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George Dobell at The Oval
April 8, 2012
Surrey 264 and 273 beat Sussex 196 and 255 (Wells 108) by 86 runs
It says much for how far the mighty had fallen that it has been or 1,660 days - since September 2007 - since Surrey could last celebrate a win in the top division of the County Championship.
An 86-run win over Sussex - a team referred to as "the benchmark side" in the division by Surrey's director of cricket, Chris Adams - therefore marks another significant step on their rehabilitation. Bearing in mind Surrey's illustrious history and their extravagant spending power, there will always be those demanding that progress is quicker. But from the depths of 2008-09, when they had arguably sunk to the lowest point of their history, they have improved significantly. The next few years promise a great deal.
They are not the finished article. While their squad - and their youth system - contains extravagant talent, that is only one of the ingredients required for success. At present too many of their batsmen want to smash run-a-ball centuries and too many of their bowlers want to blast through the opposition in a session. So gifted are they that there will be days when they are successful. But there will also be days when they fail spectacularly. Either way, they are going to make for wonderful entertainment.
"It was a proper team performance," Adams said afterwards. "This team will be exciting to watch: we'll put hearts in mouths when we bat and we'll bowl quickly and aggressively. It is significant that we have won, but the key is focussing on creating history, not looking back. It's about moving forward.
"There is more to come from this squad individually. I expect a lot of this squad to go on and play at the higher level. Setbacks will happen and I know we can get better in all departments. As a team, I don't want to look further ahead than the end of this month. We just have to keep working hard and preparing well."
There was, at least, some consolation for Sussex. By completing the fourth first-class century of his career, 21-year-old Luke Wells provided another illustration of both his talent and his temperament. With his side under pressure and against an attack containing four England international bowlers, Wells did not give a chance and barely played a false stroke in almost six hours of batting. Mark Ramprakash was even drawn into comparing him to Alastair Cook but remarked that Wells was "possibly better technically".
"I don't think there is higher praise than that," Wells said afterwards. "You love praise from your teammates but when you get pros from the opposition praising you, especially someone like Mark Ramprakash, it is even more special. It really lifted me."
Nor was Ramprakash alone. It is rare that a coach, in celebrating victory, focuses most attention on the performance of one of the opposition players, but Adams was also impressed by Wells.
"That was an innings of the highest quality," Adams said. "When Graham Thorpe, the England lead batting coach, phones to ask about Surrey players, I will also be going out of my way to mention Luke. He showed temperament that is rarely seen in the modern game and the ability to absorb pressure. He has the skills you expect to see at the highest level and I think he has a very bright future."
There was a moment on the fourth morning, just after Jimmy Anyon had pushed at one outside off stump and edged a catch to the slip, when it appeared Wells might be denied his century. He was on 97 at the time and, when Lewis Hatchett was beaten first ball, it appeared time was running out for Wells. But soon a Jade Dernbach long-hop was neatly cut for four to take Wells to the milestone. Surrey's victory - and 21 points - was finally sealed about 45 minutes into the final day when a delivery seemed to stop on Wells and he drove it back to the impressive Jon Lewis.
"It was a funny game," Sussex's director of cricket said afterwards. "It's a bit frustrating, really. It seemed neither side much wanted to win at times but we felt we had opportunities and failed to take them. We played some very good cricket, but maybe they bowled better as a unit and produced a couple of innings that took it away from us. Tom Maynard looks like a very good player."
Both sides are in action again later this week. Surrey expect to have Steve Davies back for the game against Middlesex at Lord's from Thursday. He is likely to open the batting with Jacques Rudolph, who will be fit despite the blow he took to the hand in this game. Sussex, too, are likely to welcome back Monty Panesar for their tough trip to Liverpool to play Lancashire. Chris Tremlett, meanwhile, is said to be progressing very well following back surgery and should be back in action by the end of May.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
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