Surrey on course for first win
Nottinghamshire 218 & 46 for 2 trail Surrey 403 (Afzaal 89, Jordan 57, Spriegel 51, Saqlain 50, Ramprakash 42) by 139 runs
At the end of the teams' first innings of this match, any of the several hundred spectators could be excused for giving a hollow laugh at any suggestion that Nottinghamshire, who started the game at the top of the Division One table, might finish as County Champions. Their innings, against bowling that was no more than average in quality, was reminiscent of the march of the lemmings, as one batsman after another perished to strokes they doubtless now feel ashamed of.
So Surrey are well on course for their first Championship victory of the season, though even they may concede their rolling of Notts for 218 in their first innings was due more to a dismal batting performance than to any outstanding performance of their own. Only when they had put the home side in a second time did they really start to show the vibrancy and self-belief of a winning team. And for a while the Notts second-wicket pair showed enough fight to arouse hopes of a real battle on the final day.
Surrey did not begin the day auspiciously: 356 for 7 overnight, they lost Chris Jordan to the fourth ball without addition. Darren Pattison got the ball to lift and the result was a comfortable catch to first slip.
They still had batting - of sorts - to come, though, and it was entertaining. Saqlain Mushtaq and Jade Dernbach both applied 'block and slog' tactics, with basic defence being supplemented by moments of extreme violence. Saqlain soon hit Pattinson for six over long-on, and ran to 50 off 66 balls before driving a return catch to the bowler.
Last man Pedro Collins, who has been a total nonentity with the bat for Surrey this season, excelled himself today with 6 runs off 14 balls, which allowed Dernbach off successive deliveries to step back and deposit Graeme Swann over the wide long-on boundary with two terrific yahoos. He finished unbeaten on 16; Surrey reached 403, the highest by any team at Trent Bridge this season, and the only bowler who would take any pleasure in his figures was Pattinson with 5 for 72.
The overall verdict on both the Nottinghamshire batting and the Surrey bowling might be: strong on entertainment but ultimately weak in discipline. The Surrey bowling is more renowned for pace than accuracy, and this enabled Will Jefferson to get off to a flier, mainly at the expense of the erratic Dernbach. He flirted unwisely at some deliveries outside the off stump, but raced to 31 off the first 21 balls he faced. Finally, groping forward again, he was caught at the wicket off Matt Nicholson for 42 off 39 balls; 60 for 1. He was Nicholson's 400th first-class victim.
The score at lunch was 64 for 1, but the second ball after the break accounted for Mark Wagh (3), caught at second slip off one from Nicholson that bounced. Notts continued to push along aggressively at more than four an over, with even Matt Wood, who had started quite solidly, starting to open up. But both he and Adam Voges, for 38 and 33 respectively, were caught down the leg side off misdirected balls from the fortunate Dernbach; Voges had already been dropped in the slips off Nicholson when 24. When Chris Read (5) shouldered arms and was bowled by Chris Jordan, Nottinghamshire were 146 for 5.
Most of the batsmen thus far had given their wickets away, and this trend continued as, just before tea, Samit Patel culpably took a wild heave at part-time off-spinner Matthew Spriegel and skied a catch for Jonathan Batty to collect in the region of point - his fourth of the innings. Mark Ealham (12) was perhaps unlucky, bowled behind his legs by Nicholson. But, with the follow-on becoming an increasing threat, the shots of Swann (33), holing out on the leg boundary off Saqlain just after having swept him riskily for six, and Andre Adams, skying the same bowler to extra cover, were even more culpable.
The innings closed for 218, with most of the dismissals brought about by an apparent suicide pact. Collins, the most consistent of the pace bowlers, failed to take a wicket; the main beneficiaries of the home team's largesse were the more erratic Dernbach (2 wickets) and Nicholson(3), and the wily Saqlain (also 3). Surrey, after starting the match bottom of the division, may have felt the confusion of a mediocre gambler finding himself with a full house, but managed to convey successfully their wish to indulge in a follow-on.
Christmas was still not over, as with only a leg-bye on the board Jefferson was bowled by Dernbach via the inside edge. Suddenly Surrey were bowling with real purpose and self-belief; similarly Nottinghamshire had lost their cavalier abandon and were looking nervously over their shoulders to find their backs to the wall.
Strangely, there followed the best cricket of the match so far. Wood and Wagh decided to knuckle down and fight it out; Collins, Dernbach and Jordan produced some superb bowling of genuine pace and hostility, and with greater accuracy too. At last we had the sight of two teams rising to the challenge, giving no quarter and engaging in a tense battle for supremacy and pride. It was only spoilt, for Nottinghamshire, in the penultimate over when Wagh tried to leg-glance Collins and was taken by the keeper for 19; 46 for 2.
Some intriguing questions should be answered on the final day. Will Nottinghamshire drag themselves out of the pit they dug for themselves and force an honourable draw? Will Surrey be able to seize the day and record their first Championship win of the season? And when these are answered, what effect will this match have on the future progress of the two sides this season? This may well prove to be one of the most significant matches of the 2008 Championship.