Everything has been off-target at The Oval this season. Bowlers, batsmen and now even the vandals. On Friday staff arrived to discover patches of the south London ground had been dug up by overnight intruders.
But, either through design or by chance, the miscreants missed the square. The damage, several small excavations of the outfield, was adjacent to the square at the Vauxhall End and the groundstaff were able to repair it using turf cut from the edge of The Oval's playing surface.
The consequence of the attack was a promised step-up in security. And that example was followed by the players yesterday, when Surrey resumed their second innings still 117 runs behind Middlesex.
Short of employing personal minders the Surrey batsmen could not have done more to protect their wickets, except for a brief spell after lunch. And they also kept a tight rein on their tempers, which was quite an achievement given what a fractious match this was.
Encounters between these two sides are never less than taut anyway, and relations were strained when Middlesex called the authorities attention to what was felt to be suspicious treatment of the ball after their match at Lord's last month.
No evidence was found and Surrey were cleared of any wrongdoing but there were still some spectacular and feisty confrontations from day one, culminating in the chest-to-chest, nose-to-nose clash on Friday evening between the two wicketkeepers Jon Batty of Surrey and David Nash of Middlesex, who had to be separated by the umpire, Jeff Evans. The incident will be in the umpires' report and news of any punishment will filter out from Lord's in due course.
To all that tension was then added the on-field stress of yesterday's afternoon session, when Surrey, who seemed to be cruising safely with Mark Ramprakash and Scott Newman at the helm, suddenly found themselves hit by a Middlesex squall and three wickets were lost in the space of six worrying overs.
Newman and Ramprakash had put on 155 for the second wicket when Newman inexplicably took a single to Lance Klusener at deep mid-off. Unfortunately his partner had not seen the remotest possibility of a run, which Newman only discovered when he was two thirds of the way down the pitch and the South African's throw beat him by yards.
Ramprakash then followed snapped up at forward short leg by Ben Hutton and Rikki Clarke wrapped up his first match back for his county by edging Chad Keegan to first slip. Thankfully they then saw an example of the sort of fighting spirit that will get them out of trouble, rather than into hot water, when Alistair Brown, with his first championship half-century sinceAugust, and former captain Adam Hollioake compiled a careful century for the fifth wicket to ensure the draw and hint at better times for themselves and their new captain Batty.Reuse content