Smethurst smothers Surrey's ambition

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The Independent Online

As magnificently as Surrey doused the Lancashire fires after Mike Smethurst had reduced the top of their order to rubble with three wickets in 11 balls, during which time the youngster did not concede a run, they will still look back on the charred remains of a potentially sound start to this top-of-the-table clash.

As magnificently as Surrey doused the Lancashire fires after Mike Smethurst had reduced the top of their order to rubble with three wickets in 11 balls, during which time the youngster did not concede a run, they will still look back on the charred remains of a potentially sound start to this top-of-the-table clash.

Had it not been for their captain Adam Hollioake and Alistair Brown, one of his stoutest lieutenants, the defending champions could have had their title pretensions extinguished. But even these two batsmen were not perfect. They were both members of a Surrey trio which fell chasing wide deliveries.

First to do so was Ian Ward. A delivery from Smethurst was followed by the left-hander, the wicketkeeper Warren Hegg could not quite get hold of it, but the ball found its way to Andrew Flintoff at first slip.

Mark Butcher, whose run of form has fallen below the poverty line of late, was dealt a beauty by Smethurst, while Nadeem Shahid was left in two minds. Smethurst's fourth wicket, which took him to 41 for the season, saw Brown, who had hammered a good-looking 76-ball 50, going after a wide one and Flintoff took his second catch.

Hollioake went on to reach his highest championship score of the season, 80, before he too fell to a tempter from the bowler, the Australian Joe Scuderi. Having just cut one to the boundary, Hollioake fancied a repeat but this time it was not so short, and Hegg hung on to the catch.

At least by then Surrey had crept to within sight of their first bonus point, although Hollioake's dismissal presented Lancashire with their second for bowling. It was no more than their excellent attack deserved. They may be shorn of the services of Peter Martin but Glen Chapple, Smethurst, Scuderi and Keedy worked hard and well in the Lancashire cause. Especially since the wicket did not look so bad.

A downpour extinguished Lancashire hopes of wrapping up the first innings shortly before tea. That loss of a full session may prove crucial to the outcome of this match and, possibly, the championship.

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