Cricket: Ratcliffe in full bloom

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The Independent Online
Surrey 193-3 v Worcestershire

NO mad dogs, but quite a few Englishmen, trooped out in the midday sun as Surrey attempted to attract a larger clientele by starting this match at noon. It did not work, even though admission was free after 5pm.

It would certainly have been worth watching as well, because that was around the time that Jason Ratcliffe really blossomed. While the top cats such as Alec Stewart, Graham Thorpe and Mark Butcher are away on England duty, the Surrey Volunteer Reserve force can and do play.

The later start did provide the batsmen with some dubious conditions later on - there was murk around the 6.30 mark - but by then most of the spectators had gone, as had Ratcliffe, but not before he had reached his hundred, an excellent innings revealing powerful driving and exquisite timing.

His perfectly-paced effort was a great example for his partner, Ian Ward. It was only his seventh first-class appearance for Surrey, but he helped Ratcliffe compile Surrey's fourth century opening stand of the season. For much of the day the weather held off and, even when the gloom descended, Ratcliffe was so well established they played beyond the first light, and well after the appearance of a second light.

When rain drove them off five minutes after normal time to end proceedings 55 short of the scheduled finish, it interrupted a rather awkward spell for Surrey, who had by then lost three quick wickets. First to go was Ward, 25. The left-hander's 64 was a career best and it revealed a great deal of patience and shot selection.

He was leg before attempting to turn a Richard Illingworth delivery off his legs, after a stay of three and a half hours. Ratcliffe's demise soon followed. He was bowled playing across the line, three balls after bringing up his hundred with a straight drive for his 13th four.

It was his second successive hundred against Worcestershire. This, the fifth of his career, contained two sixes and enough shots to suggest that with or without the big names Surrey will provide some serious resistance this season. That was not the case with Adam Hollioake - he fell leg before pushing at Illingworth.