Cricket: Man in the Middle: Bicknell finding time on his side: John Collis

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THERE'S Darren Bicknell the batsman and Martin Bicknell the bowler, some 18 months apart, and they've shadowed one another all the way up from village cricket to the penultimate rung of the current professional ladder, the England A squad.

On the last day of Surrey's losing game against Notts at the Oval Darren Bicknell was nursing an angry Achilles tendon, but he remained as cheerful as ever. 'It flares up occasionally, but hopefully it'll be all right in no time.'

Along with Martin and his colleague at the Oval, the highly talented Graham Thorpe, Bicknell is a youthful veteran of the England A experiment, and not surprisingly he's an enthusiast. 'Obviously the ultimate aim is to play for England. But the A team is a good starting point. You can't argue that it hasn't proved its worth, with people like Mike Atherton and Mark Ramprakash up at Headingley right now. I suppose I'm the oldest A player now, but I'm still only 25. Time is on my side - I'm not impatient.'

The Bicknells have progressed together through the Surrey ranks - local club Normandy, village side Badshot Lee with their father, and then to Guildford. 'That was the premiere club in our area, the one to aim at. I still turn out for them if I can - not recently, but the season before last I had half-a-dozen games. There are rules about this, of course, but if you're working your way back after injury it's good to have a club to go home to.'

And on through junior county teams to the Oval. Given the weight of natural talent in the family, that route seemed inevitable. No need to look beyond the road from Guildford to Kennington. 'That's right. Surrey was our club. It didn't really occur to us to think of anywhere else.'

I suggest to Bicknell that it must help an opening bat to play half his innings on the flat Oval wicket. 'I wouldn't deny it. It's a lovely wicket . . .'

Our conversation is interrupted by cries of 'Rubbish - don't believe him,' delivered in a South African accent - a reminder that every time Bicknell is enjoying himself on the Oval track, their overseas quick bowler Rudi Bryson has to bowl on it.

'If you're building an innings at, say, Derby,' continues Bicknell, 'it really is harder work. Slow on to the bat. But then the next day you come back to the Oval.'

Bicknell claims to have no prototype on which to model his style. 'Obviously I watch the good players, like Graham Gooch and Chris Broad. But you've got to practise your own approach - you try to emulate them, not copy them. Ideally you're aiming for the solid start that players like that can give to an innings, combined with the ability of someone like Kris Srikkanth to get a move on.'

In spite of the set-back against Notts in a declaration game, Surrey have moved up a gear of late - three Championship wins to keep them in the middle of the pack, handily placed on Sundays.

'Yes, we've turned it around in mid-season, with one or two people coming into form and a lot of hard work by everybody. We're too good a side to be down at the bottom. And there's a good spirit. As long as we keep taking the piss out of each other we'll be all right.'

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