Cricket: Ward puts Surrey in control

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Surrey . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .181 and 322-8

Northants . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .188

ENTITLED as Surrey are to congratulate themselves on the quality of their youth scheme, the thirtysomethings did them proudest yesterday. With the balance of a gripping duel swaying either way, the undiminished vigour of Joey Benjamin and David Ward has placed the Championship leaders in a position of strength, if not quite impregnability.

Judging by the speed with which Surrey thrust the memory of a slovenly first day behind them, it seems highly probable that backsides were left rather numb after Alec Stewart passed by on his way to Lord's. Within six overs, Northamptonshire, who resumed 56 behind with seven wickets intact, had shed four of them and it required some resolute tail-wagging to sneak a first-innings lead.

Bowling a fuller length than hitherto, Benjamin has prospered as never before this term, six wickets here swelling his season's bag to 25. His accuracy gnaws at the patience, inviting looseness. Mal Loye and Tony Penberthy could not resist early on, Curtly Ambrose and David Ripley likewise when he returned to dust off the lower orders.

Surrey's scatty batting on Thursday persisted when they went in again. Darren Bicknell nibbled needlessly at Paul Taylor, who promptly scored a direct hit when Monte Lynch summoned Andy Smith for an optimistic single on a misfield in the slips. Lynch hung his head but went on to redeem himself, leaving it to Ward to provide the launching pad for subsequent frolics by mingling rigorous defence against Ambrose with the disdainful drives of a man at the apex of his powers.

Ward and Lynch had ransacked 107 in 23 overs when Taylor ran out Lynch from extra cover. Alistair Brown contributed 59 to a stand of 78 in 13 overs that ultimately terminated when Ward chipped back a Taylor yorker.

Now it was Adam Hollioake's turn to strut his considerable stuff, Goweresque timing putting even Brown in the shade until the latter fell in the 90s for the second successive innings. Cue more fluctuations. Another run-out saw off Mark Butcher, whereupon Penberthy also disposed of Martin Bicknell and Neil Kendrick for ducks. With the pitch still playing easily, further twists are far from implausible.