Solanki revels in the silly season

Worcester 362 and 61-1 dec Surrey 15-1
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The Independent Online
FORGET mists and mellow fruitfulness - the end of the county cricket season is about rain, daft declarations and run chases. Captaincy now involves hard bargains and intricate deals made behind closed dressing- room doors. At stake are pride (a good final position in the County Championship) and reward (Britannic Assurance's prize money). These are valued more highly than an orthodox game of cricket.

Surrey's Alec Stewart, having been able to bowl only 40 overs in the first two days, spent the lunch interval with Tom Moody of Worcestershire discussing how a finish might be contrived. The outcome was that Surrey forfeited their first innings soWorcestershire could bat again and set an agreed target. When the visitors declared at 61 for one, we learned that the deal was that Surrey would have to score 424 off 104 overs to win.

By surrendering batting points, Stewart handed the Championship to Leicestershire because whatever happens here and at Grace Road, Surrey required those lost batting points to have a slender, statistical chance of the Championship. But Stewart's calculations were intended to give Surrey a chance of winning pounds 30,000 as runners-up, at the risk of losing and, perhaps, finishing fourth and winning only pounds 10,000.

This is to cricket as virtual reality is to reality. Virtual cricket means that, because Surrey don't have any proper spinners, four Surrey batsmen bowl slowly at Worcestershire's batsmen, who block inept bowling so that they do not reach the declaration target too soon and give Surrey more time to bat. Worcestershire got 61 runs off 31 overs that were bowled in 73 minutes.

The conclusion could be compelling today, with Surrey now needing 409 to win with nine wickets standing, after losing the prolific Mark Butcher, caught behind the wicket off Moody. But it will less like county cricket than an extended Sunday slog.

Worcestershire's batsmen had done Surrey no favours earlier in the day. Having been 32 for three, a total of 362 was an imposing performance. Moody and Reuben Spiring both scored sixties, but the visitors owed most to Vikram Solanki.

The 20-year-old came in after a splendid inswinger from Martin Bicknell had torn out Moody's leg stump, and he started stylishly, driving Brendon Julian fluently through mid-off and then cover before hooking him fiercely behind square leg. This was no way to celebrate Julian's county cap, which he was awarded yesterday after a useful season as Surrey's overseas player with 60 wickets and 679 runs.

Solanki's innings grew more earnest as his score passed his previous best of 69. He wanted his first century and was only 10 short of it when Joey Benjamin trapped him lbw. Solanki will score plenty of hundreds before he has finished, but Surrey will need a couple on demand if they are to win this game today.