BY MARCUS HOOK
Surrey’s director of cricket Alec Stewart felt a combination of dropped catches and poor shot selection were the reasons behind his side’s embarrassing 10-wicket defeat at the hands of Middlesex, who only needed seven sessions to polish off their star-studded neighbours.
The Oval outfit seemed poised to make their hosts’ batting look even more wanting than their own when Reece Topley reduced Middlesex to 16-3 on the first evening. But a 133-run stand between Sam Robson (95) and Robbie White (72), followed by an assured 46 from Toby Roland-Jones, left the South Londoners a mountain to climb.
“We didn’t play to the standards we want to play to throughout the game,” said Stewart. “The bowling was good, the catching definitely wasn’t – dropping five catches.
“We didn’t do things well enough for long enough. To drop five catches is not good enough, especially at crucial times. There will be some batsmen, who if they had their time again, would choose to play different shots.
“It was probably around a 200 first innings pitch. We had them 16-3. It could have been ‘even stevens’ and Middlesex might have been chasing 180 in the fourth innings of the match. But they’re all ifs and buts.
“The performance at Bristol was poor. Against Leicester, we bowled and batted very well.
“But we’ve come here and bowled well, caught poorly and too many dismissals were self-inflicted.
“We’ve got to lick our wounds, regroup and prepare for what will be a good side in Hampshire. They’re playing some very good cricket. They’ve got Abbas, they’ve got Abbott and their top order have been getting runs.
“That said, it’s about what we can do, not what they’re doing. We’ve got to be patient, we’ve got to be ruthless and we’ve got to make sure we deliver our skills over a long time.
“It’s about not making the same mistakes time and time again. Everyone will make mistakes but you don’t want to make repetitive mistakes – that’s just dumb.
“We know we’ve got a good side. We’ve got to show that, though, throughout the whole game.”
One of the keys to Hampshire’s success, indeed Lancashire’s as well, has been their decision to field two front-line spinners. It raises the question, will Surrey follow suit?
Last summer, their leading wicket-takers were Amar Virdi and Dan Moriarty, who has not featured this season despite notching up 17 victims at 20.11 runs apiece in the Bob Willis Trophy.
“They’re both very promising young spinners and it’s nice to have the option,” said Stewart.
“You’ve got one who’s tapping on the England door and has been playing regularly for three years or so, and another who has only played two four-day games.
“Dan did very well in those games and then did nicely in the T20. But it’s always the second year – once you’ve been seen and there’s video footage of you. But he’s worked hard. He wants to do well. He’s very ambitious and you can’t fault what his results were last year.
“I first saw him three years ago, and a year before we signed him I watched him a fair bit when he was playing club cricket and for the MCC Young Pros. You’re always taking a punt, to an extent, but you try and back your own judgement and then hope the player develops.
“The start Dan had in the Bob Willis Trophy, you couldn’t have made it up. And then to be thrown into T20, again not having experienced it, and to bowl the way he did is a real credit to him.
“Everything’s been so good for him, we keep saying to him it won’t continually go upwards – there will be times when the pitch doesn’t spin and you don’t get your spell right, and it’s how he reacts to that.”
On whether Virdi, who has bowled more overs for Surrey than anyone in the opening three matches this term, is ready for England, Stewart urges a little caution.
“Virds is still young, but he’s probably the most naturally skilful spinner we’ve had in this country for a long time. But you have to remember he’s only 22. So he’s still very inexperienced.
“If you look at the top spinners we have produced, they generally come into the England side at the age of 28 or 29. Even Graeme Swann, who came on that first tour back against South Africa in 1999 [at the age of 20], he didn’t feature. It took him another eight years to get into the England team and to become arguably one of England’s greatest ever spinners.
“You have to give spinners time. But if there aren’t any real options then youngsters like Dominic Bess will get thrust in.
“I think Bess will be a very good cricketer. But when you’re thrown into the spotlight of Test cricket, if you have a little hiccup, everyone sees it, and that can hamper a player’s development.
“Amar is knocking on the door. We got good reports back [from England]on how he went about things as a reserve/net bowler along with Matt Parkinson and Mason Crane [in India]. He’ll have gained from that and seen the standards expected, so let’s see how he goes.
“Early season, they’re not spin-friendly pitches. But there’s still a skill to bowling on pitches that don’t spin. He’s learning, he wants to do well and he enjoyed his experience over the winter.
“Having seen what it’s like, he definitely wants to be a part of it.”
SURREY v HAMPSHIRE probable line-ups
Burns (capt), Stoneman, Amla, Pope, Foakes (wk), Smith, Clark, Clarke, Topley, Roach, Virdi.
Weatherley, Holland, Alsop, Northeast, Vince (capt), Dawson, McManus (wk), Abbott, Crane, Wheal, Abbas.
Rory Burns (Surrey, pictured) – Averages 90.80 with the bat against Hampshire, and how Surrey could do with someone anchoring the top order with Stoneman and Amla currently averaging 18.80 and 15.60 respectively.
Liam Dawson (Hampshire) – After missing most of the 2020 campaign due to a ruptured right Achilles, the former England all-rounder has bounced back with 248 runs from two completed innings, batting at six, and seven wickets at 29.28 runs apiece with his left-arm spin.
Hampshire are top of Group Two in the County Championship with two victories and a draw, while Surrey – fifth (out of six) – have been soundly beaten twice, away to Gloucestershire (by eight wickets) and Middlesex (by 10 wickets).
Hampshire’s Mohammad Abbas (1.81) and Liam Dawson (1.87) are two of only three bowlers currently conceding fewer than two runs an over in the County Championship.
Reece Topley. Reduced Middlesex to 16-3 on the first evening with three wickets in nine balls before Sam Robson and Robbie White wrestled back control.
In a match that will be remembered for dropped catches, one of the five Surrey held on to – a magnificent reaction grab by Rikki Clarke at first slip.
April 29-May 2: Surrey v Hampshire at the Kia Oval (County Championship)
May 6-9: Leicestershire v Surrey at Grace Road (County Championship)
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