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Ansari's resurgence thrills Surrey and England

Surrey 323 (Davies 82, Harinath 73, Curran 52, Ball 4-85) and 244-5 dec (Harinath 83) beat Nottinghamshire 182 (Batty 4-23) and 157 (Taylor 68, Ansari 6-36) by 228 runs >Scorecard

As Zafar Ansari led Surrey off, having bowled his side to a thumping final day win just as spinners are meant to, the moment was infused with catharsis for the man and his team.

In a split-second, September 15 last year went from being one of the best days of Ansari's cricketing life to amongst the most agonising. All it took was a rasping cut from the blade of Ashwell Prince: Ansari, fielding at cover point, shelled the chance, fell to the ground and immediately sensed he had damaged much more than just his pride.

And so a day that begun with his maiden Test call-up would result in a broken thumb ruling him out for six months - not merely the Test tour to the UAE, but also Surrey's first game of 2016.

When he has made it onto the field, Ansari joined a team who have been frustrated by the ever-growing chasm between Division One and Two. Besides a couple of dispiriting trips to the Lancashire and Yorkshire, Surrey have seldom been embarrassed, even as they threatened to mark the season's halfway point winless and marooned to the bottom.

But the pain of a one-wicket defeat at Taunton, in their last game, has now given way to an emphatic 228-run victory from which they will draw great strength, and none more so than Ansari. In 6.2 overs of bedlam, Ansari took 6-16: vindication for all those hours of solitude readying himself for his return.

This was high-class left-arm spin bowling, exploiting a pitch that was wearing, but far from turning square, with subtle variations in pace and flight. Still, that cannot obscure the distinctly self-inflicted element to Nottinghamshire's demise.

From the moment Jake Libby cut Ansari tamely to point, he was abetted by some rank shots; Samit Patel, who replaced Ansari in the UAE last winter, would not reflect gladly on chipping his eighth ball straight into the hands of cover.

Of all Ansari's wickets though, it was that of Brendan Taylor, who had batted with magnificent assurance for his 68, on which he could reflect with most pride: a slightly quicker delivery spun wide of Taylor's attempted drive and, with his backfoot having strayed from his crease, Ben Foakes completed a smart stumping.

It was enough to prompt the thought that, in time, caught Foakes bowled Ansari could be a mode of dismissal in a Test match - perhaps even on England's looming tours of Bangladesh and India.

"I feel as ready as I ever have done," Ansari said. "Going into Test cricket is a step up obviously and it's a challenge but I feel like my game's in a pretty good place now. I've been back for a couple of months to get back into the swing of things, and today will give me a lot of confidence going forward.

"I feel like I'm close to where I was at my best last year, which given that break is relatively surprising and nice. The expectation on my part is it would have taken a little bit longer."

If Ansari's bowling lacks any great mystery, he is a bowler gaining in cunning and self-assurance with every game. "It's just consistency of action - it's about being able to repeat the same things over and over again, especially when players come hard at you, as some of the guys started to out there. It's about being able to stay consistent in that approach and not start to unravel in that kind of pressured environment."

Not that Ansari even looks anything less than phlegmatic on the field. Perhaps his oft-remarked upon academic prowess enables him to view professional sport with a little more balance.

Ansari's bowling has also been aided by his shift down the batting order. While he performed admirably as an opener, albeit sometimes of the funereal variety - in a Championship game at Guildford last year, he went a full 50 overs without hitting a boundary, a feat that even the dark ages of English ODI cricket never approached - there has never been a Test cricketer in the history of the game who has combined regularly bowling 30 overs with opening the batting.

His move to six, facilitated by the unexpected blooming of Arun Harinath since his career was reinvigorated by a pair of centuries against Glamorgan one year and one week ago, allows Ansari to devote more time to his spin bowling.

"Six makes sense for me going forward," he reflected. "Going from bowling 30 overs to opening the batting puts you under quite a lot of pressure. it's not easy and facing the new ball is tough. It's given me a bit more space to enjoy my batting and not be put under the pressure that you are when you're opening."

Ansari has been aided, too, by his spin partnership with Gareth Batty: they are the premier spin bowling pair in the country, an accolade that speaks not only of the dearth of alternatives but also their skills as a duo. Surrey know plenty about spin bowling pairs - if they are not quite Laker and Lock, never mind Saqlain and Salisbury, Ansari and Batty will do just fine.

"We've managed to do it for the last three years now," said the junior by 14 years. "We know each other's games well, and do talk a lot about pace and field placements. I'm really lucky to have Gareth around - not many young spinners have someone to work with who's that good a bowler and has the cricket brain he does. I do owe a lot to him. We also enjoy having this partnership as a spin bowling pair - you don't get that often in English cricket."

Were he not self-effacing almost to the point of caricature - one cannot ask Batty about a fine personal performance without him belittling himself, on this occasion as a "very average player and captain" and "old geezer who just turns up every now and again" - Batty might even be of a mind to dare to advance his own international credentials.

Certainly he is a better and more accomplished bowler than when he played his seven Test matches, as a delivery that lifted to surprise Michael Lumb and induce an edge to slip was testament to.

Instead, Batty prefers to advance the claims of his team-mate. "Zafar bowled quite magnificently today. He's the best young spinner in the country, but we need to allow him to develop and go about his business," he said. "Samit Patel is supposedly England's third spinner, but I would be raising a glass to Zafar tonight." He will not be the only one.