Cricket: Surrey pair construct unbeaten stand of 268

Surrey 426-4 v Middlesex
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GAMES BETWEEN Middlesex and Surrey have traditionally been as keenly contested as any on the calendar. So far, alas, this has not been one of them as Surrey swaggered to four batting points on this first day and played with their hosts in a manner befitting the champions they have just become.

The sense of anti-climax was helped by the position of the pitch, which was almost insultingly close to the Tavern boundary. It was as close as it is for the Village final, or when Eton play Harrow.

Surrey's inevitable progress after they had won the toss was begun by Mark Butcher and Ian Ward in a first-wicket partnership of 93. There was then a hold-up late in the morning when Phil Tufnell, who bowled with imagination and more variety than usual, took the wickets of both openers and Graham Thorpe for one run in 15 balls.

Surrey were 124 for 3 at lunch, and Alec Stewart, when 23, survived a hard chance to Mark Ramprakash's left at extra cover off Tufnell. Then Alistair Brown, on 22, was missed off a much easier chance to Andy Straus at square leg off Richard Johnson. After that, the Middlesex fielders spent the afternoon picking up the ball from beyond the boundary.

Stewart was bowled playing across Johnson, but Brown, who is a fine entertainer at this level, and Adam Hollioake have so far added 268, the highest ever fifth-wicket stand against Middlesex. The pair drove, cut and pulled in a way which suggested they were letting their hair down now that they are already done with the seriousness of the season.

Angus Fraser bowled his heart out although the magic was missing. Overall, though, Middlesex looked ragged and rudderless and one can only wonder if Ramprakash is the right man to captain them. He is all too happy to let the game drift aimlessly along, yet after all those years under Mike Gatting he really ought to have learned more than he has.

Brown's 165 not out has taken 254 balls with 11 fours and two sixes, and Hollioake's 115 not out has come from 116 balls with 15 fours and one six.