Cricket: Ward's mastery

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The Independent Culture
Derbyshire 208; Surrey 570-6

THE internal wrangling that was a feature of Surrey's winter seems a long way off now, as the county maintain their dominant early-season form. If the weather had not put paid to the equivalent of just over a day's play so far, a third successive win would surely be a formality.

As it is, Derbyshire still have a chance of saving it tomorrow after yesterday's afternoon and evening sessions were washed out with Surrey leading by 368 with four first-innings wickets in hand.

From Derbyshire's point of view, there are plenty of mitigating circumstances: Phillip DeFreitas and Dominic Cork out injured - the former not so seriously that he could not field as a substitute yesterday - and Devon Malcolm and Mohammad Azharuddin off the field with flu and back trouble respectively.

Most sides would struggle to cope in the absence of such key players, but there was something very forlorn about Derbyshire's attempts to keep a grip on things in the 41 overs of the morning, when 197 runs were added to Surrey's overnight score of 373 for five for the loss of only one wicket.

In adding 173 for the sixth wicket in 37 overs, David Ward and Alistair Brown scored almost at will. Ward, 216 overnight, reached 294 by lunch, the highest individual score of the season, and looked certain to become the first player since 1990 to score a triple hundred. But if Alec Stewart declares, as now he probably should, he will not get the chance.

Ward would have to settle for the satisfaction of passing his previous career-best of 263 against Kent in 1990, as well as making the highest score ever by a Surrey batsman against Derbyshire. Brown's 92 was a side-salad by comparison.

A big man with an uncomplicated method, Ward is particularly strong hitting through the covers off the back foot, and Derbyshire's threadbare attack gave him plenty of opportunities to demonstrate that. His best shot, though, was probably an on-drive for four off Richard Sladdin, whose slow left-arm spin came in for particularly heavy punishment.

Sladdin persevered and the odd ball drew a false stroke, but the wicket was very easy-paced and anything less than perfect length was there to be hit. The impudent Brown relished the conditions, not caring if he put the ball in the air, scampering his runs, and generally providing great entertainment for the few dozen watching. In the end he improvised once too often and was lbw to Allan Warner as he attempted to work the ball through the off side.

It was a deserved wicket for Warner, who got the ball to swing and did a reasonable job of containment. But the rest of Derbyshire's bowling was so thin that Peter Bowler, acting captain in Azharuddin's absence, even felt the need to bring his own rarely seen off-spin into play. But when his one over went for 17 runs, the message was clear: this was not to be Derbyshire's match.