Surrey 462 for 4 (Ramprakash 200*) lead Middlesex 404 for 5 declared (Styris 100*) by 58 runs
Middlesex players celebrate Scott Newman's wicket as Surrey slip to Division Two
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Surrey were teetering on the brink of relegation overnight, and the one final push that sent them tumbling was struck by Yogesh Golwolkar, when he trapped Scott Newman lbw on the second day at The Oval. Mark Ramprakash's unbeaten 200 is impressive on the scorecard, and it was an effortless and graceful innings, but all the meaningful action in this match was done and dusted shortly after noon.
As solidly as Newman and Mark Ramprakash batted during the opening session, it was only a matter of time before Middlesex claimed their third wicket - and with it, the decisive first bowling bonus point. There were no boos from the Surrey members or cries for heads to roll: that had already begun with Steve Rixon's departure and, besides, four captains in a season doesn't leave much room for manoeuvre. At least the manner in which Newman and Ramprakash attempted to save some face was distinctly better than the shambolic performance on the opening day.
Once Middlesex's first division safety was assured, they visibly relaxed and the game took on an end-of-season feel. Owais Shah and Ed Joyce confirmed that they should stick to batting, while Ramprakash - never one to miss the chance to fill his boots at county level - and the middle-order enjoyed the chance to boost their season's average.
Indeed, Ramprakash's decision to move from Middlesex to Surrey to ensure himself of first division cricket - a decision which still rankles with many Middlesex members - has now backfired. Next summer he will be right back where he was trying escape from, and there is no easy path back for Surrey.
As Surrey's relegation was confirmed, the new coach Alan Butcher spoke to the media and accepted that there were plenty of changes needed, both on and off the pitch. He pinpointed the professionalism within the team as a key factor, and gave strong hints that this had suffered during the last couple of seasons.
"There is a lot of talking to be done as a group," admitted Butcher. "Over the last two years we haven't done ourselves justice - and I think the players are holding their hands up to that. We need to get back to some of the group ethos that we had five or six years ago, basically a code that we [are] prepared to live and play by. One or two things have fallen by the wayside in recent years and we need to readdress that."
Quite how Butcher is going to go about the rebuilding process is unclear. He has been given a two-year deal but said that he hasn't as yet had talks with the committee about their view on the situation. Also, any desire he has to rebuild the team is likely to be hampered by budget and contract constraints.
Butcher highlighted Surrey's lengthy injury list as a key factor to his side's poor performance this season. Key players have been out of action at vital times: two Surrey stalwarts, Jimmy Ormond and Martin Bicknell are absent for this match, and Butcher said that the years of success had stalled the forward planning of the club, leaving them with an ageing team.
"It is something we have been aware of for some time, but probably haven't addressed it soon enough. Going down will make it imperative that we do something about the playing squad but we can keep some of the players we have and get them fit; with the right professionalism, I still think we can compete."
Some of Rixon's departing comments expressed disbelief at the lack of professionalism in the county game, and Butcher said he has already talked to some of his players. "I've had one or two chats with a couple of the players individually, and some as a group, and I think a lot will take responsibility in that area."
Butcher, the coaching staff, committee and players now have six months to come up with their solutions. The issues off the field need to be addressed before any upturn in results can be expected. There won't be any quick fixes.
Andrew McGlashan is editorial assistant of Cricinfo