Thursday, 5 September, Sur v Mid, most of the day
Now there are pitches that take turn and there are spinning pitches. This was a Bunsen burner. The track on which Durham won in May (sorry, Colly) hardly warranted a gas bill by comparison. Olly Rayner had taken 8-46 to leave Surrey 149 behind after the first digs. When I arrived, a fraction after the commencement on the third day, Middlesex were 139-5 in the third innings. Batty and Keedy were bowling in tandem – more like on a tandem, considering the gentleness of the spin and of this passage of play. Malan and Harris did not seem unduly troubled. The fight appears to be going out of Batty (perhaps as a result of his bout in that infamous T20 clash). Keedy totters along as if en route to drawing his pension. Two or three diddy steps, a puffy wind-up and quite a round-arm delivery. A taller, tubbier Kerrigan, whose success came about largely through time served. Only seven overs of seam were sent down in this innings. Keedy bowled in his sleeveless sweater from the Pavilion End; Batty was on duty at Vauxhall. I can’t remember off which of them Zander dropped Malan at slip (wakey-wakey!). It was so soporific my note gave up the ghost before I’d completed it.
No matter. On reaching 50 – his first of the championship season, I’m told – Malan celebrated by sweeping recklessly: lbw to Batty. Middlesex were 170-6 when Denly, who had been ill, came out at No 8. He brought a bit of impetus to proceedings. Surrey were just waiting for the declaration. After a few reverse sweeps, Denly was lbw to Batty from around the wicket (the Nathan Lyon line?), trying an expansive conventional sweep. (There’s a theme emerging here.) That must have emboldened Batty because the “catch its” were heard more frequently when Rayner tried the shot and the ball ballooned off the pads. Oh, behave. Harris, meanwhile, had hung around for 24 when he top-edged a sweep to Ansari. The grateful bowler was Keedy, by virtue of still cranking through his mega-spell. Credit where it’s due, Keedy did get a nice loop on one that Rayners nicked past second slop (the fielders now looking more interested). Another Rayner sweep and “Nathan” Batty/Gareth “Lyon” was awarded another lbw. 235-9 declared left Surrey 385 to win or a day and two-plus sessions to survive. A draw was unlikely.
Harris bounded in, his elbows pointing out like Onions’s. He rather rocked to the left in delivery and his leading arm didn’t reach high enough to my eye. It was all a bit lurchy. Collymore was equally off-line. Rayner got the nod in the fifth over with the score at 16-0. He’s a size for a spinner, an off-breaking Sulieman Benn. There’s a waddle in, a kinking of the wrist and a wang of the arm – down from well over his 6ft 5in. With sharp turn and bounce that can only be called “steepling”, his initial line to the two lefties Burns and Harinath was too wide. Even when he landed it in better areas, the ball often evaded the blades. Three slips waited, though. From the Pavilion End, the tiny left-armer Ravi Patel was a neat foil. Two words sprang to the mind of a former Hampshire member of the late 1980s: Raj Maru.
When I returned from lunch, it was 44-1. Harinath, who at one stage this season threatened to become a consistent achiever but has lately lapsed into mediocrity or worse, had been lbw to Patel for 23. Sweeping? So they said. Burns went soon after (you bet) to Rayner for 24. That was 56-2, with Amla using every ounce of patience and nous to steady the ship. At 72-2, Denly’s leg spin was given a roll and almost bought a wicket. Amla top-edged a sweep just over the keeper. I don’t think he played that shot again if the ball was on the stumps. Rayner span one past Solanki’s bum. The Middlesex tweakers were twerking all over their veteran counterparts. Rogers stationed himself at leg spin and caught Solanki to give Rayner his 10th wicket in the match. With De Bruyn pouched at short leg, it was Rayner 11 and Surrey 123-4 at tea.
Everything depended on Amla. He played a supple drive through the vacant cover area to bring up his 50, a shot Mr Fantastic would have been pleased with such was its elasticity. When the ball spat off a length and was heading for an edge or a glove, his hips almost belly-danced out of the line, his hands following. (I trust his sensibilities aren’t offended, but he’d get a place on Strictly any time he wants it). For 118 balls, Davies stuck with him. Ken Clarke was back again among the members. Any purist must have admired the cricketing ballet on offer. Both batters had been watchful without being transfixed by the bowling. Rayner and Patel had probed impressively. At 188-4, Collymore took the new ball. So wide of leg were a couple of deliveries that you’d think he was bowling for a strangle. Davies did his best to nick them. Finally, Collymore pitched one on a reasonable line and Davies couldn’t resist fencing at it, though arguably it bounced more too. Rayner made no mistake at second slip.
Harris was bowling a tighter line now, but Amla steered him to third man twice for two. There was a Woakes-like effort and lack of end product from Harris. (The younger alternatives to Anderson shrink by the day.) One end open, Rogers brought back spin and his anticipation snared the biggest prize. Amla leg-glanced Rayner and Rogers, at leg slip, dived across to catch him. Gone for 84 off 192 balls, and with Amla went Surrey’s hopes – even at 207-6. I left for my tea. The No 10, Dernbach, would get some stick from commenters for slogging rather than battling for the close of play with bad weather forecast. But at 212-9 and the extra half hour taken, I guess he didn’t fancy his chances.
With the obvious exception, Surrey were woeful. Again. Patel is one to watch. Rayner, without wishing to sound too boosterish after his personal best, should have gone on the Lions tour. He’s a bowling oddball, of the kind England don’t have enough of. He can bat a bit and he’s an OK slipper. I don’t see many other replacements for Swann on the radar. Tredwell? Rafiq? We might have to make an interim one…
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