Surrey swagger is back as promotion nears
Surrey 346 (Burns 158, Porter 4-96) and 314 for 7 (Harinath 87, Burns 71, Wilson 56*, Westley 4-75) beat Essex 369 (Pettini 134, Browne 114, Ansari 5-108) and 289 for 9 dec (Westley 90, Batty 5-102) by three wickets
The boisterous rendition of Surrey's team song - a legacy of Mark Butcher's time as captain - spoke of a deeply contented squad. They had much to be contented about. Surrey had just won their fourth consecutive game, lifting themselves 54 points clear of third-placed Glamorgan with four games left to play.
Although three late wickets gave Surrey's run chase an ostensible tension, they chased down 313 with a palpable swagger befitting a vibrant young team who will soon leave Division Two cricket behind.
In a side not lacking for razzmatazz, Arun Harinath and Gary Wilson are two undemonstrative cricketers, eschewing histrionics but identified by dependability. They rarely feel compelled to match more belligerent teammates stroke-for-stroke, but, as they proved here, it is not because they are entirely incapable of doing so.
Harinath has enjoyed a career-transforming season. First given an opportunity when Rory Burns was knocked unconscious during a horrific collision with Moises Henriques at Arundel, Harinath responded with a pair of centuries against Glamorgan.
His progress - adhesiveness married with newfound assertiveness - has delighted many, Kumar Sangakkara included. In All Out Cricket, Sangakkara recently praised Harinath's aggression as befitting "a good, old-fashioned Sri Lankan brand of cricket", lamenting "what an opportunity it would be for Sri Lanka if he was over there and playing."
Building his innings diligently after Surrey lost Burns and Davies in consecutive overs, Harinath's 87 provided ample evidence of his shot-making ability. When he crunched Jamie Porter to the point boundary he did not even deign to move. The nimbleness of his footwork as he lofted the ball down the ground against spin was also delightful.
Together with Gary Wilson, Harinath forged the decisive partnership of the match: 92 in 16.5 overs. Wilson oozed intent from his arrival, his cries of "push, push" booming around Castle Park whenever a gap was located. He was particularly adroit against Monty Panesar, heaving him for an emphatic six over long off and then deftly reverse-sweeping for four in the same over.
"I just knew that when it got down to a one-day scenario that we could probably put on the gas with him, because he does tend to bowl at that one pace and when we got a few shots away off it he might not be able to have the change-ups that perhaps the others guys might," Wilson reflected.
After 750 runs at 46.87 apiece last year Wilson would not have been the first to take umbrage after not being retained as captain (partly due to his Ireland commitments), but he is not the sort to do so: his fourth half-century of the season lifted his average above 45 once more.
As Surrey built their chase upon another innings from Burns that oozed assurance, it had seemed as if their chase was set up for Jason Roy, who promptly slog-swept Tom Westley for a four and six in consecutive balls. With Surrey needing 150 from the final session with seven wickets in hand, Roy gave note of his intensions by thumping a straight boundary in the first over after tea. "He's going for it," Essex's Jamie Porter could be heard muttering.
So Roy was, and, as he followed a pristine offdrive off Panesar with a late cut of finesse for another boundary three balls later, Essex has good reason to fear. He smeared another slogsweep off Westley to the square leg boundary, but this time Matt Salisbury parried the ball, tumbled over the boundary edge and then returned to pluck the ball out of the air.
It was the sort of moment that deserved to be match turning, but Surrey hurtled over their target with the force of a runaway train, even promoting Sam Curran from No 10 to No 7 to speed up the time before they could bring out their team song.
Division One is coming, and Surrey think they are ready. "Division One cricket is a step up but it's still Championship cricket and we'll be confident that we can step up," Wilson reflected. "The good thing about this team is it's a really young squad. There's going to be years of learning but we've got so many players that have got to be on the England radar."
That the game finished with 17 scheduled deliveries remaining was testament to the outstanding work done by the ground staff at Castle Park. While the pitch did not deteriorate in the way some envisaged - after day two Burns said that he would not like to chase more than 250 - it produced four days of engrossing cricket.
Ultimately the superiority of Surrey's spinners proved decisive. While Panesar had bowled encouragingly in the first innings, he was too predictable, too fast and too flat on the final day, until a rank longhop to Gareth Batty was dispatched to secure Surrey's win.
It did not speak well of Panesar's performance that he was out-bowled by not only Aron Nijjar, a 20-year-old left-arm spinner, but also Westley, who had not taken a Championship wicket all season until this game. Panesdar finished with 1 for 88 and went at nearly five an over. Nijjar and Westley took 6 for 158 and conceded 3.5.
"We never really got control of the game," admitted Essex coach Paul Grayson. "We were leaking runs a bit too easily and couldn't really sustain pressure for any period of time."
In many ways Essex's day was defined in the first over of the day. Westley, who had the capacity to dominate Surrey's attack, was dismissed to his second ball of the day, a flick to the legside freakishly ballooned off Roy at short leg, who caught the ball on the rebound.
"Above all, he believes in getting things done," wrote the journalist Simon Heffer of 'Essex Man' when he christened the term 25 years ago. For much of Essex's second innings Heffer might have thought that his opinion needed revising.
Essex failed to even score at three an over which, even allowing for the nous of Surrey's spin twins, seemed to betray a curious lack of urgency considering the side began the match 56 points behind Surrey. and a win was essential. Besides Westley, who failed to add to his overnight 90, Essex's top order gave the impression their feet were chained to he ground.
At several occasions on the final morning all 13 players on the pitch were united in looking up towards the pavilion to see if James Foster was calling his team in. But Essex batted on and then batted some more - and rather lethargically in the circumstances - even as their lead cleared 300.
Still, Gareth Batty was not complaining, his perseverance and skill rewarded with a five-wicket haul to match Ansari's in the first innings: Surrey's two spinners shared 15 wickets in the match, the last coming from a superb Jade Dernbach catch at fine leg, catching a ferocious sweep from Kishen Velani on the rebound.
Tim Wigmore is a freelance journalist and author of Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts