Surrey cricket’s leading club competition, the AJ Sports Surrey Championship, began a new campaign on Saturday – the first four rounds being 50 overs per side – and it was a start with a difference. Richard Spiller reviews the action.
Normandy v East Molesey
Champions East Molesey got off to a flyer – but first they had to overcome an unlikely pitch invasion. A swarm of bees descended on Normandy’s Hunts Hill Road ground after seven overs, causing a delay of around 90 minutes while a local beekeeper dealt with the problem. It meant the match was reduced to 43 overs per side and once the game restarted Moles, used to being the bee’s knees for the past two campaigns, were in danger of being badly stung.
They were indebted to their new Tasmanian import, Mac Wright, who made 74 from 84 balls – finally becoming one of three victims for Normandy captain Viggy Venkateswaran – in lifting them from 91/6 towards 171/8. Matt Tigg’s 24* in the closing stages was the next highest score.
That total looked much more impressive, though, when the hosts collapsed to seamer Andy Westphal, benefiting from a winter fitness drive, who scythed through them to claim 7/16 in nine overs. At 31/8, Normandy were in danger of not even making 50, opener Joel Foster’s the sole resistance until tailender Rhodri Williams hit 16 at the end as his side were routed for 69. That made it a winning start for new Moles captain Nick Stevens and might lead to another summer of milk and honey as East Molesey chase a hat-trick of titles.
Reigate Priory v Esher
They might have finished in the bottom half of the table last season but Reigate Priory gave an early signal that they remain a power in the Premier Division. Having chosen to bat first, they lost Luke Houghton for a duck to Esher’s new pace spearhead Ollie Sheen. After that, opener Sam Hall (71), James Crosthwaite (41), Angus Dahl (79) and Ed Fluck’s unbeaten 46 saw the hosts cruise to a formidable 273/4 in their 50 overs.
Esher were soon in trouble at 25/3, which included the loss of Surrey CCC second team regular Justin Broad for 17, and at 108/6 the match was effectively over. Contributions down the order from Andrew McCallum (32) and Freddie Harrison (56) only narrowed the final margin to 89 runs before they were dismissed with seven overs remaining. There were three wickets each for seamer Richard Stevens and leg-spinner Michael Munday.
Sunbury v Sutton
Josh Blake’s unbeaten century was not enough to save Sutton from defeat on their return to the Premier Division. The left-hander, who a week earlier had been keeping wicket for Surrey against Gloucestershire at Bristol as a substitute, underlined his prowess with the bat by cracking 114* from 117 balls, including nine fours and two sixes. Contributions from Dan Edwards (35) and Etinder Bopara (32) helped Blake lift the visitors to 212-7 but they were contained by an attack in which Surrey off-spinner Amar Virdi claimed 1/54 in his 10 overs.
Runners-up last year, Sunbury were given a sound start by Sam Burgess (58) and Rajan Soni (21) putting on 60 for the first wicket, Liam Scott’s brisk 54 maintaining the momentum before Virdi’s county colleague Nico Reifer and wicketkeeper Conor Fulton – making 39* apiece – saw Sunbury to victory by seven wickets with 7.5 overs in hand.
Weybridge v Ashtead
A dramatic collapse was not enough to deprive Weybridge of an opening day victory at The Green. Set up by 39 early on from Northamptonshire opener Ben Curran – whose county team-mates were being harried to an innings defeat at the Kia Oval – they appeared to be set for a formidable total at 169/4. That was despite the absence of South African Test opener Sarel Erwee, delayed by visa issues.
But the departure of skipper Matt Laidman for 43 was the first of six wickets to fall for 10 runs, spinner Tom Homes (3/29) the leading beneficiary, as the hosts were dismissed for 179 in the 46th over. But it proved to be more than enough, Ben Ladd-Gibbon’s 3-26 from 10 overs leading the destruction as Ashtead could only muster 129.
Wimbledon v Malden Wanderers
Back at top level after nine years, Malden Wanderers were given a harsh lesson in the realities of life in the Premier Division when they were crushed by eight wickets at Wimbledon. Prolific South African opener Zac Elkin (36) gained no support from the top order, needing later contributions from Aamir Raza (31) and James Rimmer (34*) for Wanderers to muster 180/9 from their 50 overs. They found it particularly hard to make headway against Ben Twine (3/19) and Surrey left-arm spinner Dan Moriarty’s miserly 10 overs for 18.
Any hopes the visitors harboured of defending that score were removed by Leicestershire-contracted opener Nick Welch driving Wimbledon to victory with an unbeaten 77, aided by opening partner Jon Webb (26) and Jack Boyle (33), with 12.5 overs to spare at the end.
Best of the rest
There were mixed fortunes for the two sides relegated from the Premier Division.
Cranleigh could scarcely have asked for more than a 10-wicket hammering of Stoke d’Abernon, who were limited to 170/8, seamer Will Rollings claiming 3/30. Surrey’s Tom Lawes marked his return to bowling fitness with four overs for 19 and was then able to sit back and watch while brothers Jack and Brad Scriven hammered Cranes to victory in the 30th over. While Jack made a relatively sedate 65*, Brad’s 92* included eight fours and six sixes.
For Banstead, there was hope that posting 249/9 at Woodbridge Road would be sufficient to claim the points, Australian wicketkeeper Patrick Rowe dominating with 117 and enjoying a fourth-wicket alliance worth 140 with Patrick Culff (80) before Guildford hit back.
It looked sufficient when the hosts slumped to 90/5 but Fred McMillan’s 65 – his typically attractive knock featuring four fours and three sixes – was joined by skipper Olly Birts, who hammered an unbeaten 74 in 70 balls, tying up a four-wicket success in the 40th over as he struck five fours and three sixes.
Third behind Malden Wanderers and Sutton last year, Spencer set sail with a 123-run hammering of Beddington. Setting a high standard to follow for the season was Maori Oxshott’s Will Stephen, who returned the enviable figures of 8-6-5-5, being largely responsible for Churt making just 55 all out in Division Four, his side winning by nine wickets.