Stuart Meaker stakes Test claim as Notts struggle to find form

Nottinghamshire 269-9 v Surrey

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The Independent Online

Stuart Meaker may have a little way to go to fulfil his ambition of playing Test cricket for England but Surrey will not mind their 24-year-old fast bowler nurturing lofty ambitions if it helps their season to recover from a rocky start.

In a Surrey attack in which there was no place for Chris Tremlett or Jon Lewis, Meaker provided the most impressive answer to manager Chris Adams' plea for improvement from his much-vaunted team after their dismal defeat to Durham at The Oval.

Only Derbyshire sat below them in the First Division table going into this round. Victory for Surrey here, however, could mean Nottinghamshire take their place as the most disappointing of the supposed title candidates.

Given the intensity of the opening day, in which Meaker's four wickets and Steven Mullaney's vital late defiance were the outstanding features, it is a label neither side wishes to be carrying after a quarter of the season.

On a chilly morning under heavy cloud, Nottinghamshire were made to work after being put in to bat as Jade Dernbach generated pace and swing. The home side had already been unsettled by a rare injury to their captain, wicketkeeper and often their most reliable batsman as Chris Read was ruled out by a neck injury that has been troubling him for a week or so.

Read and injuries simply do not go together. Extraordinarily, he had not missed a Championship match previously for more than six seasons, since he last played Test cricket, racking up 98 consecutive appearances.

Gareth Batty having made the right decision to insert, Dernbach struck the first blow, cleaning out Alex Hales with a swinging yorker. Hales has been the most frustrating of the Nottinghamshire batsmen. Last month he looked to have added patience to his undoubted flair when he compiled a half-century of rare restraint against Derbyshire but his first-class scores since have been four, two, nought and four.

Ed Cowan has looked more of a stroke-player than some expected in the early part of his Ashes warm-up but he reverted to grafter mode this time as Nottinghamshire sought merely to protect themselves from further losses. But then Meaker bowled him off an inside edge and the pattern of batsmen playing themselves in but never finding comfort was established when Michael Lumb, after several hairy moments, sprayed a leading edge to mid-off.

The pressure on the home side had been built by a string of maidens from Tim Linley, who gained his own rewards when Samit Patel, forced to defend on the back foot, edged to first slip and James Taylor chopped on.

Taylor had been the first batsman to look in any way at ease and Nottinghamshire were in trouble as Meaker added Riki Wessels and Paul Franks to his collection, until Mullaney (68) led an eighth-wicket recovery with his second half-century in as many games.