Surrey on the threshold

County Championship: Hollioake all but claims the title as Durham surrender

As Surrey departed the field at The Oval yesterday their fans spilled on to the pitch and cheered them to the echo. They congregated in front of the dressing-rooms, bathed in the afternoon sunshine and the glory of a second consecutive Championship. To a man, woman and child they were exhilarated by the occasion. The players went among them.

As Surrey departed the field at The Oval yesterday their fans spilled on to the pitch and cheered them to the echo. They congregated in front of the dressing-rooms, bathed in the afternoon sunshine and the glory of a second consecutive Championship. To a man, woman and child they were exhilarated by the occasion. The players went among them.

It was reminiscent of the rousing scenes at the old ground only five days earlier when England had registered their momentous series victory against West Indies - except that then some 10,000 people were chanting and now there were barely 200. The same, then, but different, the stark contrast between international cricket and the domestic game, at least at the metropolitan grounds. Surrey and the competition deserve better.

There was another slight disparity. Surrey dismembered Durham smoothly enough, winning by an innings and 68 runs without bowling at their considerable peak and earning the maximum 20 points. But it had not secured the Championship pennant. Not yet awhile.

Some 34 minutes after Durham's dismal, inevitable, processional second innings ended at 144, Lancashire passed 400 in their first innings at Old Trafford. This brought their fifth batting bonus point and kept them mathematically in with a chance of denying Surrey. The two sides meet in Manchester on Wednesday.

If Lancashire can win resoundingly, that is by gaining maximum points while preventing Surrey from gaining any, they will win their first outright title since 1934. Anything in sport is possible. However, the idea of Lancashire scoring above 400 while losing fewer than three wickets and also bowling out Surrey for under 200 is preposterous. You might as well suggest that England could go longer than 31 years without beating the West Indies.

Adam Hollioake, Surrey's captain, had to suppress a smirk in contemplating the notion. He was speaking as captain of the 2000 Champions. "We would have to play pretty badly and they would deserve to win it if that happens."

Hollioake thought that Surrey, who started moderately and lost two matches this season, were better now than when theywon the Championship for the first time in 28 years last summer. "Same players, getting better, and knowing how to win," he said.

Pressed to nominate one man, he singled out Martin Bicknell as the player of the season. Bicknell has been Herculean but it was not his swing which took the Brown Hatters to victory here. The early damage was inflicted by Alex Tudor, who had two wickets in two balls in the first full over. Since the second of these was Simon Katich, Durham's Australian batsman, who edged a steepling delivery to slip, any thoughts of prolonged resistance immediately dissipated.

The leading wicket-taker was Ian Salisbury who saw off the middle and late order, finishing with 4 for 49 and 11 for 154 in the match, his second haul of 10 this season. It was natural to pay close regard to Salisbury since he has been recalled to England's tours. The evidence was not as convincing as the figures.

Those who have seen him frequently this summer said this was his worst day. It needed to be. He began with a lovely googly, which utterly deceived Jimmy Daley, who padded up and was bowled, and then purveyed a mixture of the googly, the leg spinner, the long hop and the full toss. One of these led to a wicket when Michael Gough hit back a long hop which the bowler deflected on to the stumps to run out Paul Collingwood.

As Salisbury was under no pressure, his was a worrying performance. He has taken 51 wickets so he must be flighting something right. But if he bowls like this in Pakistan he will be hit from Karachi to the Khyber Pass.

He was still all too much for a woeful Durham, who were lent respectability only by a stand of 77 between Martin Speight and Andy Pratt. They have already been relegated (and that after beating the Champions in May). Salisbury finished the match at 2.36pm when Neil Killeen managed only a top edge to an attempted sweep to provide the wicketkeeper Jonathan Batty with the easier of his day's two catches.

Hollioake, who is maturing into a shrewd, combative captain and is surely a contender for the captaincy of the England A team this winter, is well aware of Surrey's historic past. They won seven consecutive titles in the Fifties. "It would be incredible to be compared with them. We have photographs of that team and do try to see similarities. They had Lock and Laker. We have Saqlain and Salisbury." Well, like The Oval yesterday, the same but different.

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