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George Dobell at The Oval
April 7, 2012
Sussex 196 and 240 for 8 require another 102 runs to beat Surrey 264 and 273
Perhaps Luke Wells felt he had some wrongs to right for, on the ground where his father's Test career started and ended in a flash, Wells junior produced an impressive display of defiance to take this game into a fourth day.
It was at The Oval in 1995 that Alan Wells, then a veteran of Sussex and the county game, was called-up for a long overdue Test debut. Confronted with Curtly Ambrose at his best, Wells was unfortunate that the first ball he received was a brute of a delivery that reared up to his throat. There was little he could do other than parry a catch to short leg. While he made an unbeaten 3 in the second innings, the England selectors never called again.
Luke Wells was only four at the time. But, on his first senior appearance on this ground, he has produced a performance that should have exorcised a few ghosts. When Sussex slipped to 173 for 7 in pursuit of an unlikely victory target of 342, it appeared Surrey's first win in the top division of the Championship since 2007 was imminent. But Wells, with some steadfast support from the Sussex tail, produced an innings that should have put the profligacy of more senior players on both sides to shame.
The 21-year-old left-hander got off the mark with an elegant cover drive to the boundary. But it was not so much his strokeplay that impressed - there are at least two dozen highly talented young English batsmen who can put bat to ball in attractive fashion - but the way he defended and the way he left the ball. Few of his contemporaries have the ability - or the inclination - to bat all day but Wells, who has already resisted for more than five hours in this innings, has shown there is substance behind his style.
He is already a man on the radar of the England selectors. He was part of the ECB's Performance Programme over the winter and spent some time in Sri Lanka playing first-class cricket. His modest results there suggest there is still work to be done against spin bowling but he has the skill and the character to progress a long way.
Some of his colleagues could learn from such restraint. Joe Gatting had helped add 52 for the fourth wicket when, inexplicably, he lofted a catch directly to the fielder on the long-on boundary, while Amjad Khan spoiled his hour of resistance by mistiming a slog to mid-off. It was hard to avoid a conclusion that both strokes demonstrated a lack of application.
The top order were less culpable. An outstanding spell of fast bowling from Stuart Meaker skimmed the cream of the Sussex batting away within a few overs. To defeat batsmen as accomplished as Ed Joyce and Murray Goodwin for pace - both they and Ben Brown fell victim to fast, full balls that may have nipped back a fraction - says much for Meaker's ability and he was comfortably the pick of Surrey's seamers.
It was odd, then, that Surrey's bowlers spent so much of the day thumping the ball into the middle of the pitch. Jade Dernbach eventually had Naved Arif taken at leg gully, but generally he and Chris Jordan bowled far too short.
Jon Lewis enjoyed a memorably day, though. The wicket of Chris Nash, chopping on to his stumps as he attempted a repeat of a backfoot drive that had just brought him two delightful boundaries, provided the 36-year-old seamer's 800th first-class victim. While 771 of them came for Gloucestershire - the first way back in 1995 - Lewis' skill, discipline and experience should prove invaluable in an attack that possesses a great deal of talent, but not so much nous.
Earlier Lewis and Meaker also played their role with the bat. The pair extended their ninth-wicket stand to 57 before James Anyon claimed the wicket that secured a much-deserved fourth five-wicket haul of his career.
Barring a minor miracle, Surrey will not be denied on the fourth day. Sussex still require 102 and there is precious little batting to come. But had Lewis and Meaker not added those runs and had Wells had just a little more support, things might have been markedly different.
Edited by Alan Gardner
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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