Benning blasts Surrey to victory
Surrey 236 for 5 (Benning 106) beat Middlesex 233 for 8 (Berg 65, Scott 52, Nicholson 3-37, Dernbach 3-44) by 5 wickets
On the day when James Benning turned 25 years old he gave himself the ultimate birthday present for a cricketer - a century at Lord's that set up an easy win for his side. Benning blasted 106 from 84 balls to propel Surrey to a five-wicket victory over a listless Middlesex, who relied on their least experienced player, Gareth Berg, to make a game of it.
Berg's 65 lifted Middlesex to 233 after they stumbled to 55 for 5 but they were still short of a truly competitive total and Benning's blitz easily gave Surrey their first win of the tournament. He also wrote his name in the history books as only the second Surrey player to score a century in a 50-over match against their cross-town rivals Middlesex, 20 years after Alec Stewart became the first.
Whereas Surrey's fast men swung the ball prodigiously early in the day, the Middlesex attack too often dropped short and Benning pounced, blasting 19 off one Tim Murtagh over, including a vicious, flat six pulled over midwicket. He peppered the short, square boundaries with back-foot drives and pulls, and raced to his half-century from 32 balls.
While his innings was chanceless, his team-mates had some assistance from a lacklustre Middlesex fielding effort. Shaun Udal and Ed Smith both dropped catches and Udal's spill at mid-on was doubly embarrassing - he gave the striker Scott Newman (35) two lives with one ball by missing a simple run-out opportunity after putting the chance down.
Benning's second fifty took a more leisurely 48 deliveries and he brought up triple-figures with a boundary to long-off against Berg. When he finally holed out off Murtagh he had scored the bulk of Surrey's 165 for 3, and Ali Brown finished the task with 18 balls to spare.
What Middlesex wouldn't have given to have had such a total on the board at three down. Instead, they collapsed to 9 for 3. Smith decided to bat first but conditions were overcast and he cannot have been surprised at the movement Surrey's seamers enjoyed. Smith, Ed Joyce and Owais Shah were all trapped lbw by swinging deliveries within the first six overs as Pedro Collins and Jade Dernbach made the perfect start.
Andrew Strauss could not reproduce the 163 he made against the same opposition a fortnight ago and he was bowled by Dernbach for 13. When Eoin Morgan skied a leading edge to point off Matthew Nicholson, Middlesex were 55 for 5 with worse to come. Ben Scott took a sharp blow to the elbow off Collins and retired hurt on 14, leaving the hosts struggling to reach triple-figures.
Fortunately for Middlesex, Berg continued to impress in his first season of county cricket after grabbing four wickets on his one-day debut last month. He took advantage of some less than threatening slow offerings from Chris Schofield and Usman Afzaal, who between them went for 65 off ten overs. Berg, who this time last year was playing club cricket, looked anything but second-rate as he powerfully swept the spinners and used his feet effectively in posting 65.
A slog-swept six off Schofield grabbed the attention of the healthy crowd, and the ball was given up as lost when it crashed into the empty third tier of the Grandstand. When he and Vernon Philander both edged behind off Nicholson, Scott returned, repaired and rejuvenated, to complete a fifty of his own. Scott and Murtagh dragged Middlesex to a middling total but, as Benning was about to prove, their top-order woes had left their chances irreparably damaged.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo