Surrey survived their first-ever Second Division match with their dignity dented, but intact. To manage a draw against Derbyshire, the worst performing county last summer, is nothing to shout about, but Surrey did not give in, as they have done sometimes in the past two seasons. At The Oval, that is now considered a plus of a kind.
But the game was almost a very close-run thing. Mark Butcher and Ally Brown held out for an hour at the start of the day, against good fast-medium bowling from Mo Sheikh and Graeme Welch, well pitched up, and swinging late, only to fall to Ant Botha, the South African slow left-armer. Butcher's shot was nondescript - he still needs time in the middle. Brown was wonderfully caught by Travis Birt, a recent acquisition from Tasmania, diving low to his left.
Surrey were five wickets down and only 62 runs ahead. Enter Rikki Clarke, Surrey's new, 24-year-old vice-captain with a reputation as a talented, though underachieving, cricketer, and as a bit of a lad. And if Surrey were depending on him, their chances looked slim. He got his feet in poor positions; he edged a difficult chance to the keeper when he was seven, but he stayed put. By lunch, on 49, he looked thoroughly composed, and Alan Butcher, Surrey's new coach, was feeling less anxious.
Butcher Snr spent much time in pre-season trying to get the dressing-room chemistry right. He took over a dysfunctional outfit, riven by intolerance and misunderstanding, which meant that, under pressure, the teamtended to fall apart. He observes that they are getting on better, and this fightback will be seen as evidence of a recovery of commitment, with confidence to follow.
Clarke did not get on at all with Steve Rixon, the clever Australian coach who was incapable of motivating the Surrey team. Clarke is a young man in a hurry, and the Butchers, father and son, decided that his chances might improve if he was given more responsibility, by making him vice-captain. Yesterday turned out to be a good day for all of them.
Clarke reached 50 with a straight drive to the boundary. He takes only a half stride down the wicket and hits the ball very hard. After he had showed how straight he can play, he then exploited a vast gap between mid-wicket and mid-on. When the ball was short, he square-cut it to the boundary. By tea, Clarke was 99 not out; Surrey were 401 for 7, and the match looked safe. In 40 minutes Clarke and Jimmy Ormond had put it to death. Their stand of 55 ended when Birt, bowled Clarke with his 15th ball in first-class cricket.
Clarke scored 130. He batted for 204 minutes, scoring 20 fours and a six. It was a true vice-captain's innings. Now what he has to do to confirm his new responsibility is start taking wickets.Reuse content