Cricket: Surrey flunk the depth test

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Somerset 176 and 475 Surrey 241 and 92-1

IF SURREY had been able to select from a full squad for the match against Somerset, they would probably have considered it, weather permitting, a definite win. Indeed, on paper it appeared a mismatch as the Londoners were top of the County Championship table while Somerset were languishing in 16th and lacking confidence after their comprehensive defeat by Middlesex last week.

However, the England one-day squad robbed Surrey of Alec Stewart, Adam Hollioake, Graham Thorpe and Ally Brown, four of the top-order batsmen. It isn't just the runs that Surrey miss when these players are absent but the demoralising effect they can have on the opposition and the impetus they give their own team.

Add the exclusion of Saqlain Mushtaq because of a sore finger and the game became an interesting test of Surrey's championship potential. Quite frankly, do they have the strength in depth? It is difficult and unfair to judge on a single performance, but first-innings scores of 0, 6, 14, 12 and 39 from those asked to bridge the gap doesn't bode well.

Also consider the international aspirations of Ben Hollioake, Mark Butcher and Ian Salisbury and it is clear that Surrey are going to spend a considerable amount of time below strength with six Test matches and a triangular one- day tournament to come this summer.

Such doom and gloom was a distant thought on Thursday morning, though, as Somerset were struggling at 65 for 7 and again on Friday afternoon when the predominant sound at the County Ground was the muttering of "excuse me" as a succession of Somerset batters passed by on the way to the wicket. At this stage a two-day defeat was looming for the Westcountrymen and Surrey were swaggering and strutting.

Such bravado is all very well but only if it is natural, it can't be forced and by mid-afternoon yesterday the strutting had stuttered and substance was king. Leg-spin finally did for the remaining six Somerset batters as the innings finally closed after tea with Surrey needing 411 for victory. Salisbury fully deserved his five wickets but any measure of support from the other bowlers would have given Surrey a target nearer 300. As it was Michael Burns and Graham Rose gave the locals a commanding position with a full display of strokes.

A daunting task at the outset, but it looked increasingly possible as Jason Ratcliffe and Butcher hurtled along at more than five an over. The introduction of the debutant Matthew Bulbeck helped slow the run-rate but other than the occasional delivery from Andy Caddick Somerset never threatened.

The breakthrough came in Rose's first over, Ratcliffe jousting with two deliveries before tickling the next to first slip. His ability to swing the ball makes Rose a constant threat and crucial to Somerset's chances. They may yet rue the lack of a spinner, both Mushtaq Ahmed and Adrian Pierson being injured, but this game is open for both sides and today will be revealing as to their mettle.