Cricket: Saqlain spins Surrey's wheel of fortune

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Sussex 125 and 170 Surrey 364 Surrey win by inns and 69 runs

ALTHOUGH Surrey were held up for longer than they will have wanted by Chris Adams, they beat Sussex a few minutes after lunch by an innings and 69 runs. The 24 points they took from the match have stretched their lead at the top of the Championship table and they will take some stopping now.

As the scores suggest, Sussex were outclassed and although the main difference lay in the supple fingers of Saqlain Mushtaq, who took 11 wickets in the match, Surrey were also much the more dominant batting side with Alec Stewart and Alistair Brown producing fine innings.

Adams was the only Sussex batsman in the same class and he played extremely well in the second innings. He was unlucky to run out of partners when he had reached 99, especially as the No 11, Mark Robinson, had held firm for 17 overs before edging a leg break to slip.

Adams was the only Sussex batsman with the ability, the nerve and the imagination to use his feet to Saqlain, who looked more manageable as a result on this turning pitch.

Surrey will be glad to have resumed their winning ways after being beaten at Cheltenham. They have coped extremely well so far when they have lost players to the Test side and are fortunate to have reserves of sufficient quality. Graham Thorpe's back injury has been another blow they have had to weather.

Surrey have for some years had one of the most talented sides in the country. It is more than anything the spin pairing of Ian Salisbury and Saqlain, an amazingly mature off-spinner for one who is still only 21, although Pakistani birth certificates are not known for their overwhelming reliability, which has made the difference this year.

In spite of his poor showing in the Trent Bridge Test, Salisbury is a much improved bowler this year after spending last winter in Australia. He and Saqlain are the perfect complement to each other, although in this match Salisbury would have liked the chance to have been rather more of a complement against his old county. He didn't bowl in the first innings as Saqlain took 7 for 30.

Saqlain gets better and better. His leg break is a most unusual and dangerous variation which he seems to bowl out of the front of his hand with extraordinary control. The spin duo form the principal joy of watching cricket at The Oval these days.

Another important factor for Surrey is they score fast enough to leave the bowlers the time they need. This was admirably illustrated here by Stewart and Brown and if it is the turn of the Hollioakes or of Mark Butcher, they do not dawdle either.

Sussex's wonderful start to the season, which saw them for a while in second place in the table, was unlikely to continue. Nonetheless, under the shrewd guidance of the joint chairmen, Robin Marlar and Don Trangmar and with the inspiration of their chief executive Tony Pigott behind them, they have built an excellent platform from which to look forward to a satisfactory future. They have put the dark days of 1996-97 behind them.

On this third day at The Oval the game had gone too far away from them for there to be any recovery. Martin Bicknell took the first two wickets to fall in the morning, Saqlain and Salisbury shared the last four and it was all over four overs after lunch.