Saturday 20 July 2013

Over and out

After four long years and over 700 posts I have decided to hang up my blogging boots. I always said that I would continue to write the blog as long as it was fun, and after my recent two week break it became clear that the blog was more of a chore than a joy. It always surprised me how much time blogging took up! I'm looking forward to going to the Oval without having to take notes on every last wicket and boundary.

It has been fun for the most part. Plenty of ups and downs. When I started out the blog was merely a means by which I could vent my frustrations, so the fact that anyone else ever came to read was a constant source of amazement to me! Thank you to everyone who has commented and engaged with the blog over the years, I hope we'll all continue to support Surrey with gusto.

The Surrey blogging mantle is in fine hands anyway, Lewis Winter writes the Surrey Fan Blog here. I will of course continue to tweet inane rubbish on my @SurreyCricBlog twitter feed so if you want to discuss all issues Surrey cricket related come and find me there. There will also be the occasional blog from me on the ESPNCricinfo County Cricket Supporters Network, here.

Thanks everyone!


Thursday 18 July 2013

Kevin O'Brien joins for crunch Hampshire tie

Surrey waved goodbye to Glenn Maxwell on Monday, and by today we're saying hello to another new face, this time Irish allrounder Kevin O'Brien who joins for the final three fixtures of the T20 group stage.

O'Brien is most famous for having hit a 50 ball century in the 2011 World Cup, the fastest in the tournament's history, but he's also got previous in the Twenty20 Cup. In 2011 he hit 119 from just 52 balls for Gloucestershire against Middlesex. He also has 44 wickets at 25 in this format for good measure. It would seem that with qualification for the latter stages still in the balance the management have opted for O'Brien's experience over the raw talent of, say, Tom Curran.

The squad and a possible XI is as follows:

Steven Davies
Jason Roy
Ricky Ponting
Gary Wilson
Kevin O’Brien
Azhar Mahmood
Zafar Ansari
Zander De Bruyn
Jon Lewis
Gareth Batty
Jade Dernbach

Bench: Vikram Solanki, Chris Tremlett

Who makes way for O'Brien is the only real question. I would guess he's most likely to come in for Maxwell as a straight swap, but its possible that we could opt for the extra batsman having only posted one big score this season. Facing a powerful Hampshire side, that might not be the worst idea. In that case, O'Brien may play ahead of de Bruyn with Solanki replacing Maxwell. The bowling attack is unlikely to change, though Jade Dernbach will be looking for more support than he got from his colleagues on Monday night.

Hampshire are really flying in the T20 this year having won every game where there's been a result, including a five wicket defeat of Surrey at the Rose Bowl. Michael Carberry has led the way hitting 194 runs at a strike rate of 150 in his five games, though the rest of their batting has been less impressive. Their bowling attack has shared the wickets liberally, Danny Briggs has six while Mascarenhas, Tanvir and Dawson have four apiece.

Surrey's run of four wins was ended by Essex on Monday, and we have slipped to fourth in the table but we have two games in hand over Middlesex who are just two points better off. As we play them and bottom of the table Kent next week, tomorrow's game is crucial in getting the upper hand in the race for qualification. Our batting has thus far failed to click. Davies and Roy have looked strong at times but both have just the one fifty, while the middle order power has failed to materialise. I hope Gary Wilson bats up the order and O'Brien has one of his good days, if that happens we'll give Hampshire a very tough game.

Monday 15 July 2013

Winning streak grinds to a halt

With depressing inevitability the Surrey Cricket Blog curse struck again tonight. After four successive T20 wins Surrey came a cropper against an impressive Essex outfit at the Oval.

Gareth Batty won the toss and decided that setting a total and fielding in the slightly cooler evening air was the best bet. When Jason Roy took 10 runs off Shaun Tait's first over it looked a good shout but once Steven Davies fell to Graham Napier's first delivery the home side struggled for momentum.

Jason Roy mad a good looking 30 before he was run out attempting a very tight second run. I'm not sure whether it was Ponting's or Roy's call but it never looked on. Glen Maxwell,  playing his final match, batted at four which I found surprising given Gary Wilson's form and the time left in the game to build an innings. As it was Maxwell struggled to find his timing in plodding to 16 off 18 deliveries without hitting a single boundary. Ponting was gamely trying to force the issue but he was also still not at his fluent best.

Azhar Mahmood struggled to score quickly too, he came and went for 12 off 11. When Wilson did appear at number six he only had nine balls to make an impact. He managed 13 runs to drag Surrey's total to what looked like a defendable 148, considering the impressive form of our bowlers. That was despite a superb final over from Shaun Tait who looked too hot to handle for everyone but Roy. Ricky Ponting finally top scored for his side with 65, although the timing of his dismissal - with just 13 balls remaining and leaving two new batsmen to face them - was frustrating.

The Essex innings began in aggressive fashion as Hamish Rutherford looked to take the attack to the Surrey bowlers. He raced to 30 from 17 balls by the fifth over before a Jon Lewis slower ball foxed him and he was well caught in the deep by Ansari.

That proved a rare success for Surrey's bowlers as Greg Smith then took over the run scoring baton. Rutherford's aggression had allowed Smith the time to bed in but once his Kiwi partner was gone he played beautifully. I thought Gareth Batty missed a couple of tricks tactically tonight, specifically in holding back Dernbach's second over until the 12th, and not bowling Maxwell at all after his first over went for just four. Zander de Bruyn meanwhile was given two overs which disappeared for 22 runs. If he's going to bat no higher than 8 in this format his captain will want better control. We also let ourselves down in the field, Jon Lewis and Azhar Mahmood were predictably lethargic and cost us probably 15 runs.

Essex duly delivered the win with seven balls remaining with Owais Shah unbeaten on 46. The result leaves us with four wins and two defeats after six fixtures. We've dropped from second to fourth (below Middlesex!) in what looks like a very tight group. A win against flying Hampshire on Friday will get things back on track though.

Five in a row the aim for Surrey

It seems that Surrey rather enjoyed my time out of the country, winning four Twenty20s and drawing a Championship game with Notts. A creditable draw too, save for a disastrous first innings from the home side. Attention turns back to the T20 tournament again now as we play Essex this evening.

A 13 man squad has been named, and a possible XI is below:

Steven Davies
Jason Roy
Ricky Ponting
Gary Wilson
Glenn Maxwell
Azhar Mahmood
Zafar Ansari
Zander De Bruyn
Gareth Batty
Jon Lewis
Jade Dernbach

Bench: Vikram Solanki, Chris Tremlett

Throughout this season and last we seem to have been employing the old "cobble together as many runs as possible and then strangle the opposition" tactic that was so successful in the 2011 CB40 campaign. What is different about this season though is that we have a lot more firepower in our batting lineup, in addition to a fine and varied bowling attack. On paper at least our batsmen should be giving our bowlers a lot more breathing space.

Davies and Roy have been largely effective at the top but thereafter all but Gary Wilson have been something of a disappointment. Ricky Ponting in particular has been unable to replicate his masterful Championship form, instead continuing his IPL T20 form with just 35 runs from 40 balls. Perhaps he's due an explosion of batting prowess, or perhaps his best T20 days are behind him. The lack of runs in the middle order may be down to failing to find the right combination of the "Floating Four", Wilson, Maxwell, Mahmood and Ansari. Take Wilson out of the equation and the remainder have contributed only 168 from 149 balls between them in five games. If the right combination is found then no total will be out of sight. Maxwell, incidentally, will be playing his last game for the club and while he's been a useful contributor, perhaps his departure will create a space for Tom Curran to be blooded in the First XI?

If the batting has misfired, the bowling has been peerless. Dernbach and Mahmood's variations have stifled teams at the top and particularly at the death, while Jon Lewis has been a surprisingly effective addition to this year's attack. Ansari and Batty have been effective in keeping run rates in check and while de Bruyn hasn't, he has collected more wickets than everyone bar the excellent Dernbach. With big boundaries likely at the Oval again the bowlers will be confident of defending most totals north of 140, though it would be nice to have a bit more room for error tonight.

And despite being demolished by Middlesex last week for 74, room for error is what you need against a side like Essex. With Shah, Bopara, ten Doeschate, Rutherford and Foster in their top order runs should not be as hard to come by as they were against our London rivals. Indeed in their very next game Essex chased down 171 with four balls to spare against Sussex. Shaun Tait will lead their bowling attack and after just one wicket in his first three games he has started to find his feet, returning 4-26 against Sussex. If Tymal Mills plays as well it could well be the quickest attack at the Oval this year.

As I'd hoped when the competition started we are proving quite a handful in this format and with five fixtures left to play we are well placed to progress. Two wins against Sussex and a win against Middlesex in recent weeks would be very nicely augmented by victory over Essex tonight.

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.