Adam Hollioake looked a tired and relieved man as he left here yesterday evening. The Surrey captain had every reason to be, Sussex had made his all-star side work damned hard for their 113-run victory. When Azhar Mahmood held on to a sharp chance at second slip from the defiant Michael Yardy with just 32 balls of the match remaining, the relief was there for all to see. Surrey, whose players had invested a lot of toil and sweat over the previous four days, celebrated as though they had won the Championship.
This victory, which extends their lead at the top of the County Championship to 28 points - and increases the chance of the "brown hatters" retaining the title for the fourth time in five years - may look comfortable enough on paper, but it camouflages what was a fraught day for the Surrey captain. After persistent rain on Sunday and the decision not to enforce the follow-on on Saturday, Hollioake and his team have been fighting time as well as determined opponents for the last two days of this match.
And no player took up more of Surrey's time than Yardy, the Sussex No 3. Playing in his first Championship match for almost a year, the resolute left-hander batted for over five hours before making his only mistake. The stone-wall approach to batting of the 22-year-old may have rekindled memories of Chris Tavare in his prime but his efforts did not deserve such a cruel end. Following his near match-saving innings, he had every right to walk off with his head held high - without his efforts both teams would have been on their way home well before the rush hour.
It was fitting that one of Surrey's two Pakistani overseas players was involved in the final wicket because it was they who dominated the day's proceedings. Playing on a pitch, and in temperatures, similar to those of home, Saqlain Mushtaq and Mahmood shared eight wickets. It was they who Hollioake thanked first when victory came.
Although Saqlain led his team off after taking five wickets, it was Mahmood who made three crucial breakthroughs with his aggressive swing bowling. First, in the morning session, he forced Murray Goodwin to bottom edge a pull on to his stumps. Then just before tea, when Sussex hopes of a draw were at their highest, he ended Robin Martin-Jenkins attractive innings with a yorker. Matthew Prior's weak and ill-advised hook gave the all-rounder his third victim.
Meanwhile, tweaking and twiddling away at the other end, posing problem after problem for each Sussex batsmen, was Saqlain. Spin bowlers need perseverance as well as skill and this effervescent character has both in abundance. Sussex were 70 for 1 when Saqlain was introduced into the attack and he wasted little time in getting into the action, taking three wickets in 12 balls without conceding a run.
His most satisfying dismissal would have been that of Chris Adams. For eight balls he teased and tormented the Sussex captain before knocking over his castle. Adams, leaving the field, was not alone in wondering how and why Saqlain is not in the Pakistan squad that plays England in two weeks' time. However, Pakistan's loss continues to be Surrey's gain.Reuse content