The Brown Hats started the relegation battle yesterday needing to collect 15 more points than their London rivals. The chances of this happening were always going to be slim but it could be achieved if Surrey won the match and accumulated one more bonus point than their opponents.
Middlesex's decision to declare their first innings closed on 404 for 5 deprived Surrey the opportunity to collect two of these valuable bonus points. It left them needing to score 400 runs without giving Middlesex the three wickets they required for a bonus point. And two of these fell before the close. Mark Butcher was brilliantly run out by Jamie Dalrymple, and Rikki Clarke played extravagantly across the line of a straight ball from Scott Styris and was rightly given out lbw.
Earlier, an excellent hundred from Styris, along with half centuries from Ben Hutton, Owais Shah and Ed Joyce allowed Middlesex to take control. Following the early loss of Ed Smith, who was caught in the gully, Hutton and Shah steadied Middlesex' nerves with a partnership of 132.
Shah has had a wonderful season and is unfortunate not to have gained a place in the England one-day squad that will tour Pakistan. His batting was the antithesis of Hutton's. It was full of grace and power, and he nonchalantly dealt with Surrey's lacklustre bowling before being caught at short leg off the persevering Saqlain Mushtaq.
Hutton quickly followed, and when Dalrymple edged a catch to second slip, Middlesex had lost three wickets for 28 runs in 43 balls, and their position was looking far from comfortable. But Joyce and Styris quickly deflated Surrey's sudden burst of optimism with sensible and positive batting. The pair made the most of an excellent pitch and added 174 for the fifth wicket.
Surrey are a team in disarray. Before the start of play they announced that Alan Butcher would be their coach next year, and this display highlighted the size of the task that faces him.
Hutton, the Middlesex captain, could have deprived Styris of his first century for the club when Paul Weekes slogged Saqlain over midwicket to bring up 400. The New Zealander was was on 99 at the time, and Middlesex had secured their full allocation of batting bonus points.
But Hutton showed compassion and allowed him to collect the run he needed before calling his team in. Styris has been a huge influence this summer, and it was no coincidence that Middlesex struggled while he was away representing New Zealand.