Smith biffs Surrey to overdue victory
Surrey 132 (Fuller 6-47) and 267 for 6 (Smith 103, Davies 61) beat Gloucestershire 168 (Tavaré 59, Dunn 5-48) and 230 (Dent 54, Tremlett 6-49) by four wickets
As Graeme Smith trudged off after Mitchell Johnson ended his final Test innings prematurely, he could have been forgiven for expecting an easier life when he made Surrey his new permanent cricketing home. But Division Two of the County Championship has not provided the soft landing Smith may have envisaged.
Surrey drew two and lost two of their first four games of the season, including being bundled out for 81 by Glamorgan in the opening match. For Smith, things have been little better: after falling for 14 in the first innings against Gloucestershire, his average for the season was only 23. Into his eighth championship game for Surrey, Smith had never surpassed 67.
Surrey certainly needed him to today. After stumbling to 132 in the first innings, they had to double that score to reach 267 to win, comfortably the highest total of the match. They would not have done so without Smith channeling the spirit of his four Test match centuries in successful run chases, including an epic unbeaten 154 that accounted for England - and Michael Vaughan - at Edgbaston in 2008.
Monday evening had brought a sign of things to come, as Smith tackled an awkward 11-over spell before stumps by scything a run-a-ball 34. After Tuesday's cricket was restricted to 17 deliveries, Smith approached the final day with equal ambition. Ten runs in the first full over of the day - including a bludgeoned straight drive oozing bottom-handed intent - served as an unwelcome reminder to Gloucestershire over what to expect.
Like all Smith innings, it was one marked more by power and tenacity than any great aesthetic value, though there was much to enjoy in his booming drives and contempt for any delivery dropped short. With a steer to third man, Smith reached his century: it was a controlled, rather than exuberant celebration, perhaps indicating a man who felt his contribution was overdue. It had come at a one-day rate - off 107 balls, with 16 boundaries - and, in a game in which the first three innings had brought a top score of 59, had the air of a match-defining innings.
Yet Smith could not overhaul Surrey's target alone. Rory Burns provided the ideal foil. The Fool's Gold of trying to emulate his skipper's belligerence did not tempt Burns, who instead eschewed risk. If the result was not exactly stirring - 45 eked out over 171 deliveries - it was no less valuable for that. Indeed, with Gloucestershire a bowler down, thanks to Ian Saxelby's injury, attrition was a shrewd tactic. Surrey were over halfway to victory by the time Smith fell, bottom-edging an attempted pull.
Given the extent of Surrey's batting struggles - they have yet to pass 300 this season - supporters were entitled to feel jittery. And Gloucestershire recognised their chance, choking off Surrey's scoring options as Burns and Dominic Sibley added 10 in 9.5 overs. Sibley then fell to a rash drive after taking 30 balls for four runs: he is averaging under 10 in five matches this season, and a spell in the second XI may be a sensible option. When Burns fell to a tumbling catch from Benny Howell after misjudging a bouncer form Graeme McCarter, Surrey still required another 95. The members' area was awash with panic.
But Steven Davies seemed immune from it. Consecutive boundaries off Howell - threading one delivery behind and the next in front of point - showed him at his silky best. His other specialties - the late cut and the flick to leg - were in evidence too in a sparkling 61 that provided vindication of his decision to opt out of keeping wicket in this match.
Davies brought renewed vigour to Surrey's approach, running sharply between the wicket. While Wilson's calm 16 was terminated by a delivery that kept low, Gloucestershire's moment seemed to have gone. Yet their spirit remained unwavering - a smart stumping from Cameron Herring accounted for Roy; a sharp catch from Michael Klinger accounted for Davies; and McCarter spilled a caught-and-bowled chance off Tom Curran - even as Surrey edged to within a blow of their target.
After one win in their previous 21 championship matches, there was something apt in Surrey's excruciating stumble to victory here.