Clarke and Woakes dismantle Surrey
Surrey 286 (Burns 77, Clarke 4-46) and 38 for 0 trail Warwickshire 571 (Troughton 119, Woakes 118, Patel 76) by 247 runs
The sight of Rory Hamilton-Brown heading for the nets at Edgbaston must have provoked bitter-sweet emotions in Surrey supporters on the third day of their Championship battle against Warwickshire. While they will surely delight in the reappearance of the club captain after a harrowing few weeks, it was a reminder, if any was required, of how much weaker their side's batting has become since the tragic events of a June night changed the fortunes of several of this team forever.
In Hamilton-Brown's absence, Surrey are slipping ever deeper into the relegation mire. With Durham achieving their first win of the Championship season and Worcestershire having games in hand, Surrey are facing a last-day battle to avoid an innings defeat at Edgbaston having been forced to follow-on 285 runs behind. Such events matter little compared to the life of a young man, of course, and there will be no pressure applied on Hamilton-Brown to return before he feels the time is right. But there is no doubt that his team miss him and, in time, he may even find some comfort in a return to routine.
It was a former Surrey man who troubled them on the third day of this game. Rikki Clarke, bowling with unusual pace and hostility, found life in this sluggish pitch that had been absent even for Stuart Meaker. Generating sharp reverse swing and making judicious use of the short ball, Clarke unsettled the Surrey middle-order in an excellent spell of three wickets for seven runs in 29 balls. Had Keith Barker, at backward square-leg, held on to a chance offered by Murali Kartik, Clarke would have taken the five-wicket haul his performance deserved.
Generally, Clarke was well supported in the field. Boyd Rankin also worked up a decent pace, while William Porterfield took a series of superb catches; the one-handed diving catch at gully to see off Steven Davies, thick edging in a wearingly familiar way, was barely even a chance. Rory Burns, unsettled by bounce, lost concentration and flashed at one, Chris Jordan was forced back and beaten by a swinging yorker - a masterful piece of bowling - and Meaker's brave innings was ended when he edged an attempted force to gully.
The wicket remains flat, though, and Surrey did show some fight in recording their highest first innings total away from home this season. Gareth Batty and Meaker added 57 runs in 20 overs for their eighth wicket before Jon Lewis joined the latter to add a further 45 for the ninth. It was not enough to avoid the follow-on but, on a day when 14 overs were lost to the rain, it devoured time that may prove crucial on the final day.
So might an incident in the dying moments of the day. Zafar Ansari, opening the Surrey second innings, appeared to fall to a routine outside edge to Porterfield at slip off Jeetan Patel but, unsure whether the ball had carried, was reprieved after the umpires conferred. While it does not excuse Warwickshire's prolonged complaints, replays suggest Ansari could count himself fortunate to survive. Warwickshire players later expressed their disappointment that the fielder's word at not been taken but, in this day and age, such ideals seem to count for little.
If Warwickshire do go on to win their seventh County Championship title this season, they will surely have the remarkable number of all-rounders in their team to thank for it. Just as their lower order revived their innings in the first half of the game, so it was men with first-class centuries to their name who did the damage with the ball. While Clarke performed valiantly with the old ball, Chris Woakes followed his century with some clever bowling earlier in the day.
Woakes had Zander de Bruyn playing across a straight one before Jason Roy, kept scoreless for 12 deliveries, gave in to frustration and drive his 13th to mid-off. Arun Harinath had departed to the second delivery of the day, attempting to withdraw his bat and gloving a catch through to the keeper off the deserving Barker.
The England selectors' decision to plump for James Taylor for the second Test is quite reasonable; he is a high-class player with a bright future. But, bearing in mind the issues they face with the balance of the side, the evidence of this game reinforces the impression that either Woakes or Clarke could, batting at six or seven, provide a further bowling option while hardly weakening the batting. Woakes is, by some distance, the closer to a call-up but when Clarke produces performances of such pace, hostility and consistency - and, over the last couple of years, he has done so regularly - he really does make a strong case.