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Looking Back: Surrey & The Oval in 1999

Published: 15th April, 2019

When the 1999 season opened, Surrey had not won the County Championship since 1971 but a hungry squad were out to change that.

Richard Spiller looks back two decades to a remarkable year.

It had looked as if Surrey would enter the 1999 season as County Champions for much of the previous summer.

Having led the table for much of the campaign, they lost two of the last three games including the final title-decider at The Oval, when Leicestershire delivered a crushing defeat by an innings and 211 runs to secure top spot, the hosts somehow sliding all the way down to fifth spot.

Had Surrey missed their best opportunity for a generation? The answer was a resounding no and skipper Adam Hollioake maintained that the lessons learned from the previous year’s disappointment were key to making up for it 12 months later.

The Championship was won by a resounding 56 points, wrapped up with two matches to spare, and it is doubtful anyone who witnessed the title being secured at The Oval on the sun-blessed evening of Thursday September 2, overcoming Nottinghamshire by 10 wickets, will ever forget it.

A major question at the start of the season was whether Surrey could overcome the absence of key players at the World Cup – being staged in England – for the early weeks of the season. It meant no Alec Stewart (the international captain) and Hollioake, given they were part of the host country’s squad (although both squeezed in early Championship appearances) while off-spinner Saqlain Mushtaq was with Pakistan. Mark Butcher led the side in the opening eight matches and garnered five of the 12 victories.

Draws against Gloucestershire, when hail interrupted an arctic first day, and Worcestershire – losing more than two days at New Road – were followed by an eight-wicket victory over Northants, the first win at Wantage Road for 17 years, Alistair Brown’s unbeaten 110 then ensuring a four-wicket home success over Essex.

Even more thrilling was the climax to a seven-wicket win against Somerset, Surrey needing 49 from five overs and doing it with a ball to spare as thunder and lightning rolled around The Oval. Kent were despatched by an innings at Tunbridge Wells and Leicestershire would surely have been beaten at Grace Road but for rain washing out the final day, Butcher having made 259.

One of the nerviest moments came when Lancashire arrived armed with Muttiah Muralitharan, a 104 run lead on first innings (owing much to Stewart’s 95) proving invaluable. With the hosts chasing 157, Muralitharan completed a 10-wicket haul but Darren Bicknell, batting down the order specifically to blunt him, eked out victory by four wickets alongside Jon Batty from the tense position of 121-6.

Now Saqlain returned with his county flying along at the summit, renewing his spin partnership with Ian Salisbury to claim 17 wickets between them in disposing of Durham by 226 runs in the capital.

It set up an appetising clash at the Guildford Festival with Hampshire, leading the chasers and showing what an obstacle they would be by dismissing Surrey for 171 on the opening day. West Indian speedster Nixon McLean, having claimed four wickets, then smashed 70 to hand the visitors a lead of 151.

This was the one match in which Hollioake and manager Keith Medlycott could choose from a full squad, Butcher and Ian Ward putting on 107 for the first wicket to set the stage for Graham Thorpe’s finest Surrey innings, his commanding 164 driving the home side to 482 all out.

With 332 required, Hampshire were now skittled for 175, Martin Bicknell’s three early incisions followed by Saqlain’s devastating 6-44.

Now there was no catching Surrey, who quickly added innings wins over Warwickshire and Glamorgan (in two days), followed by Sussex (207 runs) and Derbyshire (nine wickets).

Now an eighth win on the trot would land that elusive title, Notts being dismissed for 115 as youngster Mark Patterson, Saqlain and Salisbury all took three wickets. The batsmen fluffed their lines when the reply stuttered to 199 all out – Stewart’s 49 the best – but on day two the spinners worked their way through yet another batting order again despite Usman Afzaal’s 104, finishing with four wickets apiece to finish off Notts for 233 second time round.

Was there time to finish the match on the second night? Just 19 overs were left to get 150 but Butcher and Ward made such speedy progress that the extra half-hour was allowed, Butcher making 81no but Ward (55no) having the privilege of hammering the winning runs and launching the celebrations.

No wonder Ward later admitted he had completely forgotten the final two matches – the first a run and sun-soaked draw at Lord’s against Middlesex, who successfully batted out after following on and then a rain-reduced draw with Yorkshire at The Oval, skipper Hollioake and honorary club captain Stewart appropriately at the crease at the end of a match. It was only the 15th time in the history of the competition that a side had finished unbeaten although the final match was as memorable to members for being able to enjoy drinks at 1971 prices throughout. Those who could remember much by the end of it, that is.

Brown’s four typically enterprising centuries saw him the only batsman to pass 1,000 Championship runs although Butcher and Ward – who had been released from the staff after one season in 1992 and fought his way back – went close. There were many other invaluable contributions and Surrey’s depth of batting was underlined by 13 players averaging 20 or more.

It was the bowlers who took many of the plaudits, Saqlain’s seven matches yielding a devastating 58 wickets at 11 apiece, his partnership with leg-spinner Salisbury (60 at 21) a key element. Martin Bicknell’s 71 at 18 made much of the early headway, Tudor’s 39 in nine matches before injury intervened giving the side a pacey edge early on.

Wicketkeeper Batty’s 50 victims in 14 matches led a fine effort in the field.

In all, 21 players appeared in the Championship, manager Medlycott and second team coach Alan Butcher proving resourceful in filling the gaps as required. Surrey also reached the semi-final of the NatWest Trophy before a heavy defeat by Somerset at Taunton but finished only midway up Division Two of the CGU National League and made no headway in the Benson & Hedges Super Cup.

Two distinguished servants of the club departed at the end of the season. Seamer Joey Benjamin, who had joined from Warwickshire in 1992, was released after a career which brought 387 first-class wickets – 627 of them for Surrey – plus a Test against South Africa in 1994.

And Darren Bicknell, who had made 12,464 first-class runs for his native county since his debut in 1987, left for Nottinghamshire, pleased to depart with a Championship medal in his pocket.

It was the end of an era with the County Championship being split into two divisions after more than a century, and the start of another given Surrey were to take the title three times in four seasons.

The year – which saw Surrey see out the 20th century as champions, just as they had the 19th – had a sad end with the death of Sylvester Clarke at the age of 44, in his native Barbados. His 591 wickets at 18 in 152 first-class matches over a decade from 1979 were only a signpost to the magnificent menace he had posed to a generation of batsmen, Clarke’s hostility on the field matched by his affability off it.

World Cup and Oval Test

What had been billed as an exciting summer for cricket turned into a disaster for England.

Having won their first major Test series for 12 years – beating South Africa 2-1 – in 1998, England had produced one of their more competitive performances of that era in Australia before going down 3-1.

Hosting the World Cup for the first time since 1983 was regarded as a great advantage but a competition staged half-heartedly was not helped by the hosts failing to get beyond the opening stages.

Easy wins against Sri Lanka and Kenya set them up for a clash with South Africa at The Oval, who had Herschelle Gibbs (60) and Lance Klusener’s typically fierce 48no to thank for making 225-7 in their 50 overs. By the time England slumped to 45-5 the game was over, speedy Allan Donald’s 4-17 scattering the middle-order to dismiss the hosts for a meagre 103. A loss to India by 63 runs ensured England could not reach the Super Six stage.

Two other matches were staged at The Oval, the first seeing Australia – who had made a sluggish start before going on to win the competition – overcoming India by 77 runs. Mark Waugh’s masterly 83 pushed the Aussies up to 282-6, Glenn McGrath quickly reducing the reply to 17-4. Ajay Jadeja (100) and Robin Singh (75) added 141 in a stand which saw Shane Warne hit for three sixes in an over but after they were parted the rest crumbled to 205 all out.

Saeed Anwar’s 103 was the highlight of the third match, guiding Pakistan to 271-9. Saqlain Mushtaq wrapped up Zimbabwe’s reply for 123 by claiming a hat-trick at his adopted home.

England still had an opportunity to finish a distinctly lacklustre decade on a bright note as they took on New Zealand in a four-match Test series, Nasser Hussain having succeeded Stewart as captain. They started promisingly enough, nightwatchman Alex Tudor stroking his way to an unbeaten 99 to ensure victory by seven wickets in the opening match at Edgbaston.

The Kiwis responded with a nine-wicket success at Lord’s while at Old Trafford, with Hussain injured, Surrey’s Mark Butcher led his country for the first and only time as they fought out a draw.

That took the sides to The Oval for the decider, where the England selectors – or what was left of them, two having resigned – staged another round of roulette by making five changes which included axing Butcher from the top of the order and picking a side with three rabbits at the bottom of the order.

But for captain Stephen Fleming’s staunch 66no in 332 minutes on a pitch which had been under cover for two days, New Zealand would not have reached 170-8 at the end of the first day, 20-year-old Daniel Vettori hitting to good effect for 51 on the second morning to achieve 236 all out. Andy Caddick and Phil Tufnell took three wickets each.

England’s weak batting was exposed again in sagging to 153 all out, the returning Hussain (40) and Mark Ramprakash (30) the main obstacles. But when the visitors sagged to 79-7 in their second innings, a turnaround to match the one at Edgbaston seemed possible. All-rounder Chris Cairns’s fitness had been in doubt going into the match but now he followed 5-31 by hammering 80 from 94 balls, two of his four sixes off left-arm spinner Tufnell landing on the pavilion shelf.

That extended the innings to 162 and, needing 246, England were hopeful at 123-2 on the fourth morning as Mike Atherton and Graham Thorpe added 78. Once they were separated, an hour of carnage broken only by lunch saw the final seven wickets fall for 19 runs, losing by 83, on one of the most depressing days for the national team that many could remember.

Hussain was booed by the crowd at the closing ceremony and the unofficial world championship showed England in ninth and last place.


What else happened in 1999?


A new currency, the Euro, was established on January 1, although Great Britain retained the pound.

England manager Glenn Hoddle was sacked by the Football Association.

US president Bill Clinton was acquitted by the Senate after the Republican-led Congress had impeached him for perjury and obstruction of justice.

Colin Prescot and Andy Elson set a new endurance record of 233 hours and 55 minutes of being aloft in a balloon while attempting to circumnavigate the world.

Manchester United beat Bayern Munich 2-1 in the UEFA Champions League final, completing a treble which included the Premier League and FA Cup.

Prince Edward married Sophie Rhys-Jones at Windsor Castle.

The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia agreed a peace treaty with NATO following the Kosovo War.

Nelson Mandela stepped down as president of South Africa, the first elected by universal suffrage, handing over to Thabo Mbeki.

Texas Governor George W Bush announced he would stand for the presidency of the USA.

The Scottish Parliamment and Welsh Assembly opened, following votes on devolution.

Most hereditary peers were removed from the House of Lords.

Boris Yeltsin resigned as Russian president.

The London Eye was lifted into position on the south bank of the River Thames – it was opened on New Year’s Eve along with the Millennium Dome, and the 21st century dawned.


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