Afzaal and Ramprakash too good for champions
Surrey 186 for 1 (Afzaal 98*, Ramprakash 61*) beat Middlesex 129 for 7 (Schofield 3-21) by 57 runs
There were no dancing girls in sight, no fireworks crackling and no tight finish as Middlesex began the defence of their Twenty20 title with a heavy 57-run defeat at the hands of local rivals Surrey. An expertly compiled partnership of 139 from 84 balls between Usman Afzaal and Mark Ramprakash lifted the visitors to a commanding 186 and a weakened home side couldn't make an impression.
A crowd approaching 10,000 at Lord's was a slightly disappointing start to the domestic tournament which has struggled to match previous ticket sales. There is so much cricket this season that punters are being selective, and the Twenty20 is also starting a month earlier than normal to accommodate the ICC World Twenty20. It was good fortune that the weather stayed dry, because counties can ill-afford this competition to be badly hit by the rain. Chief executives will be keeping their fingers crossed that summer is here to stay.
Afzaal's 98 was a personal best in Twenty20 cricket and also the highest score by a Surrey batsman in this format, beating James Benning's 88 against Kent in 2006. It was an impressive display from the man who has taken the captaincy for one-day cricket and he mixed power with placement. He brought up his fifty with a six over wide long-on off Shaun Udal and celebrated with a repeat dose.
Twenty20 can be the catalyst for a team to turn their fortunes around and Surrey will see this tournament as a chance to ignite their season. They showed glimpses of form towards the end of the Friends Provident qualifying stage, but by then it was too late to save a campaign damaged by early defeats.
Afzaal, together with Ramprakash, brought up their hundred stand from 59 balls. Ramprakash having reached his half century off 36 balls, was dropped the ball afterwards at midwicket, but generally Middlesex's fielding held up well under pressure. However, Shaun Udal took some punishment with the ball and the attack missed the experience of the injured Tim Murtagh.
They will be hindered in the early stages of their title defence by the absence of Owais Shah and Eoin Morgan on England duty, although both should be available for the final section of qualifying matches after the ICC World Twenty20. Without two of their key players it was always going to be tough ask to chase down 187.
Nick Compton dragged into his stumps via the pad against a typically fired up Andre Nel and Grant Elliott picked up two quick wickets. Tyron Henderson, who only returned from the IPL on the morning of the game, gave a brief glimpse of his hitting power but when he edged Matthew Spreigel behind, soon followed by Dawid Malan carving to long-off, any chance of Middlesex maintaining an ever rising asking rate vanished.
Chris Schofield, who less than two years ago was England's frontline spinner at the inaugural World Twenty20, continued his impressive form with three wickets as the Middlesex batsmen hit out with little hope. The saying goes that getting to the top is the easy bit, staying there is the hard part.
Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo