The fag-end of summer morphs into the chill of early autumn and yet Championship cricket is still being played! The prospect of turning the central heating back on and the sight of satsumas in the shops means that time is passing and Christmas looms (fear not…January sees Crème Eggs reappearing which means Easter is not far behind and the new season beckons…).
As the chill of the morning turns into an almost clear blue sky at The Oval, the decision as to where to sit is paramount as Surrey take on Essex (champions-designate vs past-champions). A breeze also comes into play so the first decision is to sit behind the bowler’s arm in the Pavilion but in shadow and hence ‘cool’. The TV cameraman (since Sky are here for their one Championship game per annum) is dressed like Nanook of the North (young readers…look it up!). The OCS stand is in full sunshine and warmth but also the chill of the breeze so the Vauxhall End it has to be…where if you get the strategy right, it’s as warm as mid-Summer’s day – if only the cricket reflected that! I was tempted to remove my pullover but discretion took over…unlike the odd bare torso seen in the Peter May stand!
On a pitch which from afar (more later) looks damp being the colour of dark wet straw/cinnamon, Surrey struggled (having won the toss and elected to bat!) against the quick seam Essex trio of Porter, Cook S and Quinn. Porter it seems is out of favour with Smith, Taylor et al, and has been somewhat shabbily treated – called up for two Tests, sits both out and now not even on the radar for either Sri Lankan tour sides. Cook S (‘Little Chef’ for those that like nicknames) looks sharp and spicy on this pitch. Quinn muscled in with a few wickets as Surrey collapsed from 41/2 (not a good start in itself) to 57/7 at lunch off 25 overs. Salvation came in the form of Burns out for 19 – he is going to annoy and irritate international teams with his fidgets and mannerisms as well as a few in the crowd perhaps (cf SPD Smith!) – whilst Pope is 21*; today he is tending to fall over on the offside and it seems to me (and what do I know?) that his triggers are a shade slow but hey – it works for him and for Surrey! But international attacks will have noticed.
Post-lunch and Surrey are back in the hutch for 67 folding like the proverbial pack of cards in just over a session’s play. Only Pope and Burns made double figures against a fine Essex attack on a pitch they would want to roll up and take everywhere with them! A swift and ruthless response is needed; Morkel bowls as if he has a grudge against every batsman everywhere and nips Browne out for 2 but Dernbach and Clarke try too hard, overpitch consistently so that Essex sail past Surrey’s 67 with ease and are 100/1 well before tea. Vijay collected a smooth 50 whilst Westley are more circumspect one.
The pitch looks the same, the Surrey bowling trying too hard, the moisture from the morning burnt off in the late summer sun or perhaps rolled out which leads me to think that Burns and Surrey have no answer (they’re missing the Curran brothers) but their resources this summer have dug deep on every occasion and they are not champions without good reason.
But wickets fall elsewhere in large numbers – 86 in nine games before tea – as we have seen before. Batting in late September or early April on green tops is not the best preparation for international players but perhaps it’s all part of the ECB’s grand plan of death by 1000 cuts for 4-day cricket?
Tea eventually arrives (50 mins late) and Essex are still only one wicket down. Batting seems so much easier and yes, the Essex batsmen want to roll this pitch up too and take it everywhere!
One of the delights of the Oval is that everyone is allowed on the outfield during the breaks and today this brings the chance to mingle with the camera crew for the Sky pundits to pontificate on the outfield (sounds illegal but it’s ok!) but also gives everyone the chance to look at the pitch. From afar it looks damp/dark brown but close up it is dry and dusty with a strong tinge of grass left on it – Surrey got caught on a damp morning’s green top (why they didn’t insert Essex or offer them first use…?)
But the other game today has been to chase the sun and move seats frequently – in the sun it’s very warm, in the shade…yes it’s October next week! So at the close Essex lead by 130 with two wickets lost (the second took an age to be judged since with the TV here, every decision can be forensically dissected and no, it wasn’t a back foot no ball – we could all see that from the boundary edge!)
And tomorrow? Who knows? Another cool morning and with a bit of sense…Surrey could get back into the game but I’ve made other plans for Thursday!
And yes…I’m really pleased with the photo – if only the bails were white too but then stumps and bails are sponsored nowadays!