IF Surrey win their first County Championship for more than a quarter of a century then they will owe a massive debt to Saqlain Mushtaq. The Pakistani Test off-spinner returned career best figures of 8 for 65 as Derbyshire subsided to defeat inside three days, and for the third time this season Saqlain collected 11 wickets in a match.
The win eased Surrey a further point ahead of Leicestershire, their closest rivals in the race for a title they last won in 1971 under the captaincy of Micky Stewart, now the club's president. But Surrey's success cannot be put down to one man, however brilliant (and he is a wizard of spin) Saqlain may be. It has been the cumulative effort of the whole squad as England calls denuded them of first batsmen, then their in-form leg spinner Ian Salisbury. When injury is added to the international roll of honour the toll on Surrey's playing resources is heavy.
But it is testament to the system they now have that Surrey were able to call upon the relatively inexperienced left-arm spinner Rupesh Amin for this game and his two vital wickets meant that the Derbyshire second innings succumbed entirely to spin. But it was Saqlain's magic that captivated the modest crowd and mesmerised the opposition batsmen.
He claimed his third wicket with the ball that took them off for tea and 51 deliveries later it was all over. In that time Saqlain, who already had two wickets, turned in a spell of 6 for 10 and utterly destroyed Derbyshire. On a turning pitch they had little hope of scoring the 433 runs Surrey had set them for victory.
Adam Hollioake decided to bat on in the morning and Martin Bicknell could not have done much better (except maybe to have scored a hundred). He and James Knott stayed together long enough to set a record 115 for Surrey's eighth wicket against Derbyshire. Bicknell was finally stumped for 81 having hit 10 fours in his two hours at the crease. Knott was unbeaten on a Championship best of 41.
For a long time Michael Slater held things together, first in a useful stand of 93 for the first wicket with Michael May, then in a promising partnership of 34 with Robin Weston, finally adding 33 with Kim Barnett. But throughout it all Saqlain was picking off the others. He used his mystery ball - the one that is bowled with an off-break action but turns the other way - sparingly according to him, especially to Slater.
"I think he is coming to Pakistan in the winter with the Australians," Saqlain said afterwards, "so I did not want him to see too much of it. I bowled him four or five overs of offy after offy, then the special ball and I got him."
The classy Australian, playing for the off-spin, got a leading edge to present Saqlain with a simple return catch. It was a sad end to four hours of graft; he did not deserve to miss out on what would have been his maiden Championship hundred, and by one run. But it's a hard game.Reuse content