Cricket: Old dog Russell does the trick

Surrey 220-9 Gloucestershire 222-3 Gloucs win by seven wickets
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THE STARS came out in Bristol yesterday, but the Surrey constellation shone less brightly than the distant Gloucester galaxy. The strutting city boys included four names on the England list announced at the start of play, and even their drinks carrier, Joey Benjamin, has briefly served his country. Indeed, of the 12 names on the card, only Ian Ward has no international caps. By contrast, Gloucester included a brisk bowler, Michael Cawdron, who has been on their books since 1994 without ever playing a first class game.

The home captain, Mark Alleyne, won an important toss. The day began dull, cold and threatening after morning rain, but the forecast promised batsman-friendly conditions for the afternoon. So Alleyne unleashed his seamers, who this year include the Australian one-day player Ian Harvey, charged with filling Courtney Walsh's enormous boots.

The key contribution to Surrey's dogged effort came from Graham Thorpe, who honed his batting for 114 balls. Whether a major innings in this somewhat meaningless Super Cup romp is relevant preparation for Test duty could be questioned. But, with a pounds 55,000 first prize from Benson and Hedges on offer in this eight-team knockout, it may be that the players themselves do see some meaning in the competition beyond friendly exercise.

The Hollioak brothers kept Thorpe company with chirpy cameos, and the Surrey acceleration began in the 42nd over, when both Adam Hollioak and Thorpe took sixes off the persevering but unrewarded Cawdron. However, a late clatter of wickets, including first-ball dismissals for Alex Tudor and Saqlain, restricted Surrey to 220. Alleyne, bowling his 10 overs for 30 off the reel, had done most to keep them in check.

Many Gloucester supporters, though, find themselves waiting for the collapse they feel is inevitable, and tension was maintained. Even with a hatful of wickets in hand, Gloucester never ran commandingly ahead of the asking rate, and Saqlain's teasing deliveries maintained Surrey's interest.

The veteran Kim Barnett, seeing out his career in the West Country after 20 sometimes turbulent seasons at Derby, took charge of the chase, and with Matt Windows compiled 104 runs for the second wicket. But home hearts fluttered when Barnett was baffled by Saqlain and Windows, giving Tudor the charge, was lbw.

The stage was set for Jack Russell, in tandem with skipper Alleyne, to produce one of those unique demonstrations of purposeful eccentricity that had served England and his county so well.

It may be that Saqlain has not encountered anything quite like it. Russell crouched splay-legged, squirted and nudged singles, flat-batted boundaries, scampered in the evening sun and delighted an increasingly vocal crowd. He reached his 50 with a winning slap at the end of the 48th over.