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George Dobell at The Oval
September 4, 2013
Middlesex 294 and 133 for 5 (Keedy 5-42) lead Surrey 145 (Rayner 8-46) by 282 runs
It may have come too late to revive Middlesex's title prospects, but Ollie Rayner's career-best haul could well have hammered a nail in the coffin of Surrey's Division One survival hopes.
Rayner made use of a helpful pitch and some hapless battling to claim eight wickets in a remarkable afternoon session which saw Surrey collapse from 72 for 1 to 145 all out. Not only did Rayner, a tall offspinner, claim all his wickets in a frenetic 75-minute passage of play, but he played a part in both the other dismissals, holding on to two good catches. No wonder he later described it as "the best day of his career" and suggested he will end up "the answer to a trivia question".
It speaks volumes for this pitch that 18 wickets fell in the day and 14 of them to spin. This previously used surface has provided copious assistance to spin bowlers and appears to be worsening by the session. Gary Keedy, the Surrey spinner, has already claimed the first five wickets to fall in Middlesex's second innings and batting fourth looks as if it will be desperately demanding. Middlesex, with a lead of 282, may already be out of sight. Such surfaces render the toss disproportionately important.
Indeed, if there was any consolation to be taken from a grim afternoon by Surrey it is that David Capel, the ECB's pitch liaison officer, departed after the first day declaring himself satisfied with what he had seen. There will be no points penalty for this pitch.
That is probably right, too. Despite their success in India, England's batsmen have a well-earned reputation for struggling against spin and conditions like this may provide valuable experience. Surrey's panic-strewn innings reinforced the view that few county batsmen are equipped, mentally or technically, for such conditions.
It would be churlish not to credit Rayner for an outstanding performance. Gaining bounce - he is six feet five inches - and substantial turn, he utilised the conditions well and engendered something close to panic in the Surrey ranks by delivering so few release balls. In partnership with Ravi Patel, who bowled his left-arm spinner nicely from the Pavilion End, Middlesex's two spinners soon had a stranglehold on the Surrey batting.
Surrey were awful. Barely two weeks after England's players were alleged to have urinated on the pitch at The Oval, Surrey produced a performance that was every bit as grim. With conditions crying out for occupation of the crease, players lacking confidence in their defence, either prodded around nervously or attacked needlessly. None of the top six, with the exception of the out of sorts Arun Harinath, fell to a defensive stroke and only one or two Surrey batsmen - notably Tim Linley - could consider themselves the faultless recipients of unplayable deliveries.
The crucial breakthrough owed much to an outrageous slice of fortune. Bowling to a batsman as accomplished as Hashim Amla must be a daunting experience for a 22-year-old with a handful of first-class games behind him, so perhaps it was nerves that resulted in Ravi Patel delivering a waist-high full toss. Inexplicably, however, Amla thrashed it to mid-on where Rayner clung on a sharp chance.
Perhaps the wicket shocked Surrey. It was, after all, only Amla's intervention that led Surrey to their first victory of the season, against Derbyshire, the other day and with him gone, all the old flaws were apparent. Rayner later commented that Middlesex had sensed Surrey's fear and concluded they might "cave in" if they could build pressure, but Middlesex can hardly have dreamed they would "cave in" so easily.
Rory Burns and Steve Davies were caught by brilliantly by Sam Robson at short-leg as they turned balls into the leg side, Zander de Bruyn top-edged a sweep - a high risk stroke on a surface offering sharp bounce - while Vikram Solanki and Stuart Meaker both drove to mid-wicket in trying to hit over the top.
Surrey only passed the follow-on mark due to four byes though Middlesex later confirmed that they would not have enforced it anyway.
"I've bowled better," Rayner, Fallingbostel's finest, admitted modestly afterwards. "But when things go for your way, these things can happen. A couple of wickets there were lucky and the pitch is really conducive to what I'm doing. It's ragging out there and maybe my height is making the difference. There's a long way to go, but maybe this will put us back in the title race.
"I'm very grateful to Middlesex. They've been very patient and stuck with me even when I haven't been able to take any wickets and my batting has been crap. It's good to be able to repay them a little."
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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