Surrey put in a tailspin

Middlesex 425 Surrey 209 and 140 Middx won by inn & 76 runs
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CHURCHILL ordered the church bells to be rung if the Germans landed. Raymond Illingworth almost certainly has a similar national alarm system operating in fear of something happening to Alec Stewart.

And something did happen to the Surrey captain and England wicketkeeper opener when Surrey followed on, on the way to defeat by an innings and 76 runs. In the burly Richard Johnson's first over, the fifth with the new ball, Stewart took a crack on the right hand. He took off his glove, massaged his finger and in the next over retired hurt.

Alarms began ringing immediately, for the whole of England's current battle plan revolves around Stewart's important dual role. If England had to call up both another opener and another wicketkeeper, the ramifications and reverberations would be felt all week.

But by lunch Stewart was back from X-ray to confirm that it was the finger he broke twice in Australia, but that it was only bruised. Would he bat again in this innings? "I'll come back to you on that." Such was the rate of Surrey's afternoon collapse - only Yorkshire can outpace them in this respect - there was no point in risking any further damage.

In the gaffer's absence, Surrey at first promised to continue their recent habit of a second-innings rally. In Friday's heat, the pitch appeared to be dusting up, John Emburey finishing off the first innings with five for 64. In yesterday's cool grey start, the pitch seemed docile again until Johnson and Angus Fraser appeared.

As with the afternoon sunshine, the spinners returned and Mike Gatting was watching every ball pitch, searching for a puff of dust. Surrey had restarted 216 behind and lost Jason Ratcliffe and Stewart before lunch. Mark Butcher got his head down while Graham Thorpe, after announcing his arrival with a six, also became patiently defiant.

The pair had all but dismissed speculation of an early finish with 76 in 27 overs when Phil Tufnell caused Thorpe to stretch to a ball that hardly lifted, slip taking an ankle high catch. Thorpe is representative of so many modern English batsmen: always promising but rarely sustained. A one-day graduate?

Butcher's defiance lasted only another five overs before, he, too, fell to spin, this time at short leg. Sadly for Surrey, that opened the gate to their fourth defeat in six matches, a rate of decline that suggests they may be applying for re-election.

Graham Kersey tried to rally the tail, but bowlers these days want to play shots and are disinclined to be regarded as merely humble grafters. Middlesex picked them off like sitting ducks. Emburey, in his testimonial year, had match figures of 10 for 98.

The most spectacular dismissal, as Surrey lost eight wickets for 44 in 21 overs, was that of Andrew Smith, the victim of a tumbling acrobatic catch by Fraser at square cover. More of this from Middlesex (three wins in the last four games) and we'll believe the captain is suffering from anorexia.