Cricket: Butcher carves out reply

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The Independent Online
Surrey. . . . . . . 150

Hampshire. . . . . .603-7 dec

HAMPSHIRE have had their hands around Surrey's throat for most of this match, and surely remain the only possible winners. But should the weather close in tomorrow, skipper Mark Nicholas could yet rue his decision to heap on the runs rather than let his bowlers loose earlier. The sky stayed bright yesterday, though, shining on Surrey's belated defiance.

The Championship race remains more open at the three- quarter mark than most of recent years, but leaders Warwickshire will be comforted by the last-lap stumbles of their pursuers. While second-placed Leicester were being humbled at home by Sussex - who are not without a gleam of title hope themselves - Surrey were producing a lack-lustre exhibition on a blameless Southampton track. Until yesterday afternoon, that is, when some pride was injected into their performance and reflected in positive, confident batting.

To excuse their conduct over the previous two and a half days Surrey will point to the fact that three of their players have remained at home to play South Africa, while Hampshire didn't even have to manage without Robin Smith, who scored 75. However, his teammate Winston Benjamin was prevented from playing by a shoulder strain, and his replacement, Norman Cowans, is not the thundering express of old.

Yesterday Surrey were fighting to stave off a third successive defeat while Hampshire, late to pick up momentum this season, are seeking a fourth win in five matches. Current positions in the table, then, may not reflect the August spirit within the dressing rooms.

Hampshire's reply to Surrey's toss-winning 150 was a disdainful 603 for 7. Nicholas had woken with a lead of 377, 120 of them his own, but he elected to bludgeon onwards in partnership with wicketkeeper Adrian Aymes. In response, Surrey's acting captain Martin Bicknell had only two tactics - firstly he wouldn't bother to bowl himself and secondly he would wait for Nicholas to get bored.

By the time this happened - Nicholas with a steepling catch to long-off and Aymes with a snick, after which Shaun Udal and Rajesh Maru scampered past 600 - Hampshire had hoisted their highest total in 109 years at Southampton.'

During this marathon Bicknell had given everyone a bowl except wicketkeeper Graham Kersey and batsman David Ward. Ward really must work on his bowling if he's to give Bicknell sufficient options. Surrey were gazing at a mountain of 453 runs at midday, but they started positively and continued so in spite of the inevitable loss of wickets against a side pressing hard. So mature was Mark Butcher's century that it came as a surprise to realise that it was his maiden 100 at first-class level. His partnership of 111 with Adam Hollioake ignored the desperate context, as if they were intent on wiping out the 453, setting a target and nipping out Hampshire tomorrow, and in the evening the veteran Monte Lynch continued Surrey's obstructive behaviour.