Cricket: Saqlain is the key as Surrey press on

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The Independent Online
Surrey 333 & 148-7 Derbyshire 139

IF DERBYSHIRE bat as badly second time around as they did yesterday then Surrey's decision not to enforce the follow-on will have been vindicated. But if the likes of Michael Slater, Kim Barnett, Robin Weston and Matthew Cassar do their stuff then Surrey could find themselves struggling to win this match.

On the face of it though, despite losing wickets cheaply as they looked to build on their 194-run first-innings advantage, the championship leaders are in a strong position as they go into the third day

On a pitch that is drying by the hour and that yesterday showed signs of variable bounce Saqlain Mushtaq, Surrey's Pakistani off-spinner, could come into his own.

The Surrey camp reckons Saqlain could turn the ball on jelly he is that good and he certainly mesmerised the Derbyshire batsmen as they fell woefully short of Surrey's first innings.

Only Weston provided any resistance, but even he finally succumbed to temptation, danced a quick step down the track to Saqlain to provide Jon Batty with a simple stumping.

Saqlain finished with three wickets for 42, which, taken with Ian Blackwell's first-time effort of five and his performance in the second innings, would indicate the pitch is progressively taking more spin, which definitely tilts the balance in Surrey's favour.

Derbyshire's downfall was brought about principally though by Ben Hollioake and some poor shots. Hollioake has been out of sorts all season one way or another. His form with the bat has been scratchy, his performances with the ball - until yesterday - patchy. Yesterday Hollioake the Younger returned career-best figures of 4 for 36, and seamer Martin Bicknell 3 for 48 as they skittled out Derbyshire in fewer than 55 overs.

Although Adam Hollioake, the Surrey captain, could have enforced the follow-on his decision to bat again was probably correct. It meant that he did not have his team flogging away in energy-sapping heat late into the evening.

The steady deterioration of the pitch will almost certainly make batting more of a lottery and Surrey do have Saqlain. Also Derbyshire are now confronted with a more imposing total than either side has yet made, if they are to win.

There was still the feeling that the Surrey batsmen messed things up went they set off again. The shots they got out to were profligate at best; downright careless at worst.

They were clearly after piling up some quick runs, but the left-arm spinner Blackwell had obviously not read the script and ad-libbed to the tune of four Surrey wickets (he now has nine in the match more than he has ever managed), including both the Hollioake brothers and the 44-year- old Alan Butcher, who followed up his first-innings 22 with a more modest dozen runs before falling to silly point.

Their first innings century-maker, Alistair Brown, fell to a mis-hit pull shot to give the promising left-arm pace bowler Kevin Dean a second wicket.

At least Bicknell kept Derbyshire toiling in the field, to see Surrey in to the close with a highly satisfactory 342-run lead.