I used to be a Surrey member. I’ve been a supporter since the 1970s, when I followed my deceased grandfather’s teams rather than my Dad’s (Dad was Kent), and thus can’t be accused of the old “bandwagon” tag. But I did become a member for about six years from 2001 onwards, and spent some great days at The Oval, as well as going to Guildford and Whitgift over the years.
I had some leave to take and thought the Lancashire fixture looked like one to be at. For me Surrey v Lancashire will always bring me back to a magnificent tense Day 4 back in 2002, when Ramps took us home against a pretty decent Lancashire attack (Chapple, Flintoff and Hogg). This year’s match saw two teams looking up and down, as the table is very congested in the middle, with only Middlesex, Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire really sure of their fate (safety/relegation). All eyes look at Hampshire and what one win might do to the competition, so although Surrey lay in third place, they had played more and could not afford a slip-up. A win would guarantee survival, more or less.
Your three main writers on here have contrasting views of county cricket. Sean is at the more enthusiastic end, with his Middlesex membership, while TLG is less enthused. I’m in the middle. I love the game, and I like it competitive and reasonably high in quality. I find out more at a day’s county cricket than reading the papers, and it’s also quite social. I usually have a day out with work mates (we did Middlesex v Surrey at the beginning of August, but this one was flying solo. That Sean and a friend turned up was a bonus.
The main reason to go to see Surrey is that I have seen Kumar Sangakkara bat just the once in person (the Lord’s test of 2006). When I’ve seen Surrey recently we’ve either had the tail in at the start of the day, or the opposition were batting. So knowing I was going to Day 2, the hope was that Lancashire would bat first. They did.
The other reason, as if you can’t guess, is to take photographs. Lots and lots of photos. Ever since I got an Ultra-Zoom camera (some might call them Bridge cameras) I’ve wanted to get a stock of pictures from the sports events I’ve gone to. Cricket is a great sport to take pictures, but you have to be patient and lucky to get the good ones with a hand-held camera. I have a lovely Panasonic Lumix FZ-series, and some of the results I’m really pleased with. You’ll see some, enhanced/destroyed by Snapseed, accompanying this piece.
I got out of work early on Tuesday, the opening day of the game, and got to the ground “courtesy” of a sweltering Boris Bus that had people fainting in the heat (I got off a stop early – it was unbearable). I was in work attire, so not suitably dressed for 30 degree heat. A great day to wear a dark shirt!
I sat out in the new May Stand – and they seem to have not scrimped on the leg room that I find bad in the Blocks 17-19, but that may be perception – for what was the pre-tea session. Lancashire were 6 down when I got into the ground, and the first ball I saw was Rob Jones being bowled by Sam Curran. 198 for 7. What I didn’t know was that this was pre-Tea. It was well after 4pm, and a few overs later everyone walked off for a 20 minute break. Need to read those playing regulations again!
After a nice stroll on the outfield, taking a couple of selfies, a few other odd pics, I settled down in the OCS Stand, to the Surridge Stand side of the ground (as I know it) and, as it turned out, just in front of the press seats. This didn’t give you a wonderful view as the pitch was to the gasholder side, but was in the shade. Blessed relief. There’s also a solid wall to rest the camera on to take pictures, which at least keeps the action steady. There was some action too. Meaker was given some treatment by Arron Lilley, but when lower order players are finding it quite simple it’s indicative most times that there are no terrors in the wicket. Meaker slowed the scoring rate by coming round and targeting Lilley’s body a little more, and rewards came Surrey’s way when what looked like a slower ball did for Jarvis (bowled by Tom Curran) and then, when I was walking back around to the May Stand to meet a mate, Lilley nicked off to Meaker.
I moved to Block 18 and sat at the front. This was as near as you could get to the Vauxhall End stumps for pictures. About 10 yards to my right was a spectator who was engaging in a conversation with Sam Curran, who had been posted to deep backward square. At the time I tweeted how thoroughly nice he came across. He answered the questions, almost enthusiastic in wanting to talk to someone about the cricket. He had selfies done with the questioner and another spectator. I don’t say this lightly, but he just seemed thoroughly nice. I then thought, as the cynic in me does, that it wouldn’t take long for that to be bashed out of him. One can hope not.
He was stationed there longer than he hoped as the last wicket put on 48. Mark Footit had hardly been noticed, but in the final over he bowled, he gave up a filthy wide on the second ball, and you could sense the frustration, both in Footit and the supporters. He then proceeded in beating Kerrigan’s bat for three balls (at least) in succession before on the final ball of the over, he got Kerrigan to nick it. Lancashire were all out for 287.
I moved around to the May Stand and met up with my friend as Surrey batted for the remaining overs of the day. I’ve had an impression that Burns and Sibley could become easily becalmed, but both kept the score moving, Burns in particular, and a 50 for 0 finish was perfect. It should have been for one as off the penultimate ball of the day Burns was dropped, with a regulation chance, by the Lancashire slip fielder. Play ended at around quarter to seven. I was looking forward to a full Day 2, watching Surrey bat and put themselves in a good position. And to watch it with shorts and a T-shirt on, and a hat.
Wending my way down from Vauxhall Station on the Wednesday, the heat was already overpowering. I was carrying a pretty heavy cool bag with some liquid refreshment – water mainly – and sweating like Gary Balance will for selection on the India tour. I took up early residence in the Pavilion, but I really can’t get into the game there. I’m no Barmy Army recruit, but there’s something excessively stuffy about these sorts of places that make my teeth itch. My main reason for going in there is to pay homage to the Jardine pictures. This I did later in the evening.
Once I’d got the nod that Sean was in the vicinity I moved around to the May Stand and sat in the full force of the sun. On the field Surrey were turning up the temperature on Lancashire, as the stand went past 100. While not flowing at a rapid pace, they overcame some early becalmed batting, with Sibley hitting some eye catching shots to some quite friendly bowling.
Lunch came with no wickets in the first session. I was trying to recall the largest opening stands I’d ever seen (thinking Hayden and Langer at The Oval in 2005, Fulton and Key, maybe, at The Oval to start a season) while going through press and social media characters with Sean – who we liked a lot, who we weren’t so keen on – and the heat kept raging. Both Burns (earlier in the day) and then Sibley went past half centuries but then Dominic became becalmed and the score seemed to slow. Then, with the score on 160, the partnership was broken, as Jarvis, looking more threatening, got one through Sibley’s defences.
All eyes looked towards the dressing rooms. Would it be Harinath, or would I get to see the great one now. As he walked on the field, there was no doubt. Enter the arena…Kumar Sangakkara.
Within a few minutes Rory Burns, having passed 1000 first class runs (he’s pass 1000 Championship runs in the second innings) and looking good for a century, found a way to get himself out, chasing one and being caught behind for 88, and Arun Harinath joined Kumar at the crease. We were now flagging in the warmth as Kumar basked in it, looking glorious in pretty much everything he did. Arun got into the fun of it too, looking quite fluid and justifying his comment to the Lancastrians near me the night before who asked him “whether he could bowl”. “No, ” he started “but I’m supposed to be in the team for my batting”.
Sean and I transferred into the Bedser. This had followed a DM exchange with a DM journo, who had tweeted from the ground earlier. We couldn’t locate the esteemed Mr Booth, thinking the press box was in fact the TV box (seriously, why would I know). We finally located him through the viewfinder secluded in shade about 20 feet behind where I sat the evening before. But while looking out for him, we rarely took our eyes off Sangakkara. I’ve a ton of pictures, but here are a couple.
Harinath’s stay wasn’t a long one. From the glitterati in the Bedser, the appeal for Leg Before looked optimistic because he’d gone quite well forward to Lilley’s delivery, but up went the finger and Arun trudged back disappointed with life. As he entered the dressing room area he headed towards the bank of computers and one can guess he was looking to see if his fears were confirmed. I had the camera ready for a pic of the dismissal. Not sure it tells you a lot.
The next man is Steven Davies and his arrival at the crease saw even more positive play. I’ve seen him bat a couple of times for Surrey, including in a great partnership with Hashim Amla on a raging bunsen a couple of seasons ago (known as the Ollie Raynor game) and he appears well organised, a decent range of shots, and quite positive. Sangakkara had been sublime. A big lead looked on the cards. Tea came with Surrey a few runs behind and with three wickets down.
Sean and I wandered around the perimeter of the ground to catch up with Mr Booth, and had a nice bonus in meeting Tim Wigmore as well. We had a little chat, talked about this and that, and as we made our way back to our seats, Sangakkara got out. He made a lovely 67, with just enough skill and verve to leave you satisfied, but desperately disappointed that there wasn’t more. I think his contract is up at the end of the year. Let him have one more year, please. So we can see shots like the one below, hitting Kerrigan for 6…
Ben Foakes didn’t last long. I’d seen him bat very well for a while at Lord’s a few weeks before but today wasn’t his day. There’s talk of him being near an international call up, but he’s got Bairstow, Buttler, Billings and maybe Duckett to get past. Who knows. There wasn’t enough on show as he was LBW to Procter for 11. Surrey had gone past the Lancashire total, but perhaps the lead wasn’t going to be the 200 or so the home fans thought would be necessary.
As Foakes departed, there was something to raise the soul. Batting at 7 was Sam Curran. Now I’ve got to say the only length of time I’ve seen Sam bat was the through the fingers stuff of last year’s One Day Cup Final, and then he looked like a boy among men. I mean, look at him. He looks like a young teenager. He’d have trouble getting served in a pub!
Sam is the future, but he’s a top player now. He came out and played confidently. Davies passed 50 looking extremely good, and primed for a big score. Then, out of nowhere, Davies popped up a simple catch, and the “tail” appeared to open. Curran had been circumspect, the light was getting a bit more testing, the heat of the day still there, but without the azure blue skies of earlier in the day. Surrey looked at the lead being possibly 100-120, and an opportunity had been wasted against an attack that was game, but not particularly threatening. Simon Kerrigan wasn’t exactly demanding a recall. Arron Lilley ended up taking five (after the following day’s play). Davies’s dismissal, at 348 for 6 could have been a turning point.
Out came brother Tom. Numbers 58 and 59. Interesting (to me) that Sam has Curran S. on his back but Tom just has Curran. Tom was a man on a mission. A mission to block! He would not get off the mark in the remaining time allotted for play (I think it was 20 balls) while Sam eked a few more runs, looking quite confident, if not totally in control, and finishing the day on 28 not out. Surrey ended up on 354 for 6, a lead of 67, and if not in total command, in a position to dictate terms if the boys could kick on the following morning, when I was back in a bleedin’ hot office.
We retired to the cool of the pavilion, I paid homage to the collage of articles and photos of the great Douglas Jardine, and we had a couple of very decent Yardbird (it’s not wonderful, it’s also not effing Carlsberg) before retiring to the Hanover to watch the rest of the ODI taking place.
What did I take from the day’s play other than a ton of pictures? I have to say, and it is based on only a small sample size, that the quality wasn’t all that. Lancashire are a workmanlike side, at best. They don’t have players out there that scream at you as “potential internationals”. Alviro Petersen appears well past his best (and I saw some of his best in a brilliant 150-odd he scored for Somerset at The Oval about three or four years ago), and the fielding was shoddy. The bowling had to be filed under “Game Triers” rather than threatening. The wicket didn’t help, but Tom and Meaker got a fair bit out of it in the first dig, and Mark Footit got career best numbers in the second. Lancashire should survive. This is either an indictment on the division that they aren’t struggling yet, or a great credit to their coach, the King of Spain.
As for Surrey, the fact that they moved, briefly, into second, and that their support is still on Twitter worrying how many more points we need to avoid the drop, speaks volumes. There is some talent out there, but the batting, if it is minus Sanga and Davies next year is a concern. Sam Curran is a precocious talent, and it remains to be seen if he becomes a Ben Stokes or a Ben Hollioake in England’s eyes, and the bowling, after a tough start (and the curious pick up of Ravi Rampaul) looks balanced. Of course, Surrey were without Zafar for this match (injured) and spin didn’t play much of a part. Surrey have won as many games as Yorkshire and Middlesex, but they’ve lost more than everyone except Nottinghamshire, who are bottom. They are on a surge, they were good to watch, but I’m sorry, they are nowhere near the team of 15 years ago, and anyone who contends that the quality is higher than ever is deluding themselves. I truly believe that.
But, the most important thing, is that I really , really enjoyed my one and a third days at The Oval, as I did the day I spent at Lord’s earlier in the month. I hope to be able to go to either Surrey v Hampshire or Kent v Northants on 7 September (pray for no rain) to finish off my season, and even if I don’t do a whole day, I’ll try to nip off to the post-Tea session one day. I’d be delighted to meet anyone who is interested in joining me.
I’ll stick some more pics on the Extra Bits at some point. I took around 400 in all! My thanks to Sean and Harry for providing great company, and the weather gods for gorgeous sunshine. If I take one thing from the experience, is that it is going to be fascinating how Sam Curran develops. While I was sitting there I wondered “how will England mess this up?” Maybe that says more about me than English domestic and international cricket ever could.
Here’s what it shouldn’t be. It should not be about England all the time, as some seem to think it should. You cannot get away from the fact that county cricket is not a financial behemoth outside of T20, and even then there are major issues. What this competition should be is high quality, standalone sporting endeavour. The crowds in were decent, but not great. Members were the majority, and I’ve been to better attended fixtures, and some not so good. There were decent refreshment options, which is useful. Sometimes I think a snobbery is attached to the Championship, evidenced by the ill thought through bollocks that is #propercricket. That is putting up barriers that are not needed. I saw four sessions of really entertaining cricket, with 450 or so runs, 10 wickets, and some key incidents that turned the match. Sniping at cricket fans from the sanctity and sanctimony of the OBO County Cricket section in the Guardian, just because we aren’t totally immersed in it every day is why I despair. I had a great time, I feel attached to Surrey, I like what they are doing, and the club has a real positive vibe about it. It was nice.
And there can be a lot worse things than nice.
Thank you for a really enjoyable read on county cricket. Often overlooked.
As I get older I find I enjoy days at New Road more than Test matches. As you wrote you can move around the ground and get different perspectives through the day. The standard may not be as high as it once was due to the lack of quality overseas players. It’s still great to see young players coming through like Curran S and Clarke here. There are quite a few on the circuit. The step up to international level is steep but some will make it. IMHO the selectors could have made some better judgement calls over who has the technique and temperament but I gather they don’t see these guys day in day out. Sometimes the tough runs are a better marker of Test match temperament than a ton on a flat track vs a tiring attack.
Many thanks for the comment, and thanks for taking the time to read it. I was struck by not really knowing the performances of many of Lancashire’s team, when going back to the 90s and 2000s, you knew most of their players. Kyle Jarvis looked a decent opening bowler, but the rest were steady county stock. I do believe Giles is doing a great coaching job there.
With you on the tough runs – it’s why I say an 80-odd by Amla in County Cricket a couple of years ago was as impressed by any batting I’ve seen in person.
Hope you return and comment some more! If you are new, of course, as I’m losing track….
Jarvis has had a decent couple of years. Wonder if he is angling for England qualification?
I’m one of those who always tunes in and looks forward to every piece. You guys do a brilliant job here. I thought it was time I commented especially since the topic is close to my heart. I’m very much looking forward to the upcoming KP centuries.
We were spoilt.
One of only 3 guys I’ve ever seen in an England shirt who got everyone back to their seats with Botham and Flintoff.
Since 09 I’ve drifted back to county cricket. If you do get chance to watch all the home games the players become more familiar. But yes gone are the days when I could name them all by sight courtesy of Sunday league and One day cup games on TV. The chance to see Tres and Ramps have been highlights as well as Vikram Hick and Mo here.
One of the first matches I ever went to was The Oval for Sunday League in about 1980. Lancs were the opposition and they bought a vocal travelling support. Got a feeling it was Foxy Fowlers first ever match.
Keep up the good work.
I try to see a couple of games each year, and then every early season I look at how the calendar doesn’t fit with my schedule and income flow, and it gets later and later, when the calendar gets more unreliable. But days out like Arundel, to see Ponting in a Surrey shirt, or Whitgift where Ramps ruled supreme, or the old Ilford game, or the old Southend venue were memorable events.
Thanks for reading, and glad you enjoy it. It’s what keeps me going….
Lovely read – makes me nostalgic for the days when I’d trot along to a CC game and discover a new talent or see an all-time great (saw Viv twice – out in the 20s both times).
“I was trying to recall the largest opening stands I’d ever seen”.
The largest I ever saw was dull as dishwater on a Wantage Road featherbed. The best I ever saw was on Day Three here:
A bit like ‘Rayner’s match’, the figures of as modest a spinner as Harvey Trump show what a bunsen that was (unusual for Hove). Lathwell and Trescothick went in with a lead of 80 – Tres who has only 19 years old launched such an attack on Eddie Hemmings that he limped off after only nine overs (more with injured pride than an injured leg most of the crowd thought). Lathwell was all silky timing.
Somewhere in another universe, Lathwell and Tres opened Test after Test for England scored a bucketload of runs. Those “stout yeoman” who drove Lathwell out of the game with their constant pronouncements about “mental toughness” make me sad that England couldn’t find a place for one of the most poetic batsmen I’ve seen. If only, instead of two Test against Warne and Merv Hughes, he’d had seven Tests against Lakmal and Rahat to show what he could do…..
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The Kent game I was talking about. Went to the first two days of it. Key and Fulton put on 198.
Larger than the 185 Hayden and Langer put on for the first at the Oval in 2005.
Memory not working for others.
Delightful write-up. It sounds just 5 degrees Celsius to the north of idyllic.
County Cricket (and the Guardian live blog) can appear a closed shop to newcomers. I got to go to a division 2 match when I was in the UK this summer and found the regulars friendly and chatty, despite my ingenue habit of looking up at the wrong moment, and missing wickets while ferreting around in the cold bag. The live blog is also trying to be as welcoming as possible, particularly as we’ve been told its future may be in doubt, in a context of the G having to do a lot of belt-tightening – although we are constantly told by Guardian writers that the CC is more popular than it appears, due to these very blogs and social media. New voices are actively sought. (Whimsy remains non-negotiable, however there is a variety of opinion.)
I don’t find the County blog welcoming at all, Rooto, but then maybe my more thin-skinned nature doesn’t naturally suit being talked down to by two bob experts on a sport that has space for all. There’s a very thin line between whimsy and patronising, I find. If you like it, fine. I don’t, and that’s probably because certain individuals treat it as their own private fiefdom.
County cricket has never been that way to me. Had some terrific days out talking to fellow cricket nuts when going on my own. Had excellent days with mates shooting the breeze, and downing a few, at county matches. Had a few self-important know-alls, but not many. I don’t like the pavilion at the Oval so much because you are crammed in a bit. When there’s space about, it’s lovely.
Glad the piece is being read though. Not a lot better than warm weather, cold beers, nice cricket and the opportunity for some excellent pics in great light.
I think I know what you mean. I’m not going to diss the people there, as we have plenty of fun chats (albeit, it is hardcore CC. None of yer high-quality international stuff…). If the current trend for new voices bears fruit and dilutes that tendency, I’ll let you know. 🙂
The problem with CC Live started when it/they deliberately set itself/themselves up as a haven from all that frightful debate about the international game, and certain people made a tedious point of telling everyone over and over again how proud they were not to be one of the “nutjobs” whose raison d’etre was to make poor ickle Mike’s life a misery, and by implication made it clear they regarded themselves as being on some sort of higher plane.
You know my issue with it. The same sanctimonious entities that speak down to people on international issues on the relevant pieces, then lord it up on the county blog as if they run the effing thing. I don’t participate where I’m not wanted. I’m also not for snivelling around journos either. I think LB can vouch for the fact I’m not a sniveller. A drinker, maybe….
Same problems here, I’m afraid, even though there are commenters I like very much who nowadays only go on the CC blog. Unfortunately there are also people I can’t stand who act as self-appointed pundits.
Also, I’m all for a bit of whimsy but in-jokes are a way of showing other people that they’re not ‘in’.
I experienced a rare sensation today Dmitri – I really wanted Surrey to win! Not just for your sake, of course. I’d like them to enjoy some success just so my Dad can spend some time crowing to me how much better they are than Kent. He deserves that at least, given that most other enjoyment of cricket has been taken away from him.
Really nice piece of writing, by the way. But you probably know that, deep down 🙂
I find it very hard to watch Surrey on the TV. I was not ever convinced we’d win that, even with them 90 odd for 5, or whatever it was. That emotional investment in a team is what I’ve lost with England. I genuinely feel, after the dark days of the Adams era, that things are looking up. Sure, we can be hard to like, but there are some decent players there.
I didn’t know how the piece would go. County cricket does not float this blog’s boat. But we don’t do this purely for hits, or else all pieces would be on KP or England nonsense. I’ve also been told some of my readership think I moan too much, while others think I’m going soft…. 🙂
Cheers for the comment.
I am pleased you got to see the great man bat, it only seems to be at the end of his career that he’s receiving the plaudits for just how fabulous a player he has been. Seeing his hundred at Lords for Sri Lanka is a highlight of my cricket watching career, and boy did I tell everyone around me about that.
His Test record is impressive enough overall, but when you realise that he averaged nearly 70 when playing purely as a batsman, then it’s clear how lucky those who have got to see him bat really are.
Dmitri is right that I’m pretty much uninterested in the county game. It’s nothing to do with the standard of cricket either, more a problem with how the game in England is structured. But I also know that some adore it. May it prosper them. As a wider point, and it applies to the Guardian county blog, the inability of some to accept that other viewpoints are legitimate and that it doesn’t make the holder of that opinion evil is a blight on modern society.
I hate that. Argue with each other till we’re blue in the face, that’s fine. Assume a superiority in your own perspective and you invite my contempt.
Jason Gillespie is leaving Yorkshire at the end of the season by the way.
I actually spend a fair bit of time going to Surrey and I work only 15 minutes from the Oval. I regularly go to evening sessions there and popped in on the Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. Sadly, other commitments including work meant that I couldn’t get to any of Thursday which was the decisive day. There is a bit of snobbery with the members section sadly. One or two Surrey fans I know say they prefer the OCS stand. It is something I might well decide to do in the future.
There isn’t enough real quality with the bat, I find the likes of Davies as a player slightly short of real international potential and in any case his time has passed. Sam Curran and possibly Meaker for international roles. The former certainly in the future, the latter possibly as real pace is something that selectors will look for, particuarly with a tour to Australia now a little over a year away (shudders).
As one whose main in the flesh caress of my love of the game grew amid the county grounds in the south, be it the CC or a JPL, an occasional Gillette/B+H Cup match (I was there when ‘Proctershire’ demolished the Hants top order at Northlands Rd in ’77…) and loved the variety of the grounds – from the pace of my local United Services Ground in Portsmouth 30 mins walk from home), to the beauty of Bournemouth, and trips with my mother to Hove, Taunton, Arundel, Canterbury and Lords,I have always adored these vivsits, sadly less as time passes and outgrounds and my available transport options (fuck getting to the Rose Bowl (ageas -who they?).
So thank you Dmitri for this reminder of what for me once was,…pure joy… even if it was from your positions in my second least favourite ground (ughh, first is the concrete monstrosities of Edgbaston in the 90’s – has it improved?)
..and oh… all played in whites… 😉
perhaps one dark and dismal evening I will expand on this if anyone is interested
I’m still waiting for your book review of Sundial In The Shade 🙂
Haha…. I shall re-read it shortly! At the time – a number of months after publication, there were some excellent reviews in cricinfo and elsewhere, along with some online interviews with BAR (hell, he even RT’d me and we had a brief twit convo…)
So I apologise for the non-appearance of the piece at the time
Perhaps, as I commented earlier today on your ‘4-sessions” piece -which I loved, I’ll do something which encapsulates my cricketing upbringing, of which Barry was a seriously major part?
As we say, sir, we consider all articles. We have a lot of time to fill before the next test cricket for England, and quality stuff is always needed.
Thanks for a superb article Dmitri. Felt like I was there. In fact, I would have been except using Southern Rail is like playing Russian roulette nowadays and I saw Sean’s tweet that his journey home wasn’t what he ordered.
There is nothing to compare with being at a cricket match in person. It kind of has an extra dimension and, I guess the roar of the greasepaint. I do wish the Oval was down the road from me. I still enjoy county cricket. I like having room to move about and the games are uncluttered from the ECB razzmatazz and melodrama.
Probably your best photos to date. What ISO are you shooting at?
On your last point. .. not a clue. Sport setting on the camera.