BLOOD SPORTS may be unpopular, but they have long been the norm in rural Leicestershire. Yesterday their cricketers brought that tradition into the urban theatre of The Oval as the carnage created by the batting of Ben Smith (204), Aftab Habib (114) and Paul Nixon (unbeaten on 101), was swiftly followed with a duck shoot of lethal proportions.
In the space of four overs, Surrey's top three were back in the Pavilion before a run had been scored, a fourth following a few overs later before bad light prematurely ended the cruelty. Unless spite enters Surrey's thinking, and they declare six wickets down to deny Leicestershire the third bowling point that would clinch them the trophy in a drawn game, the visitors all but have the Championship sewn up.
If they were within 200 of Leicestershire's score they could risk that but, as it is, any such declaration now could be seen as bringing the game into disrepute, something Surrey, with their wide-boy reputation, would do well to avoid.
The home side's ire is understandable and spending five sessions in the field watching your opponents rack up 585 for 6, Leicestershire's highest score against Surrey - beating the 516 made here in 1929 - is not everyone's idea of therapy.
When Surrey were finally put out of their misery in the field, they were clearly not prepared for the Leicestershire bowlers. Suddenly a pitch that had looked placid for two days began to seam, a condition superbly exploited by the high actions of Alan Mullally and David Millns.
First to strike was Mullally. Powering in from the Vauxhall End he squared up the left-handed Mark Butcher, who spooned the ball to cover, where Darren Maddy took a fine tumbling catch. Two balls later, he beat Graham Thorpe's tentative forward push to have the England left-hander plumb lbw. Considering that he has not long recovered from an operation on his back, Thorpe was a surprise selection. Nowhere near match fit, his duck yesterday was his fourth in a row, following three in the Lord's and Old Trafford Tests against South Africa.
Millns got on the scorecard with a quick delivery in the channel, which found the edge of Nadeem Shahid's bat. At that stage, Surrey were yet to score but Alec Stewart finally got his side underway with a single from the 37th ball of the innings. Alistair Brown followed suit before being lbw to one that nipped back off the seam.
Surrey's woe with the bat was in stark contrast to Leicestershire's demonstration. After losing Aftab to the fifth ball of the morning, they simply carried on where they left off the previous day. Indeed, Smith and Nixon barely played a shot in anger as they went about compounding Surrey's misery.
Double hundreds are not everyday fodder and Smith took almost nine hours to compile it before the part-time leg-spin of Shahid undid him. At that point Nixon took over, adding 105 with Chris Lewis before their acting captain, Phil Simmons, decided he had probably got enough.
P W D L Bat Bwl Pts
Leics 16 10 0 6 43 47 268
Surrey 16 10 4 2 38 55 259
Lancs 16 10 1 5 30 52 257
Yorks 16 8 3 5 45 59 247
Gloucs 16 10 5 1 20 61 244
Hants 16 6 4 6 27 57 198
Sussex 16 6 6 4 30 59 197
Somerset 16 6 6 4 30 50 188
Warks 16 5 8 3 32 56 177
Kent 16 5 4 7 18 55 174
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