Kervezee and Shakib leave Surrey reeling
Surrey 259 and 66 for 4 v Worcestershire 308 and 319
When Alexei Kervezee first appeared on the scene as a fresh-faced teenager, the coach, Ian Pont, remarked that there were 'shades of Graeme Hick' about him. The comments were roundly dismissed as absurd. How could anyone compare an untried teenager to Hick?
But Pont's words may prove remarkably prescient. For while Kervezee will never emulate Hick at county level - no-one ever will - he may well end his career with a superior record in international cricket. Certainly Kervezee's batting in this game has been outstanding. Not only did he produce his third first-class century of the campaign, but he passed 1,000 championship runs for the season. For a man of just 20 years of age, that is quite an achievement.
It may well prove to be the defining contribution in an otherwise evenly-contested match. If Surrey are to achieve their victory target of 369, it will be the second highest winning fourth-innings total in the club's first-class history. The highest remains the 410-8 they made at Canterbury in 2002.
That target looked mightily distant by stumps on the third day. Though Surrey started their chase pretty well, an inexplicable moment of madness from Tom Lancefield precipitated a collapse and the visitors lost four wickets for the addition of four runs in 22 balls.
With just four-and-a-half overs left of the day, Lancefield skipped down the pitch and drove obligingly - and quite unnecessarily - to mid-on. Stuart Meaker, the nightwatchman, was punished for thrusting his pad into his forward defensive stroke, before Mark Ramprkash was bowled, second delivery, by a lovely arm ball. It left Shakib Al Hasan with three wickets in eight deliveries without conceding a run. Gareth Andrew soon capitalised by trapping Arun Harinath leg before, playing across a straight one. Surrey will have to bat remarkably well to deny Worcestershire. With the wicket providing assistance for the spinners, Shakib is likely to prove irresistible.
But if it proves to be Shakib who seals the win, it will have been Kervezee who built the platform. With the game in the balance (Worcestershire were just 112 ahead when they lost their fourth wicket, Moeen Ali driving loosely to mid-off), he produced a high-class demonstration of batting, unleashing scorching drives, commanding pulls and delicious flicks through mid-wicket. His almost dismissive treatment of Gareth Batty's off-spin brought particularly warm applause. Batty, a former player who defected at the end of last season, is not the most popular man in these parts.
If Kervezee was a little loose initially - he flashed the ball before lunch just over gully - he was into his stride in the afternoon session. Timing the ball delightfully, he contributed 98 of the 190 runs Worcestershire scored in just 35 overs. Andrew, with 34 from 32 balls, helped him add 74 in just 61 balls in what will surely prove to be the partnership that defines the game.
Perhaps only Jimmy Taylor of young county batsmen offers more promise than Kervezee. But not even Taylor can match Kervezee for style. He sustained one crushing blow on the head from a short ball from Meaker, but was straight back in line to the next delivery and looked unflustered by everything Surrey through at him. A Namibian and Dutch descent, Kervezee qualifies for England at end of 2011. It will be relevant.
It is surely fitting that Kervezee will provide a lasting legacy of Mark Newton's time at Worcestershire. Newton steps down as chief executive of the club at the end of September after a decade in the post, but his influence will be felt many years into the future.
It was Newton's swift action that secured the services of Kervezee four years ago. With several other clubs - including local rivals, Warwickshire - looking at Kervezee with interest, Newton seized the moment and flew to Holland. There he meet the boy and his parents in the airport and quickly agreed a contract. It was an astute move. Securing Kervezee on a five-year contract extension a few weeks ago will surely prove equally astute.
Kervezee won't be Newton's only legacy. Despite coping with floods, a recession, the mass defection of players and the insolvency of a major sponsor, Newton has overseen the building of The Graeme Hick Pavilion and the Basil D'Oliveira Stand at New Road. The club are also optimistic that they will be able to announce the next phase of the ground redevelopment - which includes a hotel - within the next few weeks. If they do so, it will alleviate much of the financial pressure which currently burdens them. From the depths of 2007, when the club lost over a million pounds, it's hard to see how anyone could have done a better job than Newton. It is interesting to note, however, that his replacement, David Leatherdale, will not be replaced as the club's commercial director. Times are desperately tight in county cricket.
For that reason, there is also some doubt over the future of Vikram Solanki. Though he is contracted for another two years at New Road, the club may well be willing to listen to offers. In these straitened times, the salaries of senior players are increasingly hard to justify and Solanki's return of just 593 runs at an average of 27 hardly makes a compelling case for retainment.
But if this season really is about building for the future, then Worcestershire supporters have brighter times ahead. For in Kervezee they have a gem. Batty, Meaker and Dernbach were all punished for more than four an over and, by the time he reached his century (off just 103 balls), he looked a class apart.
It was a different game when Chris Tremlett had the ball in his hand. His opening spell (8-4-4-2) removed David Wheeldon, who paid the price for playing slightly across one that nipped back, before Vikram Solanki's tentative prod at a beauty that bounced and left him ended up in the hands of slip. Tremlett returned later to dismiss Shakib, caught off the glove as he attempted to hook, and bowl Kervezee as the batsmen sought to hit out with only tailenders for company.
Tremlett finished with his fifth four-wicket haul of the season and match figures of eight for 87. Geoff Miller has already watched him in this match and can only have been impressed.