County Championship round-up: Surrey edge nearer trap door after Murtagh's five-wicket haul


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The Independent Online

Once upon a time, the punishment for an England player deemed to have let his country down would have been to be sent back to his county to serve his time. How Surrey would wish that were the case now. With Kevin Pietersen made unavailable by England despite his exclusion from the Test side at Lord's, they were bowled out for 144 by Middlesex at The Oval, and a quick return to Division Two as reward for a desperate, tragic season seems all the more likely.

Whether Pietersen would have been in any frame of mind to apply himself can only be guessed at but Surrey would have hoped, perhaps, to see some pent-up anger released upon the Middlesex bowling, among whom Tim Murtagh finished with season-best figures of five for 37. After having Rory Burns caught in the slips in a 13-over first spell that included the wicket, too, of Rory Hamilton-Brown on his return to County Championship cricket, Murtagh whipped through the tail in short order.

Toby Roland-Jones also delivered an incisive first spell, claiming three wickets as Surrey slipped to 41 for five, having won the toss. Only Jason Roy's breezy unbeaten 55 spared them greater embarrassment. A solid opening stand between Chris Rogers and Sam Robson only served to strengthen Middlesex's position.

Poor weather thwarted Nottinghamshire's attempt to build on a productive morning against Durham at Trent Bridge. Having slipped to third in the table, Nottinghamshire have accepted that they must win this match to stand a realistic chance of making up a 21-point deficit on leaders Warwickshire.

They have a long list of absentees: in addition to Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann, they have lost James Taylor and Samit Patel to international call-ups and have Andre Adams missing from their bowling attack through injury. Swann or Taylor could join this match if not needed by England at Lord's, although it seems more likely that Graham Onions will be released back to Durham.

Durham arrived seemingly in a revival, having dragged themselves off the bottom with consecutive wins, yet Nottinghamshire enjoyed the better of things after electing to field first. Luke Fletcher captured the wickets of Will Smith, bowled playing no stroke, and Mark Stoneman, who thin-edged to wicketkeeper Chris Read four short of a half-century.

With Ben Phillips pinning Keaton Jennings leg before and Andy Carter drawing the in-form Phil Mustard to drive at a ball that left him late, Durham struggled to 75 for four shortly before lunch, but there was no further play after rain arrived during the interval.

Ian Blackwell, the spin-bowling all-rounder who has lost his place in the Durham side, is to join Warwickshire on loan for the remainder of the season to cover for Jeetan Patel's absence on international duty.

Another Durham bowler currently out of favour, the former England seamer Liam Plunkett, was fined £1,000 and banned from driving for 40 months by Peterlee Magistrates yesterday after a second conviction for drink-driving.