HOOK SHOT: Victory over Hampshire in their last game lifted Surrey out of the Championship relegation zone for the first time since the start of the season. MARCUS HOOK outlines what they need to do over the next two months to avoid the drop
The key to Surrey’s innings victory over Hampshire at Southampton is the key going forward: runs on the board. Rory Burns (122) and Dominic Sibley (99) put on 208 in 63 overs for the first wicket against Hampshire, thus leaving the hosts’ flagging attack easy prey for Surrey’s big hitters lower down the order.
Ben Foakes (141 not out) and Gareth Batty (110 not out) also filled their boots, in the process setting a record for Surrey’s eighth wicket partnership in first-class cricket as 222 runs flowed at a rate of more than five an over.
Despite the margin of victory, though, Hampshire were still able to take the game deep into the final day.
Surrey might have given up hope of finishing Hampshire off before time ran out had it not been for Batty’s urgings. Batty led by example by taking 6-51 on the last day, backed up by Stuart Meaker, who chipped in with 4-40 including the final wicket of Mason Crane with just half a dozen overs left.
Surrey know, better than anyone, there are no easy games in the top flight. But with Batty’s team growing in both confidence and maturity – in the Championship and the One-Day Cup – this is a blueprint to what they need to do to survive, and thrive.
v MIDDLESEX at Lord’s, Aug 4-7
The Championship’s top side plays seventh in a pivotal clash for both teams, in terms of carrying off the title or avoiding relegation. By lunch on the second day, Middlesex were 22-1, after Surrey had accumulated successfully, to 415 all out, Jason Roy scoring 110 off just 142 balls, backed up by 88 from opener Rory Burns and Ben Foakes’ 63 not out.
Surrey have had nothing to show from nine Championship visits to Lord’s since 1997. Two of their last four trips to St John’s Wood have ended in defeat by an innings.
Key player for Surrey: Tom Curran. Even though he is averaging a disappointing 46.13 runs per wicket in the County Championship, Curran Senior is still the leader of Surrey’s bowling pack; plus Lord’s tends not to favour spin, which could negate the threat posed by Batty and Ansari.
Key player for Middlesex: Nick Gubbins, 22, who has been a revelation this summer with 767 championship runs at an average of 63.91. With Sam Robson injured and Dawid Malan coming back from a groin problem, much depends on opening bat Gubbins.
Verdict: A hard-fought draw.
Other match to keep an eye on: Hampshire v Lancashire at Southampton. Even though Lancashire have the same number of wins (three) as the top two in Division One, they have also lost three. So, don’t assume that Hampshire won’t land unlikely points in their relegation battle here.
v WARWICKSHIRE at Edgbaston, Aug 13-16
Surrey will go into this game, as they did the first meeting with Warwickshire at Guildford, thankful that Chris Woakes’s international career has gone from strength to strength, keeping him away from county duty with England.
Warwicks have won five out of the last 11 four-day meetings between these two sides, while five of the other six have ended in stalemate.
Key player for Surrey: Rory Burns, who averages 50.71 against Warwickshire in first-class cricket. In the game at Guildford, Burns got starts, making 45 and 68, but a century at Edgbaston would go a long way towards putting the hosts on the back foot.
Key player for Warwickshire: Keith Barker currently tops the official Most Valuable Player rankings and only Kyle Jarvis, of Lancashire, heads into the business-end of the campaign with more wickets in Division One. Barker also averages 48.00 against Surrey with the bat.
Verdict: Surrey to settle for a draw, which would be a decent effort against one of the title contenders.
Other match to keep an eye on: Nottinghamshire v Hampshire at Trent Bridge. Surrey could do with the clash between the bottom two being a washout, or at worst a draw. Surrey won’t be in action in the last round of Championship matches, so they need to build up a buffer zone of a points margin between themselves and their relegation rivals. And time is running out. When Hampshire overcame Notts at Southampton in May, Harry Gurney ended up on the losing side despite taking nine wickets in the contest.
v LANCASHIRE at The Oval, Aug 23-26
At least Surrey can take some comfort from the knowledge that Lancashire have not won a Championship match at the Oval since 1997.
But having already lost to them by an innings this season, the key to this match will be whether Surrey’s batsman are still traumatised from the mauling they received from Jarvis and Wagner at Old Trafford, where they were bowled out twice less than 100 overs.
Key player for Surrey: Zafar Ansari, who averages 66.00 with the bat against Lancashire in Championship cricket, will also be a factor with the ball – 62 of his 115 first-class wickets have been captured at The Oval, and with the late-summer pitches becoming firmer, it should suit his approach.
Key player for Lancashire: Alviro Petersen has not only hit first-class hundreds against Surrey for three different counties, he also averages 74.55 against them and is Lancashire’s leading run-maker in four-day cricket this term.
Verdict: I can see this one going either way. Barring rain, I don’t see it ending in a draw. I suspect the Surrey groundsman will be asked to serve up a turning wicket, not only to play to the hosts’ spin supremacy but also blunt the threat posed by Jarvis and Wagner, so the toss will be crucial. Amazingly, Batty has only lost one toss in this summer’s Championship.
Other match to keep an eye on: Somerset v Hampshire at Taunton. Surrey could do with Somerset settling a score with bottom-placed Hampshire. In the reverse fixture at Southampton in June, Hampshire escaped almost certain defeat when rain put paid to any play on the final day.
v HAMPSHIRE at The Oval, Sep 6-9
It could all come down to this. After a summer more remembered for the rain than the cricket, four days of unbroken sunshine has to be the pre-requisite for Hampshire’s visit to The Oval if Surrey are to pull away from the relegation zone with a win.
Their last three Championship victories over Hampshire have all been by an innings, albeit interspersed with four draws and two losses.
Key player for Surrey: Gareth Batty tends to come into his own in September, on turning Oval pitches. If the Surrey skipper can take 2-78 and 6-51 on the flattest of flat ones when these two sides played at Southampton last month, just think what he could be capable of on a likely “Bunsen” (think about it: even London cricket teams have their own version of rhyming slang).
Key player for Hampshire: James Vince. Okay so he may have been underwhelming in an England shirt this summer, but Hampshire will welcome back the 25-year-old batsman with open arms.
Verdict: A battle of the spinners – Hampshire’s inexperienced but supremely promising leggie Mason Crane versus the guile of Batty and Ansari’s intelligent variations in flight and velocity. It all points to advantage Surrey.
Other match to keep an eye on: Nottinghamshire v Middlesex at Trent Bridge. Middlesex have a tendency to run out of steam in September. That said, few sides possess a seam attack more suited to Trent Bridge than the Middlesex, who are sure to be still in with a shout of winning the title when they travel to Nottingham.
v DURHAM at Chester-le-Street, Sep 13-16
Should Surrey reach the final of the One-Day Cup, let’s hope it does not prove a distraction in their last Championship game of the season, which, if it goes the distance, would leave the visitors facing a 280-mile drive back down to the capital the night before the Lord’s showpiece.
Key player for Surrey: Kumar Sangakkara, who averages 55.57 with the bat against Durham and knows the conditions at the Riverside, where he spent a brief spell as Durham’s overseas player in 2014.
Key player for Durham: Scott Borthwick, who, by then may, if the rumours are true, have turned down a move to Surrey in favour of joining Lancashire next season. The 26-year-old all-rounder is one of those players every county would love to have in their ranks. Too good for county cricket, but not good enough for an England side bristling with all-rounder talent.
Verdict: Durham, in their own backyard, will be a tough nut to crack. But the backdrop to their season will be news of players exiting in an attempt to alleviate the club’s mounting debts. Durham on a downer, then? Surrey might get out of this one with draw and, if they’re really bold, who knows? Either way, it’s unlikely Surrey will know their fate before the final round of matches to be staged the following week (Sep 20-23).
Other matches to keep an eye on: In the final round of matches for the 2016 season, Hampshire v Durham at Southampton and Somerset v Nottinghamshire at Taunton. Hampshire just beat the drop in 2015 by winning their last game of that season, but for history to repeat itself, Durham would have to implode spectacularly.
The concern, for Surrey, is Notts leapfrogging them because, as we have seen, Somerset have been inconsistent throughout this summer’s County Championship.
- Marcus Hook has reported on Surrey county cricket since 2000. Last year, his column for the South London Press was commended in the ECB’s County Cricket Journalism Awards
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