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.