George Dobell at Chesterfield
Surrey 391 and 253 beat Derbyshire 237 and 365 by 42 runs
It is perhaps fitting that Derbyshire have started to host cage fighting events at the County Ground in an effort to boost their income. For if anyone doubts the tough and competitive nature of championship cricket, they would do well to reflect on events at Chesterfield over the last four days.
Two sides with little hope of promotion stood toe-to-toe trading blows in a brutal, bruising contest, until the casualties were plentiful and almost everyone involved could be ranked among the walking wounded. In a truly bizarre finale, the dying overs saw an injured bowler limping in to bowl to a batsman with a suspected broken arm. That the bowler was eventually replaced by one with a broken finger probably tells you everything you need to know.
The end result saw Surrey claim just their third championship win in three seasons with 55 deliveries of the match remaining. The 23 points lifts them off the foot of the table and up to seventh place. While it's probably too early to suggest they're a team on the rise, they have now won two of their last three games and here showed some impressive spirit in the face of considerable adversity. After a couple of dire years, that's a considerable step in the right direction.
"I couldn't be any prouder," Surrey captain Rory Hamilton-Brown said afterwards. "I'm almost lost for words. What you've just seen is 11 guys who were desperate to win and, how ever the game ebbed and flowed, just kept coming back.
"It shows how far we've come. We showed great character and great bravery. To have a fast bowler on one leg but who just keeps running in is amazing. It's more than I've ever experienced."
That one-legged bowler was Andre Nel. Clearly increasingly incapacitated by his hamstring injury, he nevertheless delivered 25 overs in Derbyshire's second innings off a greatly shortened run and fully deserved the three wickets he claimed.
There is just one caveat to his performance. For a fellow who has already served two two-match suspensions this season, his reaction to Nigel Cowley's 'not out' verdict to an LBW appeal against Greg Smith was foolish to the point of recklessness.
Nel was not Surrey's only hero. Gareth Batty also kept going admirably despite adding a broken left index finger (sustained while fielding during the day) to his sore ankle, while Usman Afzaal contributed two important wickets with his part-time left-arm spin.
And then there was Chris Tremlett. While he was never at his most accurate or controlled, Tremlett showed admirable grit and determination in carrying the attack and delivering 32.5 overs of sustained fast bowling. For a fellow with questions marks over his heart and commitment, this was an impressive performance.
"He's been the best Twenty20 bowler in the country," Hamilton-Brown said, "and he's bowled as quickly as anyone this season. It's testament to the work he's put in."
But Derbyshire, too, deserve credit from this game. Not only did they achieve the highest fourth-innings total ever made on this ground, but they achieved the third-highest fourth innings total in the club's history. At one stage it even appeared they might pull off a remarkable win. At 205 for 1, with Wayne Madsen and Garry Park going well, all the pressure was on Surrey. The pair added 160 in 59 overs, scoring just 20 runs in the first 17 overs of the day, but gradually wearing down the Surrey attack and picking off the support bowlers.
Madsen, in particular, was highly impressive in compiling his second century of the match and his fourth of the season. While he drives pleasingly, his game is built more upon a sound defence and impressive powers of concentration. He became the 15th Derbyshire batsman to score a century in each innings and, oddly, the third of Italian heritage. The others - as if you didn't know - were Chris Bassano (against Gloucestershire in 2001) and Michael Di Venuto (against Middlexex in 2002).
Derbyshire never gave up, either. Even after the loss of the ninth-wicket, Steffan Jones gave them hope and it is ironic that one of the killer blows was self-inflicted. Lungley, at the non-striker's end, was struck a horrible blow on the right arm from a Jones drive and was forced off the pitch with a suspected broken arm. It says much for his bravery that he returned to face a further 21 balls after the loss of the ninth wicket.
Derbyshire will rue a couple of key moments, however. Firstly the dismissal of Smith, clipping obligingly to mid-wicket, was soft and unnecessary, while the 'dismissal' of Nel to a no-ball on day three proved very costly. The extra runs added by Surrey's final batsmen could well have made all the difference.
Derbyshire have now lost four of their last five championship games and sit perilously close to the bottom of the table. They have shown glimpses of better form here, though, and deserve better fortune in the weeks ahead. The return of John Clare and Graham Wagg would help greatly.
Tremlett made the key breakthrough the ball before lunch when Park was drawn into playing at one outside off stump that kept horribly low. Afzaal then struck in successive balls, luring Madsen into edging an outrageously slow long-hop that was surely designed to entice a rash shot, before Chesney Hughes edged one that was pushed on with the arm. Wes Durston's unhappy return to the first-class game ended when he shuffled in front of a straight one, before Smith and Peterson clipped to mid-wicket and Lee Goddard was trapped in front by one that nipped back. Groenewald edged to slip and Tremlett produced a perfect yorker for poor Lungley to secure the win. Moments later, the rain began to fall heavily.
So, a dramatic end to a hard-fought contest containing nine players with international experience and played in a competitive spirit. Whoever said championship cricket lacked quality, intensity or passion? It's just a shame that Mark Nicholas wasn't in Chesterfield to see it.
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