Tufnell the danger man in local battle

Middlesex 232 & 43-2 Surrey 366
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The Independent Online
Adam Hollioake's batting adorned yesterday's play in a straightforward, pugnacious manner, but his tactics as skipper in Alec Stewart's absence were sometimes harder to appreciate.

They first involved a fourth batting point, however long it took, at which stage Surrey led by 118. It took a very long time. Then he elected for his batsmen to clatter on for a while, eating up time but adding only 16.

He will have reasoned that Middlesex have a tail starting unusually early, but it was hard to understand why Martin Bicknell and Joey Benjamin were still out there batting in early evening when it was their job to blow away batsmen. They had their chance to do that eventually with 19 overs of a bright evening remaining. As Surrey completed their innings a vast black cloud of Biblical proportions gathered north of the river, rolled menacingly towards the Oval and then wandered off again. Benjamin swiftly justified Hollioake's thinking with two quick wickets.

When this local derby began, just three points and two Championship positions split the teams, but for two days the game was compromised, perhaps fatally, by the swirling, temperamental weather familiar to Wimbledon fans. The rain had accounted for 88 overs on the first two days, during which Middlesex crumpled from a plateau of strength to 232 all out, and Surrey replied with 136 for three.

Presumably Surrey, on a bright morning that contradicted both the weather forecast and a grey, spitting dawn, needed to establish a swift lead. The "presumably" applies to Jason Ratcliffe, who batted as if trying heroically to save a Test match on some foreign terror track. But this was the flat old Oval, and he was performing in front of acres of bucket seats in the upright position, not the Balmy Army.

While Alistair Brown made a chirpy 50 in 51 balls, Ratcliffe compiled half as many in double the ration. When Brown's replacement, Hollioake, boomed past 50 in similar time, Ratcliffe had scored 36. He was 14, his overnight score, for 67 minutes, anchoring a ship that would have preferred not to slow down.

Either side of lunch Hollioake pierced the Oval acres with broad-batted drives until, shortly after the interval, a petulant little shower cost 10 overs and the day's only interruption.

Having had just one pre-lunch over Phil Tufnell returned to give Ratcliffe merciful release, and then to lock horns with Hollioake. They are both in prime form, the Middlesex left-armer serving long, fruitful spells this season while Hollioake averages over 70. Bowling to a strangely scattered leg-side field, Tufnell eventually induced one sweep too many, Hollioake top-edging to backward square. It had been a fascinating duel. Now Tufnell was in the groove. By the time he ended Surrey's prolonged innings. he had secured his third five-wicket analysis in successive games, his fourth of the summer.

A five-wicket bag may be remembered longer than an 84, but Hollioake and his team are in control of this game and, thanks to Benjamin's explosive opening spell from the Vauxhall End, they have made a sad match with the bat for Paul Weekes and Jason Pooley. It could still transpire that Surrey, and not the weather, are the winners come Monday evening.

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