Surrey v Somerset, The Oval, 4th day April 20, 2013

Smith helping Surrey smile again


Somerset 384 (Petersen 167, Dernbach 5-57) and 251 for 9 dec (Petersen 91, Buttler 94, Meaker 5-60) drew with Surrey 366 (Davies 147, Burns 115)

He may have had to accept a draw in his maiden match as Surrey captain, but Graeme Smith welcomed the first steps on his new journey with cautious optimism.

Perhaps, if Steven Davies had held on to a tough chance from Alviro Petersen early in his second innings, and perhaps, if Surrey had included another seamer, they might even have forced victory in this game. Perhaps it was simply the loss of more than a session to rain on day two that was decisive.

But, after everything that has happened at Surrey in the last 12 months, it would be wrong to judge success purely by winning or losing. Smith, a mature leader who had seen his share of triumph and disaster, knows this. He is committed to the club for the long haul and saw plenty to encourage him in the display of his new team-mates.

"Everyone is speaking a lot about last year," Smith said. "So for the players it is good to have taken the step into the new season and set those new parameters and boundaries. It's good to move away from the experiences of last year.

"We want to get the enjoyment back. We want to play good tough cricket. That's what we are trying to instil in the club.

"I certainly enjoyed the four days. We have got a lot out of it - a lot of positives - and I think we finished the four days the stronger team. It was good to see that character from them."

As it was, this match petered out. Or Petersened out, if you prefer. The South African opener came within nine of becoming the first man to score a century in both innings of his maiden first-class match for Somerset. As it is, he will have to be content with overtaking Cameron White as the highest aggregate scorer in his first game for the club. The last man to score 100 in his maiden first-class game for Somerset was, unlikely though it sounds, Andrew Strauss. He made an unbeaten 109 against the Indians at Taunton in 2011.

While Petersen has quickly proved himself a decent overseas signing - with the only caveat being that he will play on many trickier surfaces than this - perhaps of more long-term significance was the performance of Jos Buttler. It would be wrong to read too much into one innings on a flat track but, at a time when Somerset were threatening to coax some drama out of a routine situation, he held firm against some demanding bowling and with his team under some pressure. With time running out, he fell to a catch on the long on boundary attempting to reach his third first-class century with a six.

With Buttler, it is the strokes he does not play that are as relevant as those he does. No-one doubts his ability to hit the ball cleanly or conjure outrageous strokes. It is his ability to defend and deny that remains in doubt

With Buttler, it is the strokes he does not play that are as relevant as those he does. No-one doubts his ability to hit the ball cleanly or conjure outrageous strokes. It is his ability to defend and deny that remains in doubt. So, while the last 40 or so runs of this innings might linger longest in the memory - he produced some of those trademark straight drives and several powerful pulls as he accelerated in search of his century - it was the first 50 that really impressed. It showed a young man responding to his team's needs with a restrained, mature performance that exhibited a decent defence and an ability to leave and play straight. The runs that followed, with the game saved, were soft.

The cause of Somerset's earlier predicament was Stuart Meaker. After a disappointing first innings display, he bowled with pace, swing and accuracy in the second. He dismissed two England opening batsmen - Marcus Trescothick drawn into playing at one that left him and Nick Compton punished for playing slightly across an inswinging yorker - on the way to the ninth five-wicket haul of his career. The ability to dismiss such high-quality players on such flat pitches is precious.

Had he enjoyed more support, Surrey may well have prevailed. Jade Dernbach continued to bowl well, but the selection of a second spinner instead of a really effective third seamer hampered Surrey. Gary Keedy bowled 37.5 overs in the match and claimed only one wicket - caught on the boundary - for 116 runs.

Later Meaker beat Alfonso Thomas for pace, when an understandably timid forward prod brought an inside edge on to the stumps, and sustained Peter Trego's grim run of form - he has suffered three ducks already this season - by inducing an outside edge and then beat Jamie Overton for pace, too. The only concern was that he was forced off with a thigh strain and must be considered a doubt ahead of the next game.

"Stuart is an X-factor cricketer," Smith said afterwards. "He has the pace; he has the skill. He has an interesting winter - going on tour with England but not really playing - and confidence is very important. He'll go on to be successful."

At one stage, with Somerset on 82 for 4 and leading by just 98, it seemed he might have earned his side an unlikely chance of victory. But Davies dropped Petersen down the leg side - Zander de Bruyn was the unfortunate bowler - when he had scored only 13 and he and Buttler added 111 for the fifth-wicket to make the game safe. Petersen has already scored more runs (235 at an average of 21.36; he only passed 20 once in 11 innings) than he managed in his seven-match stint with Essex last year. Essex's record of reducing their team to far less than the sum of its parts is remarkable.

"Alviro was the difference in this game," Smith said. "His runs kept Somerset ahead of the game. He is an outstanding player and he showed that in both innings.

"The pitch didn't deteriorate as much as we thought it would. We thought it would turn more. Maybe we could have with an extra seamer. But we were under pressure at the end of day two but have finished the match the stronger of the two sides, so that is very pleasing. We would love to have wickets with good pace and bounce. It's been a long, rough winter for the surface.

"We were looking at big improvement from the batting unit from last year, so to have two guys make centuries under pressure was very good.

"I thought Rory Burns handled the pressure really well. He is a young guy, but he seems to understand his game and understand what it takes to be successful. And Steve Davies looked like he enjoyed his four days. His batting was controlled; his glovework was excellent. He was very tidy. If you don't notice a keeper they've done well. I think he went unnoticed. If he can bat like that and keep like that it will be a very successful season for him."

Smith, meanwhile, is already hinting that he may like to extend his stay. While he dismissed any suggestion of any imminent retirement from international cricket with South Africa, he did not rule out the possibility of registering as a Kolpak or extending his deal as an overseas player in the future.

"At the end of your career, if the opportunities come, you never know," Smith said. "Obviously I have three years at Surrey and if things go well I would love to extend that opportunity. I have signed for three years for a reason. If I have more to offer then I'd love to stay."

It was easy to see why. On a perfect summer day, a crowd of just under 1,400 witnessed the conclusion of a good quality game between two fine sides. The club has been through a harrowing episode that will never be forgotten but quietly and respectfully, the smile is returning to the face of Surrey cricket.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Mark on April 23, 2013, 6:46 GMT

    How often have you seen a side chaase 270 in 45 overs on the last evening of a County Championship match? Even 260 in 50 overs would be very improbable. The bowling side would be unlikely to take 10 wickets in 50 overs, so would simply put 7 or 8 fielders out deep and the likely result would be the match being called off early in the extra hour at something like 110-3.

    However, the point is well made. Play should continue unless the conditions are unfair to the players and every attempt should be made to complete the overs, which are few enough in a match now as it is (not so long ago the daily allocation was 117 overs and in the 1980s sides were fined if they did not bowl 18.5 overs per hour and, with rare exceptions, they managed it). The difference between 117 overs and 90 is almost 4 sessions of play over a 4-day match.

  • John on April 22, 2013, 20:52 GMT

    @CricketingStargazer on (April 22, 2013, 18:14 GMT) I suppose the paying public have an entitlement to moan - esp if , as it seems they could have made up time. If we say the session was made up - and on day 3 I think it was there were comments that they came off in perfect light - that would have been another 25-30 overs and if Chris Stride was right with his calcs , if Surrey had got the last wicket straight away they'd have had 45-50 overs to chase around 260-270 which after seeing how flat a pitch it was supposed to be and what a high scoring ground (in shorter formats) it was last season , I'd say that was doable if unlikely. Trying to enforce a result yesterday was probably a non starter like you said but maybe if they could have made up time the previous day ...

  • Mark on April 22, 2013, 18:14 GMT

    @JG2704 In the end only about a session was lost and even if that time had been available it is still hard to see a result coming out so, in the end, those arguments are irrelevant. As you say, the two captains were thinking more of the remaining 14/15 games and no one wants to start their season with a defeat in a declaration game, so it was understandable that pragmatism won over entertainment.

    Whenever a County match ends in stalemate there are complaints that the paying public is being short-changed but~, if you turn up on Day 4 for a match with a flat pitch and little prospect of a result, you cannot expect one captain to act like a lemming just to liven-up the day! The only way that a result could have been engineered was for Graeme Smith to declare well behind on Day 3, but only very rarely does a captain make such an attacking move because he will look pretty silly if it backfires! :-) (and, if you miss out on bonus points that way and then get relegated by 2 points...)

  • John on April 22, 2013, 17:30 GMT

    @CricketingStargazer on (April 22, 2013, 10:08 GMT)

    re this particular game you're right. There really was too little time to set a fair target and on a flat pitch it would always favour the side batting second as they could go at the target hard to begin with and then if they lose a few wickets they can reevaluate and dead bat the game out. I'm going by the comms from folk who were there about how the teams could have got more cricket in but my reasoning was based on getting points on the board above giving entertainment to the crowd. I suppose against that idea would be that it's so early in the season that if eg both sides were fighting relegation at the end and the side who goes down finishes just a few points below the side who won this match after a manufactured result that would be a bad move for the loser I guess an ideal situation for a manufactured result would be the last game of the season where both teams need a win either to win the CC or to avoid relegation

  • Alex on April 22, 2013, 13:31 GMT

    What a nice end (potentially) to Smith's career as a player; captaining Surrey and playing meaningful cricket in a city full of ex-pat South Africans - especially south of the river! Good on him and I hope he stays longer.

  • Mark on April 22, 2013, 10:08 GMT

    @JG2704 Everyone likes to think that a deal can be struck and that there could be an exciting finish, but this match just did not have the ingredients to make it even a minimally attractive option. I am quick sure that neither captain even seriously countenanced the idea.

    It is very popular now to think in terms of T20 chases in Tests and even Championship matches, but how often does that ever happen unless a side is bowled out? No Championship side will ever lose a game after being set 160 off 20 overs (or its equivelent off 25). Either the chasing side will reach the target, or it will shut up shop and play for a draw as soon as 3 or 4 wickets have fallen. And with unlimited overs and no fielding restrictions, it is very rare indeed that any side can chase even 6-an-over for long. There may be an isolated case where a side has chased 200 off 35 overs but, in such a short chase, everything is in the batting side's favour because no side should ever lose 10 wickets in a session.

  • Dummy4 on April 21, 2013, 13:59 GMT

    @SamuelH - totally realise a result was highly unlikely, but this is an entertainment business and I think, given the weather, good crowd and time already lost in the match, a bit more effort could have been put in to giving a better finish.

    It took a long time for much of the crowd to finally leave their seats and slowly filter out of the ground after both teams left the field. I suspect that was due to it being a nice day sitting in the sun (finally!). Having a Surrey charge (again, assuming the final Somerset wicket fell very soon after the ninth) for 5 or 6 overs to see if they could pull off the improbable would have made a satisfactory end to the day. In the end, it felt very flat....a bit like the pitch! :-)

  • John on April 21, 2013, 12:18 GMT

    The fact that there (acc to one of those who went) seemed to be little effort to make up for lost time in good light is not a great advert for CC cricket. Had there been extra time been played on the last 3 days there is a possibility (albeit remote) that with things happening the way they did on the last day of a result. When you consider the difference between points gained for a win and a draw I thought both sides would have been up for trying harder to manufacture a result

  • Samuel on April 21, 2013, 10:18 GMT

    @Chris - the umpires would have put it to the captains, so both captains accepted the draw. They weren't going to chase 250-odd in 24 overs - no one's ever done that in T20s let alone first class cricket.

  • Dummy4 on April 20, 2013, 21:11 GMT

    I must say I was a little bit surprised at how early this game finished today. When the ninth Somerset wicket fell, the scoreboard was showing 24 overs remaining. If the last wicket had fallen straight away, it would have meant a required run rate of approximately 11.5 an over (not sure if the 24 overs remaining would have then had 3 deducted for change of innings).

    As unlikely as a victory might have been, surely Surrey could have attempted a 20/20 type of innings and then closed up shop if things hadn't started well. It was a nice day with a good crowd - I feel we could have had a better finish than what happened.

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