Cricket: Benjamin breaks Notts resistance

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The Independent Online
Surrey 228; Notts 68 and 263-6

AS AN antidote to a week of individual and collective misery, this was precisely the panacea Alec Stewart must have craved. Judging by the zest with which Surrey routed Nottinghamshire for the lowest first-class total of the season, then chipped away with marked success after enforcing the follow-on, the captain's rockets clearly found their target.

Not that Joey Benjamin's backside required much attention. As if playing third fiddle to Waqar Younis and Martin Bicknell was not bad enough, the 32-year-old fast bowler from St Kitts has been trailing his Leicestershire and Worcestershire namesakes in the averages all summer.

Yesterday morning, though, he came into his own, swinging the ball at a fair old lick to claim a career-best 6 for 19 as the visitors lost their last seven wickets for 38 in 13.1 overs and went in again shortly after midday. With Surrey's principal turns injured, the spotlight suited him well.

Benjamin started the rot in the third over of the day by having Paul Pollard taken at slip, then proceeded to strike in each of his next four overs. The most deadly delivery failed to elicit a wicket, mind, Tim Robinson ducking into a shortish one taking a juddering blow on the side of the head, whereupon the Nottinghamshire captain was dazed further still when Stewart brought off a dazzling catch.

The oddest aspect of Nottinghamshire's capitulation for their most modest score since 1988 was that they yielded to pace on a turning pitch. Criticised for the anaemic surfaces that have so undermined Surrey in recent years, Harry Brind has prepared some decidedly green strips this term and his chief employers have duly benefited. In the absence of Waqar and Martin Bicknell, however, this particular track was shaved, prompting Surrey to opt for three twirlers in anticipation.

Andy Afford gained some purchase to dismantle the hosts on the opening day, yet not until Neil Kendrick began to prey on the batsmen's nerves did things resume their expected course, only Pollard and Chris Cairns barring Surrey's path to their third two-day stroll of the campaign.

Pollard's left-handed acquisitiveness served him well as he penetrated the covers time and again only to fall three shy of his first Championship hundred of the season. Cairns, whose seventh half-century of the year encompassed 10 fours, was as responsible as his strokes were fluent.

Which is more than could be said for Chris Lewis, who again failed to clamber out of his personal trough. In the first innings he collected three assured boundaries before being a trifle unlucky to be judged leg-before to Benjamin. A few short hours later he propped forward to Kendrick, and edged to slip. So much talent, so little application.