Kartik five brings Surrey back in
Surrey 144 (Murtagh 5-37) and 86 for 1 trail Middlesex 232 (Kartik 5-69) by 2 runs
The golden age of the overseas spinner may have passed, but The Oval remains as good a place as any for county twirlers to show off their skills. Pragyan Ojha proved as much last year, claiming ten wickets in Surrey's final game of the season to secure promotion. Another Indian left-arm spinner, Murali Kartik, was signed with similar deeds in mind. After an underwhelming start to Surrey life that saw him omitted from their Championship game at Chester-le-Street last week, Kartik claimed his maiden Surrey five-wicket haul to turn around their contest with Middlesex.
By the day's close, Surrey were only two runs behind, with nine second innings wickets remaining. They must add at least another 180 tomorrow to give themselves a realistic chance of victory. Yet, given that Middlesex started the day just 45 runs behind with nine first innings wickets in hand, Surrey's relief that a long day of leather chasing did not transpire must be overwhelming.
That it did not owed much to Kartik, whose display suggested Surrey's spin-dominated strategy may yet be vindicated. In picking two spinners while Middlesex's leading spinner, Ollie Rayner, is injured, they made clear what sort of wicket they had in mind. After the ground staff emphatically delivered their part of the bargain, Surrey's players found matters rather more difficult. Indeed, when Middlesex reached 164 for 3, already leading by 20, Surrey minds must have contemplated the grim prospect of relegation, especially as their next Championship match is a trip to Taunton.
Bowling from the Vauxhall End for 18.4 overs unchanged, Kartik produced a spell of 5 for 42. With immaculate control, he varied his trajectory cannily. The highlight was the dismissal of Neil Dexter, deceived by a delivery that was given more air and superbly caught by Jason Roy diving to his left at slip. He also was aided by some rash shot selection, notably from Adam Rossington, who slapped a ball to cover after being kept on 0 for 15 minutes and 13 balls.
However, Kartik received fine support from a Surrey attack that bore little resemblance to the innocuous, somewhat ragtag version on display on Wednesday evening. Jade Dernbach and Tim Linley claimed an early wicket apiece, taking advantage of movement in between some early showers. Linley would have been particularly relieved to have Joe Denly, who played a couple of sumptuous drives in his 17, caught behind with a fine delivery that left the batsman. Linley, who led Surrey's promotion-winning attack last season in claiming 73 wickets at 18 apiece, had earlier suffered the ignominy of seeing Zander de Bruyn's gentle swingers preferred at the start of the day.
But Kartik's main ally in Middlesex's collapse of 6 for 24 was Gareth Batty, who bowled with his typical control and claimed debutant Andrew Balbirnie, whose 14 included two sparkling extra cover drives off Kartik, and Steven Crook in consecutive deliveries. Both were caught playing back, which is certainly not advisable on this wicket. Middlesex were showing again that their batting is too often over-reliant upon Chris Rogers: indeed, he was the only batsman to pass 31 in this innings.
But, as is often the case, the batting collapse did not include the last wicket stand. Tim Murtagh, far too good a player to bat at number 11 in first-class cricket, slog-swept Batty over midwicket for six and played some powerful back-foot strokes to hit 26. By the time he was last man out, neatly caught by Rory Hamilton-Brown at midwicket to give Kartik his fifth wicket, he had added 44 with Toby Roland-Jones, doubling Middlesex's lead in the process. When Jade Dernbach threw the stumps down with Roland-Jones well in his crease it provided a hint of how much the pair had infuriated Surrey.
Yet by the end of the day they could reflect on a position of virtual parity. After Zafar Ansari was dismissed for a duck - edging behind to a probing delivery from Roland-Jones, which was superbly caught by Sam Robson's dive from third slip - Surrey would have feared a repeat of their recent batting woes, especially with Arun Harinath surviving a close lbw shout from Roland-Jones first ball. However, he combined with Rory Burns to add an unbroken 73, marked by sensible accumulation. It is easy to see why there are such high hopes for Burns, whose skill manipulating the ball around the field and busy persona at the crease is almost reminiscent of Graham Thorpe.
Although Middlesex were characteristically disciplined - save for five wides from Murtagh at the start of the innings - their bowling did not pose great threat once Roland-Jones' exceptional opening burst, which read 7-4-6-1, had been seen off. While the spin of Tom Smith and Balbirnie was economical enough, it lacked the threat of Batty or Kartik. How Roland-Jones and Murtagh begin tomorrow will go far towards determining what kind of score Middlesex have to chase.