Ramprakash lifts the clouds on Surrey's horizon

Somerset 377 and 234 Surrey 403 and 210-4 Surrey won by six wickets
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The Independent Online

If history really does repeat itself then Surrey are on course for a third successive Championship. A brilliant innings by Mark Ramprakash, who fell 10 runs short of a richly deserved hundred, earnt them their first win of this campaign.

Until 1999 Surrey had not beaten Somerset here since 1984. Then in 1999 and the following season they finally prevailed, and on each occasion they went on to lift the title, so the omens for another successful title defence are good. And if that happens again this year they can put it down partially to Ramprakash's innings. It was a brilliant display of batsmanship by a man clearly at the peak of his powers.

His 99-ball innings provided the sparse crowd with thrills aplenty. Ramprakash emerged immediately after lunch, spent a few overs studying the two Somerset spinners, Keith Dutch and Ian Blackwell, and then wasted no time in putting them to the sword.

Dutch was despatched for the first of Ramprakash's 14 boundaries over long on and in the next over Blackwell was hoisted straight and high into the pavilion for six. The former Middlesex man's performance was in stark contrast to Surrey's opener Mark Butcher, who appeared strangely out of sorts.

Ramprakash showed a clear awareness of the urgency of the situation ­ many an eye was on the black clouds building up and surrounding the ground ­ in that the weather forecast promised late-afternoon rain, so Surrey could not rely on being able to utilise the full quota of 75 overs remaining to them to reach the victory target.

But where Ramprakash cut and drove, pulled and punished, Butcher, the former England opener, seemed to prod and poke, pad up, push or play and miss. Butcher contributed just half a dozen to the second-wicket partnership, and it was almost a mercy when his innings came to an end with an edge to Peter Bowler at slip off Dutch, ending an hour and a half of torture for spectators and batsman alike.

Nadeem Shahid then joined Ramprakash and there followed a breezy and enterprising stand of 60. Shahid had punched his weight before falling to Blackwell. Then came the blackest moment of the afternoon ­ the departure of Ramprakash shortly before tea after almost two hours of magnificent mayhem.

As urgently as Surrey were later to apply themselves with the bat, their progress with the ball when they were looking to pick up Somerset's last two wickets was anything but rapid. Richard Johnson was unable to repeat his heroics of the first innings and departed in the sixth over of the day, caught behind off Martin Bicknell, but that did not provide any opportunity for Surrey to exert their dominance. They ran into some stern resistance in the form of Steffan Jones and the crocked Matthew Bulbeck, who had emerged with his captain, Jamie Cox, as his runner.

For 13 overs the last-wicket pair defied the odds and kept out the probing bowlers until after midday, when Bulbeck presented Ian Salisbury with a sharp return catch to give the leg spinner his first five-wicket haul of the season and 34th of his career.