Cricket: Surrey cement position of power

Nottinghamshire 213 Surrey 84-2County Championship: Title chasers frustrated by Nottinghamshire as Killeen puts Lancashire under pressure
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THE YEAR is shaping into a momentous one for Alec Stewart, who will lead England into the final of the Emirates Triangular Tournament at Lord's today cheered by the knowledge that his county is edging towards a first Championship in 27 years.

In Stewart's absence yesterday, Surrey began a critical sequence of three matches away from The Oval in a manner that can only encourage the England captain. Their pro-gress, which had at one time threatened to overwhelm the home side, was held up by an impressive half-century from the England A wicketkeeper, Chris Read, but they none the less finished in a strong position after Nottinghamshire were dismissed for 213. They enter the second day trailing by 129 runs with eight wickets in hand.

Yesterday's performance emphasised the versatility of a team often forced to manage without key players. Stewart apart, they have no Adam Hollioake or Ally Brown here because of England selection. Graham Thorpe, meanwhile, is injured, as is Alex Tudor.

Yet they were not unduly hampered. Nor were they put off by Nottinghamshire's attempt to minimalise the threat posed by Saqlain Mushtaq, the Pakistani off-spinner, by preparing a green wicket. When he called the toss right, the temptation for Mark Butcher, the stand-in captain, would have been to bat first in the hope that, by the fourth innings, conditions might suit Saqlain and his leg-spinning team-mate, Ian Salisbury. Instead, Butcher backed his seam attack.

The decision bore handsome dividends. Joey Benjamin took 3 for 25 in a 10-over opening spell as the home side laboured to 65 for 5. With the pitch offering uneven bounce and some disparity of pace, and Nottinghamshire's batsmen deficient in getting into line, Benjamin had Guy Welton, Usman Afzaal and Paul Johnson caught behind.

Once Benjamin tired, there was always the reliable Martin Bicknell to keep up the momentum. After lunching on 80 for 5, Nottinghamshire lost Paul Franks and Graham Arch-er to be 112 for 7.

The match was looking one-sided until Read injected conviction into the batting. The 20-year-old is a plucky fighter and no mean strokeplayer. His unbeaten 66, spanning two-and-a-half hours and 117 balls, underpinned the addition of 101 for the last three wickets.