Cricket: Surrey feel the title tension

Yorkshire 250-9 dec Surrey 10-0

AFTER THE frustration of watching rain wash out the opening day here, the Championship leaders Surrey yesterday began to experience the tension of a title race nearing its conclusion as they struggled to gain an advantage.

Presented with a pitch so green it was barely distinguishable from the rest of the square, and with heavy cloud cover, captain Adam Hollioake quite naturally asked Yorkshire to bat on winning the toss. But it soon became clear that the clatter of falling wickets was not going to be a feature as Yorkshire, adopting a policy of minimum risk, made patient progress.

It added up to a day to stretch Surrey's nerves as they strive to win the title 27 years after the Championship pennant last flew over The Oval. Leicestershire cut their lead to 15 points in the last round and failure to win here would leave Surrey vulnerable.

Restored virtually to full strength, Surrey faced a Yorkshire side lacking Darren Lehmann, who has returned to Australia to prepare for the Commonwealth Games, and Darren Gough, who has a hamstring strain. But they found themselves up against stubborn opponents unwilling to sell themselves cheaply.

None was more obstructive to their ambitions than Craig White, back in action for the first time in two months after suffering from a persistent back injury. White is not fit enough to bowl but, asked to open for the first time in a four-day match, proved he is quite comfortable with a bat. White completed his first half-century of the season with his seventh boundary, a handsome cut off Ben Hollioake that he immediately repeated. With skipper David Byas, who came in at four, White added 81 in 24 overs to establish a useful platform for his side at 150 for 3 before Hollioake gained his revenge as the batsman steered the ball to Ally Brown at slip.

Earlier, Mark Butcher had drawn first blood for Surrey when Michael Vaughan was leg before wicket, shuffling across one that came back. The England A captain was the only casualty before lunch but Martin Bicknell, who had bowled well without reward in the morning session, earned a belated success straight after the interval when Matthew Wood fell victim to a high slip catch held by Alec Stewart.

After White's dismissal, 20-year-old Gary Fellows, making his debut, became a second victim for Ben Hollioake when he was caught down the leg side by wicketkeeper Jonathan Batty before Byas and Bradley Parker put on 58 for the fifth wicket, the partnership ending when Parker was leg before offering no stroke to Adam Hollioake as Surrey claimed their second bonus point in the 87th over.

Byas reached 52 in three hours and 32 minutes before falling leg before to a Butcher inswinger as Surrey suddenly gained the upper hand, taking three wickets in 15 balls as Butcher bowled Gavin Hamilton and Richard Blakey chased a ball outside his off-stump.

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