Cricket: Sluggish Surrey miss point

Surrey 323; Durham 32-0i
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THERE WERE moments yesterday when it seemed as if what was left of Surrey's Championship challenge would perish in the near rain-free north-east. Just 11 overs were lost to the elements, while six Surrey wickets had gone before they had a bonus point under their collective belt.

It needed some careful garnering of runs by the middle and lower order to get them back on course again. As it is they failed to pick up the maximum four points, and that was against a badly depleted Durham attack which generously contributed 54 extras to the cause. The prospect of Surrey lifting the title for the first time in more than a quarter of a century looks increasingly less likely.

Surrey had gone into this game on the back of a shocker against Yorkshire at Headingley, which saw them knocked off the top and slipping five points behind the current leaders, Leicestershire.

What was needed here was a balance of circumspection and adventure. They got the former through Martin Bicknell, whose innings was particularly critical.

He it was who ensured that they passed the 300-mark, and more importantly, acquired a third batting point. They got the latter through Alistair Brown, who provided a much-needed injection of pace to the run-making, while the contribution of their captain, Adam Hollioake, also provided a weight of runs.

Bicknell made a good-looking 39 and on the way shared in a record stand of 95 for the seventh wicket against Durham with Hollioake the elder, who passed 50 for only the fourth time this season.

There was a fair amount of movement off the pitch, especially early on, but even so Surrey made heavy weather of an attack shorn of Melvyn Betts and Neil Killeen. Ben Hollioake, promoted to No 4, showed some staying power (24 overs for a not insignificant 34) but by their own high standards Surrey found it tough going until Brown's arrival.

He fed eagerly off his favourite attack and there was every prospect of his hitting a fourth hundred against his favourite source of runs until sadly, having reached 50, he was out to the 51st ball he had faced. There were no real fireworks from Brown, no monster sixes, just 10 hard-struck fours and some generally sound batting. On the way to his 51, Brown passed 1,000 Championship runs for the season - the fourth time he has achieved the feat since making his debut in 1992. Adam Hollioake then applied himself, along with Bicknell and Ian Salisbury, and gradually Surrey clawed their way back into the game. But that one lost point could prove crucial to the outcome of their whole season.