Cricket: Vibrant Surrey shrug off batting fright

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The Independent Online
Surrey 282 and 310-6 dec

Glamorgan 166-9 and 16-3

ANOTHER failure by Surrey's middle-order batsmen was no more than a hiccup yesterday. Having set Glamorgan 427 to win, only rain can prevent Surrey collecting 22 points tomorrow. That will put them equal with Glamorgan at or near the top of the county championship table, which is where Surrey expect to be in three months' time.

Before this game on Thursday Glamorgan topped the table and that now seems likely to be the highwater mark of their season, following the double failure of their top-order batsmen here.

The reason why Surrey are formidable was demonstrated in nine overs in the poor light of the evening when Martin Bick

nell and Waqar Younis put Glamorgan through a fearsome barrage of first-class fast bowling. Alec Stewart set four slips and a gully to both of them, and the first three Glamorgan batsmen were all caught behind; Stephen James and Hugh Morris off thin edges to Stewart, keeping wicket, and Adrian Dale off a slightly thicker one to David Ward at second slip.

As the light deteriorated, Stewart took off Waqar and put Graham Thorpe on to bowl, but it didn't help. Glamorgan's torment was ended at 6.05 when the umpires declared the light was too poor even for Viv Richards to play Thorpe's military medium pace. (Incidentally, this is probably Richards' last first-class innings at The Oval.)

After heavy overnight rain, a prompt start was a pleasant surprise. Surrey were in a good position, leading by 155 runs, and although Monte Lynch was soon out for 25, Darren Bicknell was in luck, and while many of his runs came off thick edges, they kept on coming nonetheless.

Thorpe quickly showed why he is a candidate for the England team, cover driving and pulling Steve Watkin, who was finding plenty of lift on a seamer's wicket. But, just as we settled down for a satisfying innings, Thorpe dashed down the wicket to the off-spinner Robert Croft, missed, and was bowled for 14.

By lunch Bicknell and Stewart had put on 100 at a run a minute. The lead was just short of 300 and the only speculation was about the number of runs Surrey would require before declaring. What happened next is hard to explain, but it has been happening with remarkable regularity: Surrey's middle order has been the team's weakness this season. From 184 for 2, Surrey blundered to 189 for 6, off only 16 balls after lunch.

It did not matter, but the persistent failure of two of their most promising batsmen, Alistair Brown and David Ward, to score runs in four-day cricket is beginning to worry Surrey. Their failure was insignificant because the next men in the order stayed together for two hours and added 121 runs. Andrew Smith, in only his second county match, scored 57 confidently; Martin Bicknell scored 53 ebulliently, specialising in boundaries off the top edge.

By tea, when Surrey were 401 ahead, a declaration seemed to be the sensible move, but Stewart, who may be more sentimental than he looks, batted on until the pair had got their 50s.

There was only a thin crowd to watch this, but the success or failure of the county side does not appear to affect the club's finances. Match receipts last year produced no more than pounds 85,674 in a pounds 2.5m business. So far Surrey's unpredictability means that the club is better known for its ambitious ground development plans than for what happens on the field. Surrey have won nothing for 10 years. This may be about to change.

(Photograph omitted)