Surrey cling on for scratchy draw
Sussex 493 (Adams 101) drew with Surrey 304 and 254 for 9 (Newman 86*, Akram 4-85) at The Brit Oval
Shoddy Surrey batting and a wonky weather forecast turned what should have been a bore draw into a thriller. Black clouds loomed all day, but a dry patch parked itself above The Oval, giving Surrey time to throw away six wickets between lunch and tea on a blameless pitch. Despite the draw Sussex, as Chris Adams rightly observed, had "bossed the bosses".
At the start of the last hour Surrey were 193 for 8, a lead of just four. But against a tiring Sussex attack they held out. A six into the Vauxhall-end building site by Scott Newman took them 65 runs ahead and led to handshakes all round, with nearly five overs remaining. It left Sussex wondering about their decision not to declare when they had resumed nine wickets down.
Surrey had bigger worries. A crucial eighth-wicket stand of 101 between Newman and Martin Bicknell embarrassed their top order, whose shots ranged from the ill-advised to the awful. Jonathan Batty went back when he should have been forward. James Benning prodded outside off stump. Mark Ramprakash played round his front pad. Adam Hollioake drove distractedly outside off stump - he had given up the captaincy because he was struggling to motivate himself, and on this occasion it showed. And when Azhar Mahmood drove airily and played on, Sussex were rampant. All afternoon the Surrey groundstaff hovered by the covers, in hope, you suspected, as much as expectation.
Their wishes nearly came true when, at 79 for 5, thunder boomed and lightning flashed over the nearby Houses of Parliament. Despite the absence of rain, the umpires stopped play for two overs, because of new health and safety regulations that require them to give the groundstaff time to get the covers on, and themselves off, before a storm arrives. Sussex stayed out in the middle, flabbergasted. Brian Close once wondered how a cricket ball could hurt, if it was only on you for a second. Sussex's captain, Adams, clearly took the same view about lightning.
But Sussex remained jaunty throughout. Adams predicted they would win the Championship by "some margin" if they kept up their performances of last season. Today Mohammad Akram was quick and committed, taking 4 for 85 and confounding the doubters. Robin Martin-Jenkins bowled a disciplined spell of 11-5-15-3 after lunch. Only Mushtaq Ahmed did not fire. Though he became just the second bowler still playing first-class cricket (after Phil DeFreitas) to take 1000 wickets, he generally pitched too short.
Sussex ran to their positions at the end of every over but they just ran out of time. They meet Surrey again in the last match of the season, and on this evidence they might just be looking at each other from opposite ends of the table.
Paul Coupar is assistant editor of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack.