Cricket: Bicknell takes Surrey to safety

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Essex. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .418 and 38-3

Surrey. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .330

APPROPRIATELY enough on a ground much loved by the proponent of the classless society, Surrey tacked towards safer waters yesterday with a lower-order rally marshalled by Martin Bicknell. As recoveries go, it was not memorable, but these days it is politic to praise recoveries however they are fashioned. All credit then to Bicknell and the Surrey tail for ensuring that Graham Thorpe's second major innings of the week was not in another lost cause.

When Bicknell came to the wicket immediately after lunch Surrey were still 20 runs away from avoiding the follow-on, with all the recognised batsmen back in the pavilion. He soon lost Graham Kersey to a spectacular backward diving catch at forward short leg, but Neil Kendrick and Waqar Younis provided the support he needed.

Mark Ilott's dismissal of Kendrick, with a ball which lifted sharply and hurried on the batsman, gave the Essex left-arm fast bowler his first championship five- wicket haul of the season. With the first ball after lunch he had trapped Thorpe leg before on the back foot with one that kept a little low, and two wickets with successive balls to end the Surrey innings brought him a career-best return of 7 for 85 - an impressive effort on a pitch that has offered the bowlers little assistance.

The highlight of the Surrey innings was a sparkling fifth-wicket stand of 80 in 20 overs between their two 23-year-olds, Thorpe and Alistair Brown. Brown provided the fireworks with three sixes and two fours in a barnstorming 46 from 58 balls. But it was the left-handed Thorpe who underpinned the home side's batting with 89 in four hours. With Neil Fairbrother's fitness in some doubt for this week's one-day internationals against Australia, England could be looking for a compact left-hander capable of keeping the score moving. Thorpe has shown that the time has come for England to capitalise on their investment in him over four A tours.

Many things impress about Thorpe, not least his speed between the wickets and his constant readiness to take quick singles. Only seven boundaries in his century in the Benson & Hedges Cup on Tuesday indicate his willingness to find gaps and scamper; his 12 fours in this match, four of them off Graham Gooch's bowling on Friday afternoon, came from timing as much as power and included some elegant strokes. The power of the Surrey innings, so often the province of David Ward, this time came from Brown. Ward got Surrey going with three fours off Ilott before driving casually at a ball that Ilott pitched well up to him, but nobody expected Brown to open his own boundary account by dumping the same bowler over square leg. The shot of the morning, though, was the front-foot drive struck sweetly through extra cover off Derek Pringle. The impetuous heave at off-spinner Peter Such was less convincing, resulting in Nasser Hussain taking a tumbling catch.

Given the nature of the pitch, it looked as if Gooch would have some calculating to do before setting Surrey a target tomorrow. The home side, however, had other ideas, fired by the third-ball run out of John Stephenson by Brown's direct hit from square leg. Gooch then failed to withdraw his bat quickly enough as Bicknell made one leave him.

(Photograph omitted)