Recent Match Report – Surrey vs Lancashire 2023

Recent Match Report - Surrey vs Lancashire 2023

Surrey 340 for seven (Steel 86* Foakes 76, Smith 54; Bailey 3-67) against Lancashire

April 2023. At Augusta, azaleas bloom and golfers show precision that monks in a scriptorium might appreciate. At Eden Gardens, gaudy shirts send sixes soaring into the Kolkata sky, watched by millions and wagered by millions more in this pecuniary age. Everywhere else, seemingly, there is football. But at Emirates Old Trafford and seven other grounds there is cricket and the first exchanges in the County Championship, a competition all the more loved and prized by many for being derided and threatened by a few.

We got under way on time in this match between two title favourites, a feat that only three other fixtures managed, and play had seemed unlikely here on Wednesday evening when the rain bucketed down and the blossom hung haggard on the trees in Washway Road. But by the end of a day in which rain had threatened but not fallen, sun had been on the ration and the floodlights had been on since midday, Surrey’s cricketers were easily the happier after they had recovered from 77 from four to post 340 for seven, albeit on a pitch so dry and flat that it seemed to mock reports of the March monsoons that had prevented both James Anderson and Saqib Mahmood getting the overs in their legs that might have enabled them to play in this match.

For their part, Surrey’s revival was resilient and far from inevitable. Rather, it was the stuff of which reigning and greedy champions are made and it was tempting to think it a strange continuation of the collective effort Rory Burns and his players had celebrated when they had been presented with the Championship trophy on this ground just 190 days previously. The headline will be claimed by Cameron Steel, who made a first-class fifty for the first time since 2018 and will hope to repay his county’s faith by scoring 14 more runs and completing a century tomorrow morning. However, the resolute battle had first been taken to Lancashire’s seamers by Ben Foakes and Jamie Smith, whose 87-run stand for the fifth wicket was only ended when Smith leg-glanced Tom Bailey to George Bell in the middle of the afternoon session and strolled off having batted beautifully for a 92-ball 54.
Naturally, though, Foakes’ innings will attract even more comment. “Nowadays I just ignore it all,” he told reporters earlier this week when explaining his approach to the “external stuff” within which he included social media and even this website. On this evidence, Foakes also blanks most of the noise around England’s Test cricket when he needs to do so; his 76 today was old-school stuff and none the worse for that: 230 minutes, 149 balls and seven boundaries, all of them about as flamboyant as a bus-stop.

Ten overs after tea there seemed every chance Foakes would make a century but after practising self-denial for most of the day, he imagined himself free to pull a short ball from Luke Wood wherever he wished on the leg side. Alas, he smashed it to Colin de Grandhomme’s left and saw the New Zealander stick out his left paw to complete a fine grab. It was a vital wicket but it did not affect the drift of the day. Bailey took his third wicket when he removed Jordan Clark but Sean Abbott supported Steel for the final twelve overs and even had the temerity to pull Wood’s penultimate ball of the day over the long-leg boundary.

And all this joyous stuff for the champions followed a first session in which Keaton Jennings’ bowlers limited Surrey to 85 for four in 27 overs during a morning that also had next to nowt to do with the tempo of the Test cricket currently played by Ben Stokes’ England team. Stokes would understand, of course. There is always a limited degree to which this game can transcend its context and an early April pitch in Manchester, even a dry one such as this, exerts its own discipline. There are times to seize the moment and times to let the moment have its way.

The bowlers had something to do with it as well, of course, particularly Will Williams, whose nine-over spell from the James Anderson End included the wicket of Burns – the first of the county season – caught behind for a single in the fourth over off a ball one doubts he touched, and Ryan Patel, much less disputatiously lbw for three. Sandwiched between those successes was the dismissal of Ollie Pope, who had come down the pitch to all the seamers but was sent on his way by David Millns for 13 when looking to work a straight ball from Tom Bailey on the leg side.

Throughout this day, the bowlers had to cope with a skittish, tugging wind, although such a climatic eccentricity probably had little effect on de Grandhomme, who has played plenty of cricket at Wellington and probably reckons Manchester’s fiercest breeze to be little more than a zephyr. Maybe it was fitting, therefore, that de Grandhomme should have won the Battle of the Broad Shouldered when he shaded one away from Dom Sibley, who feathered the catch to George Bell and trudged off for a well-made 35.

That was as good as the day got for the Old Trafford members. The sun returned just after tea but seven of Lancashire’s players kept their hands in their pockets as if to say they had been fooled like that once too often. But if this is the earliest date on which first-class cricket has been played on this ground, there was also much to celebrate about it. Not least the fact that any long withdrawing roar that some imagined they might hear this spring was lost in the quiet appreciation of the supporters, scarcely fans, who had seen two fine sides struggle for mastery in difficult conditions. Not least, either, the fact that we have some six months of this glorious stuff, in all its formats, ahead of us.

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