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Tim Wigmore at The Oval
May 12, 2014
Surrey 132 (Roy 44, Fuller 6-47) and 41-0 (Smith 34*) need another 226 runs to beat Gloucestershire 168 (Tavare 59, Dunn 5-48) and 230 (Dent 54, Tremlett 6-59)
At half past two, it was hard not to question whether Chris Tremlett, six months after playing in an Ashes Test at the Gabba, still merited a place in Surrey's county championship side. He looked markedly down on pace; to one chuntering Surrey member he was now an "average medium-pacer".
Tremlett had claimed two wickets for at 99.5 apiece so far this season. Given the strides made by Tom Curran and Matt Dunn so far this season, his place seemed to owe only to the decision to rest Jade Dernbach and Stuart Meaker.
Things looked little better for Tremlett's county. While Surrey's flag did not threaten to topple over, as it had on the first day, their batting was rather less resilient: offered the chance to attain first innings parity by inviting sunshine, they instead lost their last four wickets for only 14.
After the first day, Alec Stewart had said that the tumble of wickets on the opening day did not reflect any fault with the pitch. While it was a relaid strip with more bounce than Surrey have been accustomed to, it was not a wicket to justify the opening 20 wickets falling for only 300 runs.
Gloucestershire soon went about proving Stewart right. As they reached 106 for 1 in their second innings, leading by 142, Surrey were bracing themselves for a third defeat of the season, to go with two draws and no victories. So much for a new era under Graeme Smith.
Then it happened. Suddenly Tremlett resembled once more the bowler who had decimated Australia Down Under in 2010-11. With one delivery that trapped Will Tavare on the back leg, Tremlett looked to have rediscovered his vim. Three balls later, Alex Gidman received a brutal lifter that was poached by Smith's reassuring hands at second slip.
By now it was easy to sympathise with the England selectors. Wishful thinking may have informed the selection of Tremlett at Brisbane, but the allure of a 6ft 7in quick bowler is undeniable. Especially when he has luck on his side: Chris Dent's excellent 54, marked by backfoot punching through the covers, was ended by a superb diving catch from Dominic Sibley at short midwicket. Tremlett had now transformed the match with three wickets in seven balls.
By the time his afternoon spell was done, he had trapped Benny Howell lbw and uprooted Cameron Herring's offstump. His spell - 7-1-15-5 - had transformed the game.
Speaking after the close, Tremlett admitted that he had "been struggling with his rhythm" and that "every season it does take me a while to get going". He also reckoned that he had been "bowling too short at times". His assertion that this time "I hit my lengths a lot better, the ball was coming out a little quicker," was something Gloucestershire's batsmen would doubtless have agreed with.
Surrey must still manage him carefully - he needed injections in his back last week - but, with such a strong battery of bowlers, they need not over-exert him.
Yet Tremlett's deeds did not break Gloucestershire as, at 133-6, they threatened to. Sterling - and oddly symmetrical - work from Graeme McCarter and Ian Saxelby ensured Dent's endeavours did not go to waste: both made 20 off 21 balls in 22 minutes.
There was daring, as McCarter deposited Tremlett over midwicket for six (even if he perished attempting a repeat). There was bravery, as Saxelby made 20 despite barely being able to move his feet; and a touch of comedy at the sight of three batsmen (Michael Klinger acted as Saxelby's runner) running threes, much to Surrey's evident chagrin. Hamish Marshall was the rock while the Gloucestershire tail let loose.
The upshot was that Surrey required 269 to win - more than twice the feeble 132 they mustered in the first innings. James Fuller took the pivotal wicket of Jason Roy with the day's third ball, lbw attempting to flick through midwicket, and finished with 6 for 47 while Graeme McCarter's away swing wrapped up the innings, advancing his case for a World Cup spot with Ireland. Well as Gloucestershire bowled, Surrey's shoddy shot selection facilitated their demise.
So there was plenty to ponder as they began their second innings. Attention turned to Graeme Smith, who had endured a miserable run: 195 runs at 15 apiece in his last 13 first-class innings, ever since encountering Mitchell Johnson in South Africa.
Here, he seemed inspired by the memory of his fourth innings heroics for South Africa in the past - including an unbeaten 154 at Edgbaston in 2008 that was rated the fourth best Test innings of all time by the book Masterly Batting. The 35 balls he faced this evening were vintage Smith, complete with crunching straight drives and pull shots bristling with intent. By the close he was unbeaten on 34, and not even an apocalyptic storm could dent Surrey's cheer.
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