Man in the Middle: Square dasher of The Oval: Alistair Brown

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THEY HAVE only just started to lay the County Championship table, but already Surrey are looking a gourmet dish. At times they appear remarkably similar to England A, with four graduates and at least a couple of others, including Alistair Brown, who could well feature in the near future.

Brown, who is 23, made an impressive move into the big league last season, and without jeopardising his Championship form he is developing his reputation this season as a big one-day hitter. Unlike pubs in some parts of Wales he opens on Sundays, though during the week he is more usually found at No 6. His attitude is refreshingly free of batsman's angst: 'It doesn't matter if it's a one-day game or a four-dayer, a half-volley is still a half-volley and it's there to be hit.'

And it was in Wales last year, at Llanelli, that he made his highest one-day score of 113. 'I felt an extra buzz that day because Viv Richards was playing. That perked me up, playing in front of my boyhood idol.'

Unusually, that wasn't Brown's only 40-over ton in 1992. 'Against Yorkshire it was slightly different. There was thunder and rain on the way, so as the gloom was gathering we gave it a bit of a spark. I was not out on 105.'

Brown avoided pigeon-holing by achieving big scores in the longer game as well, including a purple patch that established his reputation in the club. 'I made a hundred against Notts, and then I went down to Southend for a 2nd XI game and made another ton.' A somewhat Yorkshire-style reward, surely - demotion to the twos after a century? 'No, no, Surrey didn't have a Championship match. Then we went up to Durham. Another incentive - Ian Botham among the opposition.' A good wicket and a reasonably small ground saw Brown to a career-best 175.

In spite of being christened Alistair Duncan, Brown is a Beckenham boy. 'My father used to like to hit the ball as well. I'd follow him around and take my stumps with me. I'd get involved in scratch matches whenever I could - you know, when the captains take their pick in turn. Being on the small side I always had to wait to be chosen, which made me even more determined.'

One shot in young Brown's locker is the reverse sweep, which only made its controversial appearance in the mid-1980s. In a Championship game against Leicester at the start of this season, Brown, in the 40s as tea approached, unfurled three in a row, but only two were successful. He is unabashed. 'You can mess up the field with that shot. If a spinner is bouncing low you can easily get bowled, and he's probably got a cover point but no one behind. So if you're feeling confident it can be useful. I shall keep it.'

Surrey's star bowler Waqar Younis is on a two-week break after a rigorous winter, but the Kennington side is bubbling. 'We haven't won anything for a bit, and sides like Essex get into the habit of winning. When they're under pressure they still produce the goods. I honestly feel we can get into that habit. Not in the B & H now, but everyone is firing and we believe we can win the rest. Of the other sides, I reckon we'll have to keep our eyes on Somerset and Kent.'

And as is becoming apparent, those other sides are becoming more and more used to keeping their eyes on Alistair Brown, an accumulator who nevertheless always reminds us that cricket is an entertainment.

(Photograph omitted)