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Alex Winter at The Oval
April 27, 2013
Surrey 351 (Wilson 124, Solanki 51, Jordan 5-92) and 305 for 8 dec (Solanki 83, Smith 63, Wilson 60) drew with Sussex 526 (Wells 208, Joyce 98)
A match of three comeback appearances with potential for an emotive tale was sterilised by a docile pitch that produced a tame draw as Surrey batted out the final day with ease.
Chris Tremlett got back on the road to an international return, Chris Jordan produced results that his former employers could never draw from him and Rory Hamilton-Brown leaped a significant hurdle in his rehabilitation from the horror of last season.
A low-key return was perhaps the best outcome for Hamilton-Brown. He made 39 in stylish fashion, fielded well and will be relieved to have got the week out of the way.
"Rory and I had a chat before this week," Sussex's professional cricket manager, Mark Robinson, told ESPNcricinfo. "We wanted to make sure he had plans for every eventuality that might have happened in this game. There would have been some nerves but some excitement as well. He's ticked the box now of coming back here and he's handled himself really well. So it's another part of the healing process dealt with for him."
Hamilton-Brown would have liked a longer bat on a pitch that refused to yield even into the fourth day. It was very slow and didn't deteriorate. One ball carried through to the slips in the whole game. Unless the pitches mature through the season, Surrey will struggle to win matches at The Oval.
They may have to wait for much joy at home but Surrey have been used to playing a waiting game in recent years. Their promotion in 2011 came from a charge in the latter part of the campaign and last season they rallied late with victories over Middlesex and Nottinghamshire at home to survive.
This year is another fresh start for them but they have to be taken seriously. Their bowling resources are unmatched, with Stuart Meaker, Jon Lewis, Matthew Dunn, George Edwards and Gary Keedy left out this week. Their batting stock is less plentiful but Graeme Smith hinted at the form that will make a significant impact, Gary Wilson made a fine hundred and they have young players with potential, plus Ricky Ponting to step in when Smith is away.
Dominic Sibley is an exciting prospect. Just 17, he scored 299 runs at 49.83 for England Under-19s in South Africa over the winter and Zafar Ansari, who made 72 for Cambridge against Middlesex this week, will also become available. Arun Harinath missed this game after being hit on the hand by Tremlett in the nets but suffered only bruising and should be fit for Surrey's next match at Middlesex.
Injuring his team-mates might not have been Tremlett's main aim for his first Championship match since July 2012 but he ran in gamely, looking fit and well, only wishing he had more help from the wicket. He should do at Lord's, venue for Surrey's next match.
He and the Surrey bowling unit have benefitted from a full-time bowling coach in Stuart Barnes, who joined from Gloucestershire in the winter. Previously Martin Bicknell, now chief scout, filled the role only on a part-time basis.
"It's just nice to have someone around all the time," Tremlett said of Barnes. "His knowledge of the game is brilliant and he's always there with his camera and his ideas. We've got two batting coaches here, in Chris Adams and Ian Salisbury, so it's nice to have a bowling coach on your side. He's added a lot and we're working well as a bowling unit."
But they were unable to prevent a strong Sussex batting order from compiling a large total that built on their solid opening-round victory at Headingley. That they had a chance to win here, having not triumphed at The Oval for 19 years, was a positive note on the form guide.
The addition of Jordan, who took five-wicket hauls in both opening matches, adds bite to the attack and they will get plenty of chances to win matches from a batting line-up that looks as strong as any in Division One.
"We have grown a little bit," Robinson said. "We've lost a lot of players in the past few seasons, seven in five years, and big players, the last one being Murray Goodwin. But this group can potentially be together for a while now and they've become quite tight as a group. We had a great pre-season and have taken that into the early games.
"We've felt we've had a good batting order for the last few years. They haven't quite performed as we'd want but these first two games they've played really well. We've batted well in both innings and they're all in good nick and now, all batting in the positions they want to as well."
Steve Magoffin is an injury concern ahead of Sussex's next match, on Wednesday against champions Warwickshire. He only bowled five overs on the final day and will be assessed on Sunday.
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