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.