Cricket: Surrey coping without top cats

Essex 347 and 302 Surrey 280 and 70-2
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The Independent Online
There was an expectation that with the big wheels - Alec Stewart, Graham Thorpe, Mark Butcher and Adam Hollioake - off their wagon and on England duty, Surrey would struggle. It has not been far from the truth. But places are up for grabs and while the top cats are away the rest must play, and play well.

In the main that is what they have done, though Essex have not made things easy. By the time the Essex second innings had been wrapped up by the Surrey attack - shorn of the services of the teenage fast bowler Alex Tudor (side strain) - the home side faced a formidable target of 370 to win off a minimum of 125 overs.

The previous highest fourth innings total Surrey have sucesfully chased against Essex was 340 - in 1947, when they triumphed by two wickets.

Before Surrey had knocked a single off that total, they lost the opener Gregor Kennis. The catch he presented to Darren Robinson at third slip was a marginal improvement on his first innings effort. Then he did not get quite so much bat on the ball and fell to a catch at second slip. It has been an unhappy match for the Yokohama-born Kennis, who has been in stunning form for the Second XI.

At least Darren Bicknell appeared to have recovered his touch for Surrey. He and Jason Ratcliffe shared in a useful second-wicket stand that raised Surrey hopes, but it has to be remembered their first innings hero Alistair Brown has a hand injury. Though Brown could bat at a pinch, he is finding it difficult to grip the bat.

The substance of the Essex innings was provided by Paul Grayson. His third hundred for Essex and his fourth in all was chanceless. He coped well with Ian Salisbury's leg spin until the one that dismissed him, when he played back and was caught behind. By then he had batted for more than three hours, faced 150 balls - sending 15 of them to the boundary - and had made a game of it.

Graham Gooch was another of Salisbury's victims but not before he had made 56, his highest score of the season. It may only have been his first half-century of the summer but it was the 344th time he has passed 50 in his first-class career of 25 years. This big wheel just rolls on and on.