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.