Bicknell the only hope for Surrey

Surrey 258 and 193-8 v Kent 301
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The Independent Online

Where would Surrey be without Martin Bicknell? Probably heading for Division Two, that's where. Not only is he leading wicket-taker in the country, and Surrey's leading scorer in first-class cricket, but yesterday he made his maiden first-class century, and with it gave his team a chance in this match.

Fifty more runs and it could be an interesting contest but the fact that the champions for the past two years are flirting with relegation seems ridiculous. Their squad contains 13 internationals, nine of whom have featured this year, and yet they were 44 for 6 on a reasonable, if slow wicket. It certainly did not demand such a parlous scoreline.

The rot started with Ian Ward, leg before to the tireless and persistent Martin Saggers. Fifty-seven wickets flattered him last season as he bowled on green, seaming pitches, but he deserved the applause he received for his two-hour morning spell. Again he has passed 50 wickets but if Kent are to challenge for honours he needs help. As do Surrey, collectively and in many cases individually.

Ward continued his miserable run of form since his Test debut in May, and it is over three months since his last fifty. Admittedly some of those innings were against the Australians and Pakistanis, but the fact that he was still being selected while in dreadful form makes a mockery of the policy of continuity.

The technical problems were evident in his first innings at Lord's against Pakistan. Yet a gritty 40-odd, and the hoopla from some pundits encouraged everybody to ignore them ­ everybody except the Australians. Ward is now short of confidence and runs. Ben Hollioake is another who enjoyed plaudits during the NatWest series but he still has no centuries and played such a loose drive to be dismissed caught behind yesterday that one wondered if he had cared to glance at the scoreboard.

There are no such concerns with Kent. Every run was begrudged, each chase to the boundary a sprint and every wicket celebrated with gusto. Nothing generates team spirit quite like success, as Surrey should know, but only Bicknell, combative every ball, seems to have retained it.

Every Kent player has it. It starts with the openers, David Fulton and Robert Key. Both have international aspirations and have scored heavily. Their runs have put pressure on the opposition, allowed the bowlers a small cushion for errors and infused the side with confidence. That they are second in the Championship without a strike bowler is a surprise but under John Inverarity, manager before returning to Western Australia, they learned self-expression and self-belief and have thrived with responsibility.

Today, if the rain holds off, one of them will have to take it again to make sure of victory. If not, Bicknell will have added wickets to his runs and saved Surrey.