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April 21, 2012
Surrey 140 and 131 for 6 (Hamilton-Brown 55*, Richardson 3-41) trail Worcestershire 119 (Cameron 41, Meaker 6-39) by 152 runs
Cometh the hour, cometh the captain. But while Rory Hamilton-Brown's unbeaten 55 prevented Surrey from being blown away in double quick time, it remains to be seen whether he has played an innings that will lead his team to victory.
Frankly, anything is possible. But what we can say for certain is that by scoring the first - and, perhaps, only - half century of this bowler-dominated match, Surrey's 24-year-old skipper has given his side a better than decent chance after they threatened to turn themselves into clear second favourites.
Surrey will start the final day leading by 152 and with four wickets in hand. It does not sound great, does it? But given what has gone before - and taking into account that 19 wickets fell today for the addition of 267 runs - the hosts could yet end up triumphing by a distance. Relatively speaking, that is.
Considering not a ball was bowled on day one and only 35 overs were possible yesterday, it is remarkable that we are not talking about when the two sides will shake hands on a draw. But we are not and it seems likely that only more weather interference will lead to a stalemate after seven hours of helter-skelter cricket.
The main facts of day three, pre Hamilton-Brown's half-century, are these: all 22 players batted at least once, Surrey's 140 was their lowest first innings total at The Oval since 1999, Worcestershire longest and best stand - 13 overs and 41 runs - was for the ninth wicket, Stuart Meaker returned career-best figures of 6 for 39 for Surrey and all-rounder James Cameron became the first man to reach 40 as the visitors 'recovered' from 74 for 8 to 119 all out
Yes, the pitch has played a few clearly unkind tricks - the ball from Alan Richardson that pinned Mark Ramprakash lbw kept very low, for instance - but generally there has been only the sort of sideways movement you would expect when good bowlers are operating on an April pitch that has not had much sun on it and there is moisture in the air.
Much of the batting has fallen well short of the highest calibre. But when someone has steeled himself to play straight and been content to push the ball for singles, run-scoring has looked difficult rather than impossible.
Enter Hamilton-Brown. Surrey were only 80 ahead when they lost their fifth wicket. But the captain managed to make 55 at a run a ball with the help of just five boundaries. It was an excellent knock, with power to add, and it stole the day's star man award away from the still impressive Meaker.
The competition for fast bowling places is not quite as hot at The Oval as it is with England, but plenty warm enough to suggest no-one can afford to waste an opportunity to impress.
Jon Lewis's winter move from Gloucestershire gives the county four pacemen with international experience. Then there is Barbados-born Chris Jordan, admired by both England and West Indies, and Tim Linley, who failed to survive the cut for this contest despite taking 73 Second Division wickets at not much more than 18 runs apiece last season.
Of the top bracket boys, Chris Tremlett is currently injured. But that still means there is no automatic place for either Dernbach or Stuart Meaker, the one-day international bowlers who would like to be pushing for Test match consideration sooner rather than later.
Indeed, Meaker missed out in the last championship game, at Lord's. Here, though, it was the 23-year-old who filled his boots by bowling fast and straight often enough to find the outside edge on a regular basis.
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