Ramps in relaxed mode

Surrey 248 & 0-0 Lancashire 276
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The Independent Online

By mid-afternoon Mark Ramprakash retired to the boundary to wait for a catch from Andrew Flintoff, whose shoulders were open and whose score was rising at four runs a time. As it happened, it was Neil Fairbrother who swept Saqlain Mushtaq, and Ramprakash caught the ball neatly over his right shoulder. Evidently his mind had not wandered.

David Graveney had phoned at 8.15am to ask him to join the England squad for the First Test. He had moved to Surrey to regain his Test place by playing First Division cricket, and the strategy had worked. "I'm feeling more relaxed about the whole thing, to be honest," he said. He realises that he has been recalled only because of the injury to Graham Thorpe. "I wasn't expecting it really, but it's nice to be back in the fold."

If he is in the team, he hopes to bat anywhere between three and six. If the Australians looked at the statistics, they might be disturbed to learn that Ramprakash averages no less than 43.92 against them. In 10 Championship innings this summer, he averages 67.1, and has already made a couple of hundreds. Only a curmudgeon would point out that Owais Shah, from the Second Division, was chosen ahead of him for the spare spot in the England one-day squad.

Apart from losing his leading run-scorer, the Surrey captain, Adam Hollioake, had other matters on his mind. At the start of the season it was hard to think of reasons why Surrey would not be champions again. They were seen as the Manchester United of the County Championship, but their performances this summer had been more like Chelsea's. Pitches had no longer suited them so well and their bowlers had not been taking wickets. Martin Bicknell had 27 at 23.55, but the rest were nowhere ­ Alex Tudor, six wickets at 57.42, Ian Salisbury, 19 at 38.89, Ed Giddins, 13 at 36.61, and the Hollioakes four between them.

Surrey members convinced themselves that nothing would change until Saqlain returned from Test duty. He was back yesterday, and things did indeed change, almost immediately. On Friday Lancashire's Sri Lankan spinning master Murali Muralitharan had taken 5 for 81 in 39.4 overs. Yesterday Surrey's Pakistani master took 6 for 89 in 36.3 overs, and between them they virtually cancelled out the two first innings. Lancashire finished 28 ahead of Surrey's 248. But it is Lancashire who will bat last on a wicket that is congenial to the spinners. For the first time this season Hollioake can confidently expect to bowl the opposition out.

There was a second piece of good news for Hollioake. Tudor was bowling genuinely fast, and was better than his figures of 2 for 36 in 15 overs suggest. As England's injuries mount, this is yet another Surrey man whose name may fit the frame again.

Saqlain's first wicket broke a carefully compiled opening stand of 110 between Jamie Haynes and John Crawley. Ramprakash's catch gave him his second wicket, and he had Scuderi caught in the gully. Crawley had shouldered his bat and been lbw to Bicknell, and Tudor frightened Graham Lloyd into spooning a catch to gully. Lancashire had lost five wickets for 45 runs and Surrey were remembering how it is to play like champions.

The only obstructions to Surrey's progress were Flintoff, who had scored only 111 runs in six first-class innings, and Warren Hegg. Flintoff began spectacularly; two driven fours off a Saqlain over, then four driven boundaries, three to cover and one straight off successive Bicknell overs. Finally Surrey calmed him down, and on 40 he pushed forward to Tudor and was caught by Mark Butcher at first slip. Hegg, who was 15 not out at tea, finally accumulated 74 not out.

Honours even after a fine day's fine cricket. It deserved a larger audience.

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