had to work for the wicket of Jade Dernbach. Surrey were 338 all out and although we'd batted a lot of overs, the slow rate of scoring meant that Middlesex were still in with a shout.

Jade Dernbach and Chris Tremlett shared the new ball and though there were some testing deliveries Tremlett could have made the batsman play more and Dernbach produced too many loose balls. The Middlesex openers stood their ground.

It took the introduction into the attack of Zander de Bruyn (again before Linley) for Surrey to get among the wickets. He pushed a ball across Chris Rogers whose thick inside edge cannoned into the stumps. In truth it was a poor ball, but a wicket is a wicket. Dernbach returned for a second spell and picked up the wicket of Joe Denly leg before. The ball appeared to be going down leg side and even the bowler's appeal was half hearted, but the umpire was convinced. When Gareth Batty's off spin sent Dawid Malan back for 13 just before tea Surrey were well on top.

Zander de Bruyn opened the bowling after tea, as he did after the luch break on the final day against Somerset, only this time he produced a wicket. Sam Robson edged a very good ball behind to leave Middlesex 92 for 4. Credit to Smith for opening with his fellow South African, I personally thought it was a bonkers decision but he delivered for his captain.

That left Neil Dexter and John Simpson with a recovery job. Linley was causing Dexter no shortage of problems but it was Dernbach who sparked the evening collapse. Inside the final hour he took two wickets in two deliveries, Dexter was caught behind off a rapid delivery before Stirling was trapped lbw without scoring on his debut.

Middlesex were in trouble, six down and requiring another 67 runs to avoid the follow on. Surrey ensured the pain didn't end there though, Simpson became Batty's second victim before first Tremlett and then Linley got in on the act. At the close the home side were left struggling nine wickets down and still needing to find 27 runs to avoid the follow on. In Tim Murtagh they have a man at the crease more than capable of scoring those runs. Unfortunately for Middlesex he'll be joined tomorrow morning by Corey Collymore.

I said yesterday that the pitch may become tougher to bat on but in truth it was probably more a good bowling effort by Surrey than a serious deterioration in the surface. At the half way point in the match I would expect the follow-on to be enforced if Murtagh is sent back early. Although any further deterioration in the pitch may temper the enthusiasm to send Middlesex back to the crease so soon.

Yesterday was a good day but today was a really good day. In the past we've been guilty of letting the opportunities pass us by in situations like this, Smith needs to ensure the opposition are not let off the hook. The chance to put one over on our local rivals is too good to pass up.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Surrey on top despite late wickets

Surrey completed easily their best day one of the 2013 campaign as they reached stumps on 267 for the loss of four wickets at Lord's. Were it not for the loss of two quick wickets to the second new ball in the evening session the day would've been even better for Surrey.

A perfect blue sky greeted the players at the Home of Cricket and Graeme Smith's day got off to the best possible start as he won the toss and chose to bat. That was as good as it got for Smith though as he was out for the first duck (but third score of less than ten) in his Surrey career, edging Tim Murtagh to slip. His tendency to get out to sub-80mph seamers may be cause for concern, though I have no doubt that the runs will soon begin to flow. Interestingly after four innings he has precisely the same number of runs as Jacques Rudolph had at the same point last season.

That left Surrey 5-1 and memories of Lord's first innings past were in danger of flooding back. However Rory Burns and Arun Harinath, they of the match-winning 217 run partnership against the same opposition last year, put together a fine recovery.

As in games one and two it was steady rather than speedy progress to begin with. The average first innings run rate in the first 20 overs this season has been 1.76. Over the same period last year the rate was closer to three an over. Still, Burns and Harinath took Surrey to lunch on 45-1 without further loss.

It was a platform on which to build and where the more cavalier Surrey of 2011 and 2012 might have thrown their wickets away, this more restrained partnership continued to accumulate. They had their fair share of luck after lunch, Harinath was caught behind off a Corey Collymore no ball and Burns was dropped on 65 by John Simpson up to the stumps. Steven Finn also induced a couple of genuine edges from the bat of Burns but nonetheless they stood firm. The session between lunch and tea saw 99 runs and no wickets. A promising platform at lunch had been turned into the significant platform of 144-1 at tea.

However in the second over after tea Harinath was late on a cut shot to a Finn delivery and he was caught behind. In truth it was a poor stroke but he had shown why he deserves his place at number three. Vikram Solanki, playing his 300th first class match was next man in and while he took some time to get off the mark he was soon timing the ball expertly.

Burns meanwhile continued on his merry way and went to his second hundred of the season, and fourth of his career, off the 251st ball he'd faced. It wasn't his most fluid innings but he'd stuck at it and had given the side a superb start. In making his hundred he also passed 1,000 first class runs in just his 23rd innings at an average of almost precisely 50. At 22 years old he continues to look a special talent.

The Solanki-Burns partnership reached 64 at a good rate before the former was caught behind fiddling at a Corey Collymore delivery. Burns then fell facing the seventh over of the new ball, bowled by Tim Murtagh off an inside edge.

The late wickets took the shine off an otherwise excellent day for Surrey. They remain the better placed of the two sides and you'll remember that in this match last season, and in fact in Middlesex's game with Derbyshire in April where Derbyshire's second innings collapsed for just 60, the pitch became significantly tougher to bat on as the match went on. A 350+ total may well prove above par.

With de Bruyn and Davies at the crease tomorrow, and the in-form Gary Wilson to come, Surrey are well placed to post a good total. Middlesex will have a few overs of new ball shine left in the morning but once any early movement has been weathered it should be another good day for batting, and for Surrey.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Squad named for visit to table-toppers

Gallingly Middlesex sit proudly atop the County Championship having played a game less than their nearest challenger. Surrey meanwhile are propping up Division One, albeit with two games in hand over Derbyshire.

Clearly though it isn't the mismatch a cursory glance at the table would suggest, we are after all still only in May. Chris Adams has named a 13 man squad for this clash:

Graeme Smith (capt)
Rory Burns
Arun Harinath
Vikram Solanki
Zander de Bruyn
Steven Davies
Gary Wilson
Gareth Batty
Chris Tremlett
Tim Linley
Jade Dernbach

12th men: Gary Keedy, Jon Lewis

The only real question is over whether Batty or Lewis will play. Middlesex have not named a spinner in their squad so we can expect a pitch for the quick bowlers. On the evidence of last season Lewis offers at least the same stability with the bat as Batty, if not more. Lewis also took seven wickets at Lord's last year so may be preferred. From two spinners in game one to no spinners in game three? Don't rule it out.

Meaker has yet to recover from his thigh injury so the excellent Tim Linley will continue to lead the attack. Dernbach and Tremlett will surely enjoy the surface this week more than last. I expect Harinath to continue at three despite Wilson's huge success there against Sussex. Not only does Harinath deserve a run in the slot, he may also be a more appropriate choice given the likelihood of some seam movement. Wilson in his current form is also very nice to have coming in lower down the order.

It will surprise no one to read that I'm disappointed at the omission of Jason Roy. He might have registered a first innings duck on the flattest of flat pitches last time out, but his second innings cameo of 16 from 22 balls was bristling with potential (if such a short innings can "bristle"). Needless to say I would also have opted for Jewell over de Bruyn.

Few fans of either side will have forgotten the last couple of encounters between these two. Both fixtures in 2012 were absolute humdingers. The combined difference between the two sides was the grand total of 11 runs - three runs at Lord's, eight runs at the Oval and a win apiece. The two games however were vastly different, while the North London bout was played out on a very tricky seamer's pitch, the return game saw a veritable dust bowl. I think I know which we're more likely to see over the next four days.

There were some grumblings after the Lord's fixture last year, notably from Chris Adams who described it as the worst pitch he'd ever seen. I suspect if Jade Dernbach hadn't tried to launch the second ball of what turned out to be Murtagh's final over down the ground, only to be caught at cover, Adams may have grumbled slightly less. 

Middlesex are not top of the Championship by accident. They were tipped as dark horses by some of the more informed watchers of county cricket and justifiably so. A seam attack containing Finn, Murtagh and Surrey bogeyman Toby Roland-Jones (he averages 10 runs per wicket against us) will challenge any side. Their batting is definitely their weaker suit, with only Chris Rogers having scored Championship runs with any real regularity lately. Nonetheless they have quality in the batting order, Denly, Malan, Robson, Simpson...all are capable batsmen.

After encountering two turgid surfaces at the Oval to kick off the season the bowlers will doubtless be straining at the leash to get going. The batsmen probably less so, but at least all but de Bruyn and Harinath (largely down to injury) have some significant time at the crease under their belts. Batsman or bowler, they'll all want to get one over on the local rivals, who we haven't beaten at Lord's since 1997. A fine place to get our first win of the season.