Sunday, 23 June 2013

Time for a holiday

I'm taking my mid-season break for a couple of weeks. I managed to stay to hear Kevin Pietersen's excellent hundred against Yorkshire, happily he seems to be just fine with the Ashes approaching. I'll also miss the beginning of the Twenty20 tournament, a tournament that represents our only chance of silverware this season. We might have a team chock full of old boys, but we have a much better balanced side than we have in previous years so we could spring a surprise. I hope we give a good account of ourselves in my absence!

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Captain Gale makes it Yorkshire's day

Sometimes you come up against a man in such an extraordinary run of form that you have to take your hat off. Such a situation befell Surrey yesterday as Yorkshire captain Andrew Gale followed up his 272 against Nottinghamshire in early June and 103 against Middlesex ten days ago with another accomplished hundred. He ensured his side had the better of day one as they closed on 292-5.

Vikram Solanki won the toss and asked his opponents to bat first on an overcast day. Twice this season teams have been asked to bat first at Headingley, and on both occasions the team batting first lost by an innings. So there was some logic to Solanki's decision. Andy Flower might not see it the same way mind you, with a very dubious forecast for the weekend he probably would've like to see Kevin Pietersen batting sooner rather than later.

Jon Lewis, selected ahead of Matthew Dunn as suspected, and Chris Tremlett opened the bowling and kept the Yorkshire openers very quiet. Alex Lees took almost seven overs to get off the mark and Adam Lyth wasn't much quicker. Surrey's bowlers may reflect on not making them play the ball more often though.

Partly thanks to Tremlett's opening spell of 5-2-4-0 Yorkshire had just nine runs on the board at the end of the ninth over. However a change in the bowling meant the runs flowed a little more freely and by the end of the 16th over both batsmen were established as the partnership approached 50. Indeed it hit exactly that as the players left the field for an early lunch thanks to bad light.

The immediate period after lunch brought Surrey's most successful bowling spell of the day. With the score on 62 Tremlett induced some extra bounce from the pitch and the ball pinged off the edge of Lyth's bat to Solanki at slip. Lees followed just an over later as Zander de Bruyn trapped him leg before, and then Joe Sayers continued a poor run of form by edging Tim Linley to slip. Three wickets had fallen for just 15 runs in nine overs leaving Yorkshire needing to rebuild on 77-3.

But they're not top of the table for nothing and Gale put on a very fine double century partnership with the excellent Gary Ballance to wrest the initiative back for his side. Gale was very much the aggressor as he went to his fifty off 77 balls and then his hundred from 137, while Ballance was much more circumspect. The partnership was finally broken by Jon Lewis with the second new ball in hand, and he followed the wicket of Ballance with that of the in-form Adil Rashid as Surrey ended the day on a positive note.

Having sent your opponents in to bat ideally you want to have them all out in a day, as we did with Sussex. So with only half their batsmen back in the pavilion, the day belonged to Yorkshire. There is life in the wicket and there will be some fine bowling for Surrey to face. We need to pick off the final five wickets for significantly less than 400 runs to have much hope in this match. And we need the weather to play ball.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Life after Adams begins with trip to Yorkshire

There's some kind of strange symmetry to the fact that in the same week Surrey fired Director of Cricket Chris Adams they are travelling to the county from whom he spurned an offer of the captaincy in 2006. We're facing our second set of table-topping opposition in two weeks after Yorkshire overhauled Sussex at the summit with an impressive ten wicket win over Middlesex last week.

Stuart Barnes, or Alec Stewart, or someone, has named a 12 man squad including Kevin Pietersen for the first time this year. The squad and possible XI is as follows:

Rory Burns
Arun Harinath
Vikram Solanki
Kevin Pietersen
Ricky Ponting
Zander de Bruyn
Steven Davies
Jon Lewis
Chris Tremlett
Tim Linley
Gary Keedy

12th man: Matthew Dunn

Four names are notable by their absence. First, Jade Dernbach, he's been called into the England squad for the two T20 games against New Zealand next week so is unavailable. Stuart Meaker meanwhile, rather worryingly, still seems to be unfit for selection following his knee injury. Which leaves Gary Wilson and Zafar Ansari as the remaining absentees. Someone was always going to have to make way for Pietersen and Wilson is the unfortunate candidate despite some very good performances this year. Zafar Ansari is also left out despite a very creditable first Championship outing of the season at Arundel so Gary Keedy is recalled. That seems a very questionable call to me since only 11 wickets have fallen to spinners in three Headingley fixtures so far in 2013. Not to mention the fact that Ansari is a far superior batsman and fielder to Keedy.

The make-up of the bowling attack will be interesting. Matt Dunn makes the squad for the first time this year but is probably unlikely to play, wrongly in my view. We need 20 wickets and with Ponting and Pietersen in the top six, and Davies at seven, we can afford the gamble of a slightly longer-than-usual tail for this game. Dunn is still raw and may go for a few runs but he's such a good prospect that surely he is more deserving of a place in the side than Jon Lewis, reliable though Lewis is.

The batting order will be also be of interest. Pietersen will presumably want to bat at four, where he will bat for England in the Ashes. Ponting didn't want to bat at three when he arrived at the club and one assumes that hasn't changed. The logical assumption therefore is that Solanki will stick with the number three slot and Ponting will come in at five.

The pitch at Headingley ought to be more sporting than some of those we've become accustomed to watching Surrey grind out games on this season. It will be interesting to see how the side cope, in the two fixtures (against Durham and Nottinghamshire) where there's been life in the pitch, we've been comprehensively outplayed by the opposition. We can't afford for that to happen again.

Yorkshire are the form team in the country, unbeaten since losing by an innings to Sussex in their opening game, they've won four of their seven matches since. For this game they welcome back seam bowler Jack Brooks and batsman Gary Ballance (though Ballance will only play the first two days before departing for England duty - not quite sure why his situation differs from Dernbach) from injury. However Phil Jaques is missing with an abdominal strain. In Brooks, Ryan Sidebottom and Liam Plunkett Yorkshire have a fine seam attack, backed up by allrounder Adil Rashid who is averaging a remarkable 145 with the bat and 34 with the ball.

The bonus points from the Sussex game hauled us out of the bottom two but we've still got a fight on our hands and we desperately need to get a win under our belts. The departure of Adams is hopefully a chance to refresh and re-focus efforts. The return of Pietersen, assuming he's back to 100%, will also be a boost. However as has been the case on a number of occasions of late, the weather could have the final say in this game.

Surrey's interim coach Barnes said in an interview today that his coaching style was all about structure and organisation, something that we do seem to have been missing a bit of on the field this year (particularly in the bowling though - Barnes' responsibility!). Perhaps his elevation to the top job - sort of - and with the help of Alec Stewart, we can start the second half of the season in the best possible way.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Chris Adams sacked

As most of you will know by now, Chris Adams and Ian Salisbury have been relieved of their duties at Surrey. I've expressed my thoughts on ESPNCricinfo's County Cricket blogging network here.

Sad as it always is for a club to part company with a coach, this has to be seen as an opportunity to refresh. I hope we can get someone in who can lead this talented squad to the success it deserves. I also wish Adams and Salisbury all the best and hope they find success elsewhere.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Another draw but plenty of positives

What goes around comes around in cricket, so to blame the weather for a failure to win this match would be folly. But what the hell, if it hadn't rained on Wednesday we'd have had a mighty fine chance of beating a very good Sussex side.

The sedate beginning to the day, where Zander de Bruyn deservedly went to his first hundred of the season supported by Zafar Ansari, belied what was to come. Once that pair were dismissed, for 111 and 13 respectively, the fireworks began. Chris Tremlett and Tim Linley put together a ninth wicket partnership worth 74 in only seven overs. Tremlett registered his second fifty for Surrey from only 29 balls, in the process taking Surrey to maximum batting points with a ball to spare, hitting Steve Magoffin for consecutive sixes. All in all he took the leading wicket taker in County Cricket for four sixes and 30 runs in just three overs. It was an indicator of just how flat the pitch had become, and just what a mammoth task Surrey would have to bowl out an experienced Sussex batting lineup in less than three sessions.

Once Tremlett was dismissed to give Chris Jordan his third wicket Vikram Solanki called time on the innings giving Surrey a lead of 161 over their opponents. Chris Nash and Luke Wells had just under an hour to bat before lunch and for Surrey to have any hope of winning they needed the new ball to do some damage. It didn't.

Wells and Nash put on a century partnership to all-but secure the draw. A few balls went past the edge and Wells edged a number of deliveries, but nothing went to hand. It was possibly not the best new ball bowling Surrey have ever indulged in, but in truth getting ten wickets on such a docile surface would always been a very tough ask for any attack. Ansari did wheedle out two wickets and conceded just 49 runs from his 20 overs. He has, in bowling 32 overs in this game, matched the haul of wickets Gary Keedy managed in 126, and gave fewer runs away in the process. It's hard to see how Keedy plays Championship cricket for us again this year aside from as injury cover.

The captains shook hands on a draw before 5pm after Nash moved to his first Championship hundred of 2013. We have now drawn six of eight games this year and needless to say we are still without a win at the halfway point. On a positive note our haul of 11 points from this game did lift us above Somerset but just as with Durham last year, you have to think they are too good a side to remain in the bottom two. As are we for that matter.

Aside from this game ending in another draw, there are signs that a corner may have been turned. It was another flat pitch but our batsmen again showed a lot of resilience. And in light of the flatness of the pitch the bowlers must be praised for knocking over Sussex for under 300 on day two. We've strung together three strong days of Championship cricket for the first time this season and that is significant. The players have a few days off before we play the form team, Yorkshire at Headingley starting on Friday. For that game we'll welcome back one Kevin Pietersen. If a corner has been turned, next week's game will be a cracker.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Slim chance of a win on final day

Taken as a whole these last couple of days probably represent Surrey's best two days of Championship cricket this season. And it couldn't have come at a better time. Surrey closed day three on 362 for 6, a lead of 67 over Sussex with three fascinating sessions of cricket left to play.

The day began with Rory Burns and Arun Harinath resuming and tasked with surviving the new ball onslaught from Anyon and Magoffin. They did so superbly, and although neither kicked on today I cannot praise this pair highly enough. They recorded their second 50 partnership in the last three innings and although they both had their fair share of luck, they toughed it out excellently. Harinath was the first to go as he edged a Chris Jordan delivery that he probably could've left into Ed Joyce's hands at slip. Although Burns and the new man Solanki put on a good 40 partnership, Burns fell within sight of lunch for 36. We've lost wickets on the stroke of breaks in play so many times this season, its frustrating because it gives the opposition a lift at precisely the wrong moment.

After the lunch break Solanki and Ponting emerged and looked to build on the solid 102-2 platform laid. However Ponting registered his first failure for Surrey as he edged a Steve Magoffin delivery into Jordan's hands at slip. The ex-Surrey man had had a hand in all three of the wickets to fall.

With an out of form Zander de Bruyn to come and a Solanki who has rarely looked out of form but has equally rarely kicked on to big scores at the crease, there may have been some nerves around. There needn't have been as the pair compiled a superb 177 run partnership to put Surrey well on top. Solanki was his usual silky self and while de Bruyn was hardly fluent, he stuck to his task brilliantly.

By the time they were parted Solanki had moved to a superb maiden Championship hundred for Surrey and we were within sight of a lead. After Solanki's departure - trying to loft Panesar only to find Prior at long on - Davies and Wilson also perished in the pursuit of quick runs.

I was disappointed that we didn't look to give Tremlett and Dernbach at least a few overs at the Sussex openers this evening but as the close approached, so too did de Bruyn's hundred. I hope one man's score is not a consideration in the context of this match and this season. Perhaps now Surrey are looking to pick up quick runs tomorrow morning to pile the pressure on Sussex. If we get a lead of 200+ by lunch all it'll take is a couple of quick wickets to put the frighteners on Sussex. Equally though a couple of quick Sussex wickets tomorrow and a win becomes all but impossible. Ultimately I think a few overs at them this evening would've been my preference, but I've never made a good captain.

At least we have a sniff of a win going into tomorrow, which is no mean feat against a very good side. This performance has been a vast improvement on previous efforts and if we hadn't lost a day to rain who knows what might have been. There probably isnt enough life in this pitch to bowl Sussex out very cheaply tomorrow, but you never know. All results are genuinely possible going into day four, and we haven't been able to say that too many times this season.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Solid Surrey edge day one

Technically speaking its day two actually, but since the real day one was completely washed out this is now a three day Championship fixture. Today Surrey enjoyed one of their better days in the field this season, probably their best since bowling Middlesex out for 166 in early May. They closed the day one without loss, having to face four testing overs in the evening after bowling Sussex out for 295.

Time will tell of course just how well Surrey bowled today, but having won the toss in the morning it's always positive to be batting yourselves by the end of the day. Jon Lewis and Gary Keedy were the missing names in the XI as Chris Adams gave Zafar Ansari the spin burden to shoulder. With a bowling attack of Chris Tremlett, Jade Dernbach and Tim Linley to face, the Sussex openers won't have fancied batting too much early this morning after a rain shower delayed the start by 15 minutes.

The partnership didn't last long either as Luke Wells padded up to Jade Dernbach and was given leg before. He's averaged just 33 since that big double hundred against Surrey in April but nevertheless given his previous it was good to see the back of him early on. Chris Nash and Mike Yardy set about building the total and had put on 51 when Nash tamely chipped Tim Linley to cover with lunch approaching. It was a soft dismissal but no less deserved for Linley who's bowled far better than his haul of wickets this season indicated.

Surrey continued to chip away at Sussex and no partnership was allowed to get out of hand. Ed Joyce was caught and bowled by Linley before Yardy departed lbw to the bowling of Zander de Bruyn. There was a feeling of foreboding though as that brought to the crease the partnership of Luke Wright and Matt Prior, two fine and in form batsmen. But with the partnership on 29 Ansari took his first Championship wicket of the season as he had Prior caught at leg slip.

Ben Brown was bowled not long after but then came the recovery. Chris Jordan joined Luke Wright in a partnership of 59 to bring Sussex back into the game. When momentum seemed to be slipping away from Surrey again the second new ball gave them a new lease of life. The dangerous Wright was the first to go, caught at slip off Tremlett and Magoffin, Anyon and finally Jordan followed him in quick succession. The new ball had brought four wickets for 37 runs and we had not allowed a tail end to rack up the runs - something we are too often guilty of.

The wickets were shared round the bowlers which is exactly where we've been found wanting this season. Surrey had a tricky four over spell to negotiate in the evening sunshine, but in Harinath and Burns we have an opening partnership who value their wickets highly. The ball beat the bat several times and the Sussex bowlers bowled well from the word go, but no wickets fell.

With only two days remaining we will have to play some positive cricket if we want to get a result. If the openers can weather the new ball and lay a platform for Ponting and the rest of the middle order, we can still force something. Not that Sussex are going to give much away easily though. When the opening bowlers depart there's still Chris Jordan and Monty Panesar to negotiate - runs are not going to be easy to come by.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Arundel the next stop on Surrey's victory hunt

Surrey’s 2013 Championship campaign reaches the half way mark this week as they visit Arundel to play Division One pace-setters Sussex. Chris Adams' troops are still searching for a first Championship win of the season.
A 13 man squad has been named and a possible XI is as follows:
Rory Burns
Arun Harinath
Vikram Solanki
Ricky Ponting
Zander de Bruyn
Steven Davies
Gary Wilson
Zafar Ansari
Jon Lewis
Chris Tremlett
Jade Dernbach
12th men: Tim Linley, Gary Keedy
The return of Zafar Ansari to the four day game is most welcome. He didn't have a great time of it opening the batting last season but his talent is unquestionable. He does provide something of a selection conundrum though. Gary Keedy had another barren game at Guildford, taking a wicket with his fifth ball and absolutely nothing else with the other 247. But is it too much to expect Ansari to shoulder the spinning burden? Possibly, but Arundel has favoured the seamers in the past two seasons with 54 of the 68 wickets falling to the quicker men. Adams may reason that with seam bowling likely to do the bulk of the damage, only limited spin will be required. 
I am disappointed that with Stuart Meaker suffering an ongoing knee injury that the opportunity was not taken to name one of Edwards or Dunn in the squad. Jon Lewis is a seasoned pro who is unlikely to let the side down (except in bowling no balls), but Dunn and Edwards are the future.
The final XI is quite a tricky one to predict. Adams knows we are desperate for a win, and may need one to save his bacon, but he can't attack too much for fear of the batting collapsing in a heap again. We are due a game when more than one bowler at a time performs, thus far frequently one individual has had to shoulder too much of the wicket taking burden. If we can just get Dernbach and Tremlett on song together for more than a few overs we can prevail even against the table toppers.
Sussex have had a fine start to their season, winning three and losing none of their first seven games. They can count again on the presence of Matt Prior, who scored a 45 ball 62 at the Oval, to bolster their alreay formidable batting. Luke Wells will be looking to inflate his already enormous average (118) against Surrey and Luke Wright comes into this game off the back of a career best 187 to save the game against Middlesex last week. Rory Hamilton-Brown won't be playing though, he's been dropped after averaging just 28 in his first six matches back at Sussex. Their bowling is strong too, Steve Magoffin and Chris Jordan sit atop the list of Division One wicket takers, while James Anyon backs them up and one of Will Beer or Monty Panesar will take spinning duties.
To make it to the half way mark in the season without a win would be desperately disappointing. We are capable of beating teams like Sussex but only if we are the sum of our parts (or better still more than the sum!) and so far this season we haven't been. Arundel has seen results in both of the last two years, although Wednesday's dreadful forecast might put paid to any hope of one this year. We might be able to beat Sussex over four days, but three would probably be too much to ask.
At Guildford the top order batting prospered, albeit on a flat track. Harinath and Burns are developing into two sensible, responsible and quality performers, Ponting's enduring class is not in doubt and we welcome back Steven Davies from injury. As ever with Surrey we have a side on paper that is capable of big wins. Whether that is delivered in practice remains to be seen, but its about time it was.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Defeat to Lancashire spells YB40 doom

Surrey's hopes of progressing in the YB40 took a major blow today as Lancashire recorded a convincing win by five wickets and with 15 balls remaining.

Lancashire won the toss and chose to field. Surrey surprisingly omitted Keedy and went for an all pace attack augmented by the left arm spin of Ansari. As has so often been the case Steven Davies and Jason Roy got the side off to a flier, taking Lancashire's bowlers for 63 runs in the eight over powerplay. Davies was particularly brutal as he moved to fifty from just 26 balls, his fourth score of fifty or more in seven YB40 innings this year.

The pair raced to 101 from just 12 overs before Davies fell to an athletic Stephen Moore catch off the bowling of Kyle Hogg. Roy also fell the very next ball after going to fifty as he edged Jordan Clark to the keeper. Thereafter it was a case of Surrey failing to establish any meaningful partnerships as we slid from 101 for no wicket after 12 overs to 198-7 off 32. Once again we had failed to capitalise on a flying start, though credit should be given to Lancashire's fine bowling effort.

Zander de Bruyn, batting at number eight, did an excellent job of finishing the innings as he scored 34 from 26 deliveries and formed a very useful 44 run partnership with Chris Tremlett over the final five overs. In the process de Bruyn almost doubled his tally of YB40 boundaries for 2013. Surrey's total of 264 looked below par but was at least something to bowl at.

The Lancashire chase began with fewer fireworks but Moore and Ashwell Prince calmly gave their side a very good platform. They were parted in the 12th over of the chase with the score on 85 as Moore got a leading edge off Jon Lewis, but Prince stood firm. With the score approaching 150 Lancashire lost Steven Croft, Prince and Karl Brown in the space of three overs to give Surrey hope. When Jordan Clark fell to de Bruyn with the score on 189 and the required rate well past 8 an over, Surrey looked hot favourites.

However that didn't count on the man batting at number five for Lancashire. Simon Katich put on an unbeaten partnership of 76 with Gareth Cross at almost 12 runs per over, including an over off de Bruyn where they took him for five consecutive fours to break the back of the chase. Katich finished on 57 from 37 deliveries, he'd marshalled the chase absolutely superbly.

It's hard to pinpoint a precise reason for the failure today. Certainly the extras we conceded, 21, including three no balls between Azhar Mahmood and Jon Lewis, didn't help. We're also not as good a fielding side as Lancashire. Katich and Moore plucked superb catches out of nowhere to get rid of Davies and Solanki, while Moore also ran out Ponting with a direct hit. As a fielding unit we're probably giving away 20 runs at the outset to the very best sides. I also find it odd that Zafar Ansari was left with six un-bowled overs when Stephen Parry took 1-34 for Lancashire with his left armers.

With just six points from seven matches we're all but out of the YB40 now. We've recorded just two wins all season and one of those was against Scotland. For all the talent and all the investment in the playing staff, we just aren't delivering results. The Twenty20 now remains our only hope of any semblance of success this season. That "domination" that the club hierarchy spoke of earlier this year feels an awful long way off.

More new recruits to boost Surrey's faltering season

Over the coming months two more new faces will cross the threshold at the Oval, Glenn Maxwell, confirmed by Surrey yesterday as signing for the Twenty20, and JP Duminy, widely reported to be coming as cover for Ricky Ponting from August onwards.

That brings the total of new faces at the Oval in 2013 to eight, a remarkable turnover in personnel in the space of just 12 months. With so many comings and goings, getting any sort of team ethic together will be a substantial challenge for the coaching staff.

So what of these new signings? Glenn Maxwell is most recently famous for scoring a million dollar contract to play for the victorious Mumbai Indians in the IPL (and only actually playing three times) but in recent months also made his Test debut for Australia in India. He comes highly regarded, and not just by himself.

In last year's Twenty20, playing for Hampshire, Maxwell topped their batting averages with 179 runs at 44, and a remarkable strike rate of 175. He also picked up seven wickets along the way with his handy off spin. Most pertinently Maxwell is an athletic fielder which is crucial with our side at times bordering on the geriatric.

Maxwell's record isn't stellar in any form of limited overs cricket, he doesn't average over 30 in Twenty20 or List A, and he's never scored a limited overs century. Neither is his career bowling record especially impressive so on the face of it he's a curious signing. However, despite that I think he's a good recruit. For a long time we've been lacking brute force in the middle order, with Maxwell and Azhar Mahmood (notwithstanding the fact that I would rather see a youngster play in his place), that issue has been addressed.

The batting line up is, on paper, a good combination of power, finesse, experience and innovation. Roy, Maxwell and Azhar can provide the big hitting, Davies can find the gaps, Wilson can sweep and scoop his way through the middle overs, Ponting can be the brain and Ansari can finish things off. A varied bowling attack goes with it so we might just end up ticking a lot of boxes.

Should the JP Duminy signing be confirmed as well he won't be a like-for-like replacement for Ricky Ponting and Graeme Smith (who presumably played a significant role in the signing of his fellow South African international), but we will be welcoming a tremendously valuable cricketer. He has an impressive first class record, with 5,000 runs at an average just a tick over 50, plus over 4,000 List A runs at an average just below 40. His useful off breaks could also be called on plenty as late season pitches begin to wear.

Duminy has recently been out for six months after rupturing his Achilles tendon during South Africa's test against Australia in November. However it seems to have done him little harm since his first innings returning from the injury was a career-best 150 not out against Holland ten days ago.

Surrey have been very active in the market for new players this year and while the domestic signings have been hit and miss, the overseas signings have for once been very good. I still worry that the approach we're adopting is hardly planning for the future, but it is what it is. What isn't in doubt is that we're in desperate need of an upturn in fortunes, perhaps one of these two arrivals can provide that.

Ansari returns for Lancashire game

It is a measure of how impressive a player Zafar Ansari is at such a young age that even in a squad including Ricky Ponting, I still think Ansari is the key man. He's available today and hopefully will be for the rest of the season.

A 13 man squad has been named for the game against Lancashire, a possible XI is below:

Jason Roy
Steven Davies
Vikram Solanki
Ricky Ponting
Gary Wilson
Zafar Ansari
Zander de Bruyn
Azhar Mahmood
Jon Lewis
Jade Dernbach
Gary Keedy

Bench: Tom Jewell, Chris Tremlett

This is a tough one to call. It would be very un-Adams going in without an out-and-out spinner, so Gary Keedy is very likely to play and he did bowl well against Essex so why not. The pitch for the YB40 game looked to have a touch more grass on it than the Championship wicket so there is an outside chance that Chris Tremlett could make the XI, leaving Ansari as the only spinning option. Stuart Meaker has been, rather vaguely, deemed "unfit for selection" despite only sending down 23 overs against Warwickshire this week.

Although I would like to see Tom Jewell persisted with, I think with Jade Dernbach available again he may be dropped to the bench. Jewell was thrown the ball at a particularly tricky time during the Essex game and while he didn't bowl particularly well, it would be harsh to judge him on that one performance. For me, someone like Jewell or Tom Curran should always be playing ahead of Azhar Mahmood, or indeed Zander de Bruyn.

The batting was a disaster against Essex but only the week before against Derbyshire the openers looked supreme. It's a relief that Steven Davies' knee injury is not serious and he's recovered in time for this match. Where de Bruyn bats is anyone's guess, he was demoted to number seven against Essex and may well not appear until then in this game as well. He's averaging 18 with the bat and 126 with the ball in this format, in my opinion he should be nowhere near the first team.

We know where Lancashire's strengths lie having been mugged by them at Old Trafford. They will be all the stronger in this fixture though as Glen Chapple and Simon Katich are available again. Their spinners, Kerrigan, Croft and Parry gave the Surrey batsmen nightmares in the previous game between the sides and its hard to pick much of a weakness in their bowling attack.

As we bump along the nether regions of the Championship table, so we are also coming to crunch time in the YB40. Last year the lowest points total to qualify for the semi-finals was 16, which means we probably need to win five of the six remaining fixtures to stand a chance of qualifying this year. That's a pretty tall order. Hopefully Ponting's fighting spirit can be instilled in the rest of the squad and we can stay in contention.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Burns and Ponting secure yet another draw

Seven rounds of Championship matches and still no win for Surrey as today's game petered out into another draw, our fifth so far in 2013 to go with two defeats.

Warwickshire faced the task of taking the final three Surrey first innings wickets and then trying to wheedle out another ten in the follow-on. The first half of that task proved remarkably easy as Tremlett, Ponting and Dernbach fell, in that order with two wickets for Keith Barker and one more for Rankin to go with his three last night. That meant Surrey's final eight wickets had fallen for 44 runs on the flattest of flat pitches. Quite remarkable.

That gave Warwickshire most of the final day to try and force a victory with Surrey still more than 350 runs in arrears and under serious pressure. Rory Burns and Arun Harinath began sensibly once again and were approaching a second consecutive 50 partnership when Harinath was caught at slip off the bowling of Jeetan Patel.

That brought Solanki to the crease and he and Burns set about crease occupation while occasionally taking advantage of the space offered by Warwickshire's attacking fields. Boyd Rankin was soon into the attack and troubled the pair with the odd delivery, eventually finding the edge of Solanki's bat and the ball settled into Tim Ambrose's gloves. With the score 112-2 and still plenty of overs left in the day it could have induced a wobble.

Not if the next man in had anything to do with it. Ponting was positive immediately and put together a 50 partnership with Burns as tea approached. With nerves settled, Rikki Clarke produced a fine short delivery to take the glove of Rory Burns and give Ambrose another catch. Burns' 85, although short of the hundred I'm sure he'd have desperately wanted, was another sign of his composure (and talent). Frustratingly though it was another wicket on the stroke of a break in play and would have given Warwickshire a lift going into the final session.

Zander de Bruyn played out 39 balls for his 19 before he was caught at silly point off Jeetan Patel. He had been given a good working over the Warwickshire quicks and looked uncomfortable against the short ball. He is really struggling for runs at the moment and I think Surrey have to find a way to operate without him.

Gary Wilson joined Ponting at the crease to see out the remainder of the day and they did just that. Not without alarm it has to be said as Rankin tested Wilson's technique with some good bowling. He had Wilson edging to the third man boundary twice and edging just short of Chopra at slip on another occasion. It was a good battle between the two Irishmen. Ultimately, Wilson came out on top as he remained 28 not out at the close. Another gritty innings from the keeper. Ponting looked completely untroubled, no matter the bowler, and was 38 not out as Troughton decided to call time just before 6pm.

We remain rooted in the bottom two and at the moment its hard to see where a win is coming from. We don't look confident and its hard to see just what the strategy is at times. Up next is Sussex at Arundel and then Yorkshire after that. If we can't pick up a win against one or both of those quality sides, relegation will start to look a distinct possibility.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Surrey implosion means nervous final day

Anyone feel like we've been here before? Surrey lost four wickets for seven runs at the end of day three to give Warwickshire a sniff of victory, despite rain washing out a significant chunk of today's play.

Play didn't begin until past 2pm and when play did get underway Surrey made good progress. Rory Burns fell victim to a very good Keith Barker delivery which he could only glove to Rikki Clarke at slip. The opening partnership of 69 was though comfortably our highest of the season.

Vikram Solanki and Arun Harinath then put together a fine century partnership. Harinath struggled early on but settled down soon enough. Solanki was less circumspect as he raced to 50 off 53 balls dealing almost exclusively in boundaries. The pair were separated with the partnership on exactly 100 as Solanki was adjudged leg before to Ateeq Javid's off spin. Harinath has now been involved in half of all of Surrey’s partnership of 100 or more this year. He might not be box office but he's as stubborn as a mule. He's faced more balls in the Championship, and made more scores of 50+ than any other Surrey player in 2013, despite only playing six of seven matches.

Harinath and Ponting took Surrey to their first bonus point in the 57th over and factoring the lost overs this match seemed to be ambling towards a draw, like so many before it. However as the Ponting-Harinath partnership passed 60 the latter was out to the bowling of Clarke to leave Surrey 232-3. Zander de Bruyn played another of those innings he's played pretty often this year as he went to 17 before he became the first of three Boyd Rankin victims inside an over. 262-4. Nightwatchman Stuart Meaker was then bowled second ball for a duck. 262-5. Gary Wilson got off the mark with a two before he was out lbw to the final ball of the 75th over. 264-6.

Jason Roy played out 17 balls for two runs before playing a particularly injudicious stroke off what turned out to be the final delivery of the day from Barker. 269-7. What must Ricky Ponting, who could only watch as his team mates self combusted in the space of a few overs and seven runs, have been thinking? I hope he could still muster the spirit to give the team an inspirational rocket up the backside.

With only Tremlett, Dernbach and Keedy left to bat with Ponting in the first innings Surrey are going to be following on at some point tomorrow. Probably well before lunch. Batting out most of a day on a flat pitch shouldn't be beyond them but on the basis of this evening's collapse who knows what could happen. It's starting to feel like we've forgotten how to win.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Surrey on the racks as champions pass 600

Day two at Guildford was another long one for Surrey. For the vast majority of it they could only watch on as Warwickshire's total climbed ever higher. The visitors declared mid way through the evening session with the score on 631-9. A daunting total by any measure.

Again it was a case of a day starting vastly improved over the previous day's play and then stalling somewhat. In the opening salvos Warwickshire lost 3-39 thanks to a fine spell from Jade Dernbach who picked up all three. It adds weight to the suggestion that he perhaps should've been kept on the sidelines last night to be unleashed for the first time this morning. The door had been forced open just a crack and with Warwickshire 398-6 there would have been high hopes of restricting them to not much more than 450.

However once again Surrey let the opposition off the hook (although its debatable, with nigh on 400 on the board already as to whether they were ever on the hook). Ateeq Javid and Keith Barker compiled a record seventh wicket partnership for Warwickshire against Surrey. They took their side to 446-6 at lunch and batted serenely through the afternoon session as well, adding over 140 runs between lunch and tea. In setting the record both batsmen went to career best scores. Barker hit his third first class hundred from just 128 balls with his second fifty coming from 41 deliveries. Javid was much more restrained as he made his way to 85.

With the Surrey bowlers having toiled through 160 overs to collect the six Warwickshire wickets Solanki threw the ball to Jason Roy. His bowling is far from refined but he did nonetheless pick up three wickets and career best figures before the visitors called time on their innings.

With the sun still shining brightly Surrey's openers came out to bat under the enormous weight of 631 runs on the scoreboard. Pleasingly Arun Harinath and Rory Burns responded perfectly to the pressure as the pair saw out the remaining 21 overs in the day to be 49-0 at the close.

They will know though that there is still much more to do. In fact we're barely 10% of the way to the follow on target, never mind first innings parity. Of course all hope of a win has long since disappeared and this match is now all about survival. Over the course of the third day the pitch may begin to wear so Jeetan Patel, who bowled four overs for three runs tonight, can expect to do a lot of bowling tomorrow.

Today was an improvement on yesterday, but frankly that's not saying much. We have now conceded first innings totals of 452 and 631 in consecutive games, both to sides in the bottom half of the table. Yes we've played on two flat pitches, but the bowling clearly isn't firing and days spent in the dirt won't do morale any good at all. Tomorrow will be another grind and hopefully the openers can give the middle order the platform we need to survive. If we lose wickets early it'll spell big trouble.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Warwickshire pile on the runs at Guildford

The Guildford cricket festival is known for being a good one for batting. Justin Langer once made 342 there, not to mention Kevin Pietersen's scarcely believable double hundred in a day last year.

Warwickshire continued that tradition in racking up 359-3 from their 96 overs today.

Steven Davies was a late withdrawal from the squad after picking up a knee strain so Jason Roy was drafted in. The loss of Davies is always a blow but was doubly so when Batty had already been ruled out the day before. At least it will give Roy a chance to bat where he should, in the middle order. The bowling attack was as expected with Jon Lewis nominated as the man to drop out when Jade Dernbach returned from England duty at Trent Bridge.

Vikram Solanki lost the toss and unsurprisingly Warwickshire chose to bat under sunny skies. Solanki's opening bowlers did a fine job in restricting Varun Chopra and Ian Westwood who in turn did a good job of seeing off the new ball. With 12 overs done and dusted just 24 runs were on the board and with Westwood on just three from 39 deliveries the situation was ripe for capitalising on. However what felt like a four over powerplay ensued as soon as Lewis and Tremlett were withdrawn from the attack.

Zander de Bruyn and Stuart Meaker leaked 41 runs from just 24 balls to allow the Warwickshire openers to establish themselves at the crease. Although the bowling tightened up substantially before lunch, allowing just 32 runs off the final 15 overs in the session, the damage had been done and Warwickshire went to lunch secure on 97 for no loss.

After lunch Chopra and Westwood continued to accumulate, going to their highest opening partnership of the season. With the score on 153 in the 44th over Solanki threw the ball to Keedy for the first time. He duly delivered a wicket with his fifth ball as Westwood chopped on trying to cut. It was to be his only success in the day however.

That dismissal brought William Porterfield, averaging just 18 this year, to the crease. He put on 25 with Chopra before he aimed a big drive at a wide delivery from de Bruyn but he could only send it straight back onto his stumps. The wide delivery going wider seems to be a genuine tactic for de Bruyn who has also snared Chris Rogers and Ben Stokes in the same fashion. Jim Troughton and Chopra saw out the remainder of the session and at tea the visitors were well placed on 207-2. Chopra went to his second hundred of the season just before the break with a single off Chris Tremlett. From 180 balls and with barely a chance, his is an innings we'll need at least one batsman to replicate.

In the first over after lunch Meaker made (partial) amends for his wayward start as the third consecutive Warwickshire batsman got out bowled via the inside edge, Troughton the man to go this time. 208-3 represented a good comeback effort from Surrey but again we failed to capitalise. Tim Ambrose came to the wicket and immediately began to score quickly. Between overs 69 and 74 Warwickshire scored 48 runs as Surrey had another mad 20 minutes. The partnership was established in a flash and two such quality players as Ambrose and Chopra are unlikely to let gifts slip away.

The pair remained at the crease until close and by then their partnership had extended to 151, the second 150+ partnership in a chastening day for the home side. Late in the evening session Jade Dernbach arrived and immediately replaced Lewis, but he could only send down five wicketless overs for 30 runs. I can't help thinking that having travelled all the way from Nottingham it might have been better to save him until tomorrow morning, but his replacing Lewis will at least hopefully cut the no ball count (Lewis continued in last season's vein, over stepping four times).

With the Warwickshire total already approaching 400 and a flat pitch on offer, Surrey forcing a positive result is about as remote a possibility as it has been in most of our games thus far in 2013. Today will be chalked up as another poor first day and we're having a few too many of those. After this game we're careering headlong towards the half way point of the season, and could very well get there without a win to our name.

Day two at Derbyshire saw a significant improvement and so too must we see such an improvement tomorrow at Guildford. If we don't turn things around very quickly we'll be struggling to catch up. Again.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Tough task awaits Surrey as champions visit

On the back of Surrey's crushing defeat at the hands of Essex in last night's YB40 clash the Guildford cricket festival begins, and its Warwickshire who are the Championship opponents.

Chris Adams has named a 12 man squad shorn of Gareth Batty whose side injury will keep him out for 4-6 weeks. The loss of Batty is a big blow not only because he's been our only useful spinner this season but also because he's so often the heartbeat of the side. Vikram Solanki will captain in his place. I must confess to being slightly disappointed that Ricky Ponting wasn't drafted in as a short term stand in skipper, but he'll doubtless have much to say in the field in any case.

The squad and a likely XI is as follows:

Arun Harinath
Rory Burns
Vikram Solanki
Ricky Ponting
Zander de Bruyn
Steven Davies
Gary Wilson
Jon Lewis
Stuart Meaker
Chris Tremlett
Gary Keedy

12th man: Tim Linley

Batty's injury means that Gary Keedy is likely to be pressed into action. Hopefully his early season run of terrible form that has seen him take just two Championship wickets at 120 will now take an upward turn. He bowled well at Chelmsford last night which is a positive indicator. There is a slim chance that Linley could play in place of Keedy but a spin-free attack seems unlikely especially when you consider that we have two potentially fragile seamers in Meaker and Tremlett. Keedy's ability to (hopefully) tie up an end while the seamers are rotated will be handy.

Batty's absence also means that Jon Lewis is likely to play his first Championship fixture of the season. Batting Stuart Meaker at number 8 will probably be deemed too much of a risk so while there's been nothing to suggest Lewis is a more likely wicket taker than Tim Linley, the former's batting prowess gives him the nod. It's unfortunate for Linley who, while he didn't impress at Derbyshire, has done little wrong this season. That seems to be the story of Linley's post-2011 Surrey career.

The batting was solid against Derbyshire with runs for Harinath, Ponting, Wilson and Davies. Zander de Bruyn continues to win selection despite being in poor form with the bat. His medium pace bowling offers a useful respite for the frontline seamers. I can see no other reason to persist with him.

The bowling, Tremlett aside, needs a massive improvement. If we can get more than one bowler at a time firing on all cylinders we're a danger to most sides, but too often this season one bowler has shouldered the wicket-taking burden while the others release the pressure for the opposition at the other end. We also need to get up to speed quicker, a poor 50 overs on day one last week ultimately cost us the chance of a win.

Warwickshire have started the season poorly, winning just one game so far this season. Few would have tipped them as sixth placed candidates after six rounds of matches. Despite their poor form there's no denying they posess real quality in their ranks, particularly among the bowlers. Tomorrow they could field an attack comprising Chris Wright, Boyd Rankin, Keith Barker, Rikki Clarke and the spin of Kiwi Jeetan Patel. That would be a pretty relentless bunch. Their batting is less secure, although they welcome back Ian Westwood after injury their top order have flattered to deceive in 2013. Only ex-Surrey batsman Laurie Evans and Varun Chopra are averaging over 40.

Morale and confidence will be low for Surrey, we're without a four day win this year and even our trusty 40 over form has deserted us. The frustrating thing with Surrey is that we have such a talented squad but we have so sporadically translated that into on-field performances this year. Warwickshire are a tough side to beat at the best of times but with confidence at a low ebb this game will be extra-specially challenging. Now would be a fine time to start turning the undoubted potential in the side into results.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Dreadful Surrey blown away by Essex

Surrey's 2013 season moved from bad to worse this evening as we registered our fourth defeat in the last six completed matches. The game ended in defeat by 178 runs and was Surrey's heaviest ever loss in List A cricket.

Gareth Batty was a late withdrawal with a side injury so Vikram Solanki captained the side for the first time. He duly won the toss and for some unfathomable reason elected to bowl first. On a small ground, a good looking pitch and with the chase to take place under lights surely batting first was the way to go?

The Essex openers got off to a very good start and the platform Westley and Rutherford set quickly started to look formidable. Given the comprehensive battering Ryan ten Doeschate had handed out to Scotland yesterday (180 off 98 balls) and with Graham Napier lurking in the wings, we needed wickets and we needed them early.

As it happened today neither Napier nor ten Doeschate played much of a role in Essex setting the mammoth total of 312. Pettini, Bopara and Shah made solid contributions before James Foster added the gloss with 39 off just 18 balls. Surrey hardly helped themselves though giving away 21 runs in wides alone. Only Stuart Meaker and Gary Keedy escaped with any credit.

To have any hope of chasing the total down Surrey needed a blazing start from the openers. When Jason Roy was comprehensively bamboozled by a Graham Napier slower ball to be clean bowled in the third over a win seemed a long way off. To make matters worse Steven Davies helped a David Masters delivery into the hands of Owais Shah at short third man and the writing was almost on the wall. 

Ricky Ponting had to deliver something special for his new club but the Essex bowlers had the ball moving, both through the air and off the seam, far better than Surrey did in their 40 overs. Ponting lasted just five balls before Napier jagged a ball into his middle stump leaving Surrey reeling on 38-3 and already well behind the required rate.

After Solanki was bowled by a good Reece Topley delivery to leave Surrey on 51-4 Azhar Mahmood and Gary Wilson put on a decent but ultimately fruitless 50 partnership. They decided on calling the batting powerplay in the 24th over but it was to little effect. Graham Napier bowled a quadruple wicket maiden, the wickets coming in four consecutive deliveries, to end the match as a contest. 

A couple of overs later Napier added his seventh wicket and it was just a matter of time before the game was done. Surrey had recorded a laughably bad four over powerplay score of 13-5. David Masters took the final wicket to put Surrey out of their misery. It was, all in all, a completely dreadful performance.

It is hard to see where our season is going at the moment. The side seem completely devoid of confidence, strategy and ideas. Things aren't working for the club at the moment and something has to change. Chris Adams has been at the club for four and a half years but at the moment we are struggling to keep our heads above water. Given the amount of resource he's had at his disposal the returns are unacceptably poor. It is time for a change.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Derbyshire game ends as another draw - where to now?

Six games in to the 2013 season and Surrey remain a resolute resident of the bottom two in Division One. Still win-less, including having now played a game against the only team who have had a worse start to the season, doesn't bode well for the remainder of the year.

As seems to have become the norm, at least when we're not being beaten, the captains in this game shook hands on the draw just after 5pm today. Steven Davies and Ricky Ponting began the day brightly, taking full advantage of the flat pitch. Davies made his way to 59 from just 54 deliveries in a partnership of 105 with Ponting, who himself extended his overnight score beyond 150 before he was eventually out for 192 - the highest score for a Surrey player on debut.

Gary Wilson continued his good form in making 45 from 48 balls and Surrey carved out a first innings lead of 101 before declaring on 553 - the first time they had posted over 500 runs since 2011 (hat tip to the ever-excellent Marcus Hook for that stat). To make an interesting game of it Derbyshire needed to make a mess of getting their second innings off the ground. Disappointingly, they didn't.

Billy Godleman and Chesney Hughes compiled a 76 run opening partnership at better than four runs per over. Three wickets in the space of six overs, all to Tremlett, threatened to induce a serious wobble before Chanderpaul and Durston settled the nerves once and for all. As the lead extended beyond 50 Batty decided that the game was up.

There are positives to be taken from this game. Tremlett's eight wickets in the match are a massive boost - he'd only taken four wickets in his two previous games this season. In a game where well over 1,000 runs were amassed to take eight wickets and only give away 3.15 runs per over in the process is impressive. The hundreds for Harinath and Ponting, the first by non-wicket keepers for Surrey in 2013, are also extremely welcome. The experience and grit of Ponting could be the link in the batting that has been missing since Graeme Smith departed last month. Harinath's success as an opener is excellent, but begs the question why wasn't he opening the batting before now?

However there are also some serious issues to consider. The bowling, Tremlett aside, was poor. In fact the sporadic nature with which our bowlers have fired this season has to be of concern. There have been five-fors for Dernbach, Meaker, Batty and Tremlett, but rarely have we had sides on the rack. We have certainly played on some very batsman-friendly surfaces, but in those games where the wicket has offered something to the bowlers, be they spinners or seamers, we've been out-bowled by the opposition. As the old adage goes, batsmen might set matches up to be won, but bowlers win them. We certainly have a hugely talented bowling attack but for whatever reason they just aren't delivering consistently enough.

The other major concern is that Derbyshire looked at least our equal throughout this match. This is not intended as a slight on them in any way, but if we hope to survive in Division One this year we really needed to be winning this match. Our next three fixtures are against last year's Champions Warwickshire next week, before we then face Sussex and Yorkshire who currently occupy the top two slots in the division. We need to make some significant improvements if we are to compete with them. I have no doubt that the talent exists on the playing staff, but is the current coaching structure going to get the best out of them? The evidence so far this season, and indeed beyond that, suggests the answer to that question is no.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Harinath and Ponting battle back for Surrey

Two big hundreds on day three of this Championship game ensured that Surrey are all but saved from defeat. Arun Harinath and debutant Ricky Ponting registered three figures as Surrey closed the day withing 90 runs of the opposition.

Harinath began the day with Vikram Solanki knowing that survival was essential initially. One wicket early in the day could've triggered a panic so they began day three as they'd ended day two, accumulating circumspectly on a pitch still very good for batting. An added bonus was the blazing sunshine that graced most of the country today. If ever there were conditions for a match-saving partnership, these were they.

The pair's partnership extended to 45 overs, and 133 runs before Solanki departed shortly before lunch. His innings was perhaps a little too sedate, even bearing in mind that survival was paramount, surely once a man of his experience had batted out 20 overs he could be scoring his runs at a strike rate better than 27.

Solanki's dismissal brought the main course to the crease. Ricky Ponting joined Arun Harinath and the pair put on another very solid partnership and the longer they batted, the more secure the game felt. Ponting scored his runs at a good pace but it was Harinath who went to his hundred first. His third first class hundred was richly deserved and I hope its a sign of a big season to come for him. In a most out-of-character moment he went to three figures with a six, only the fifth of his career. He carried merrily on to 154, a career best, before he was bowled trying to pull a David Wainwright delivery. Harinath has now passed 300 runs for the season at the healthy average of 47, he was also the first non-wicket keeper to score a hundred for Surrey this season.

Ponting, who hasn't faced a competitive ball for six weeks, showed his class as he went to his hundred later in the day. The shot to get him there wasn't his most dignified, as he end up on the ground after pulling a short Wes Durston delivery for four. After some rotten luck with recent overseas signings its pleasing to see the latest one get runs straight away. Here's to many, many more.

Late in the day Zander de Bruyn joined Ponting in a 35 run partnership before Wainwright turned one through de Bruyn's defences. The South African now has just 200 runs in nine innings with a single fifty. His nine wickets have been useful, but they've come at 42 runs apiece.

Davies joined the centurion at the crease and the pair saw out the day without further alarm. Given the number of overs delivered by spinners, and the delivery to bowl de Bruyn, Surrey might regret the decision to leave out Keedy but in reality the pitch has played extremely well for the batsmen throughout. Plus there's the thorny issue of Keedy's form to consider. Tomorrow we'll start again 90 runs behind and in the absence of something really special (and with Davies and Ponting at the crease, that's not impossible) a draw is all-but nailed on in this fixture.

I said yesterday that today was crucial. Yes it might have been a batsman's paradise, but the runs still need to be scored and wickets still need to be preserved. Today we did just that.