Surrey canter to victory as Murtagh shows X-factor

<preform>Surrey 361 - Hampshire 146 & 160, Surrey win by innings and 55 runs</preform>
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The Independent Online

Graham Thorpe's struggle for runs as he attempts to claim a place in England's Ashes campaign was put on the back burner as he led Surrey to a clinical victory in two and a half days over second-placed Hampshire.

Graham Thorpe's struggle for runs as he attempts to claim a place in England's Ashes campaign was put on the back burner as he led Surrey to a clinical victory in two and a half days over second-placed Hampshire.

It was the left-handed batsman's first Championship match in charge and the win - Surrey's ninth consecutive victory over these opponents in a run stretching back to 1994 - puts the Brown Hats back among the top dogs.

"This was a game we had to win to get back in the top three," said the 35-year-old Thorpe, who contributed a modest 10 runs to Surrey's first innings.

And while paying tribute to the efforts of his bowlers and batsmen, it was the third dimension of the game that Thorpe felt swung things Surrey's way. "That little X-factor was our fielding. We have taken five stunning catches today."

The pick was that of the substitute fielder Tim Murtagh. He raced 20 yards, launched himself back and to his right, arm outstretched to take the ball inches off the turf and dismiss the dangerous New Zealander Craig McMillan.

The effort had the Surrey coach, Steve Rixon, leaping out of his seat and blaspheming in amazement. Harbhajan Singh's two takes were almost as dazzling, as was Rikki Clarke's at leg slip, while a one-handed catch by the wicketkeeper Jon Batty wrapped up the game.

"We have been relentless in our fielding practice," admitted Rixon. "I tell the boys, 'You spend half your playing career in the field, so you may as well be good at it.'" And, give them their due, they were.

As for Hampshire, their abject capitulation was inexcusable. Blaming the pitch would do little good either - that passed official muster. And given the comments of Mike Denness, the inspector of pitches, it appears the only Hampshire team performing well right now are the groundstaff under the head groundsman, Nigel Gray.

"There was no question of the pitch behaving dodgily," said Denness. "I am very happy with it." It had good, even, bounce, which was exploited to the full by Mohammad Akram, who picked up his second five-wicket haul of the season.

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