It’s 15 years since Surrey set a new world record – one which still stands – by smashing their way to 496/4 from 50 overs against Gloucestershire at The Kia Oval in the Friends Provident Trophy, on Sunday 29 April, 2007. Openers Alistair Brown (176) and James Benning (152) set the tone with a stand of 294, then Azhar Mahmood (35) joined in the fun, Rikki Clarke showing no mercy in crashing 82* from just 28 balls. Jon Batty’s 29 in the closing stages added to the total and Rory Hamilton-Brown finished 6* at the end. Richard Spiller looks back with some of the protagonists.
James Benning: “Wow, is it really 15 years? It was an incredible day. I think that a lot of people forget that the opening over of the innings [bowled by Ashley Noffke] was a maiden, so we really made it off 49! I’ve actually got the scorecard, which my sister had framed for me, and I look at it every now and again.”
It was Brown, with two double-centuries in limited overs cricket behind him, who began the carnage by passing 50 in 32 balls and needing only another 18 to reach three figures.
JB: “Browny was such a dynamic player, a real trendsetter. I think he had a lot to do with the way white ball cricket transformed. He was an incredibly clean hitter of the ball and he smashed everything. I just sat back and enjoyed watching him from the other end.”
Runs were already flowing for Surrey that season, even at that early stage. A week earlier in the Trophy they had allowed Kent to recover from 35/6 to reach 271 but still won by three wickets while the previous four days had seen a County Championship match at The Oval in which Surrey’s attempt to reach a target of 503 had seen them fall short by just 35 runs. In Brown and Benning they had a powerful white ball opening pair and the junior partner’s 152, while ironically labelled “restrained” by Wisden, came off just 134 deliveries.
Gloucestershire skipper Alex Gidman was the man with the problems, casting around for a bowler who might slow the flow of runs and finally found one when off-spinner Marcus North bowled Brown for 176 – just as he was spying an attempt to overtake the 263 he had made on the same ground against Glamorgan five years earlier – to end an innings which had brought 20 fours and eight sixes.
Azhar Mahmood: “Browny and Benno were brilliant. Browny was way ahead of his time – nowadays we talk about impact players and that’s what he was. We know they won’t come off every time because of the way they play. But then it seemed they were expected to come off virtually every time and it’s not going to happen when you play like that.”
Not that it brought much respite. Surrey had both Mark Butcher and Mark Ramprakash in the side, two former Test players still enjoying prolific form, but changed the order to send in Azhar, whose 35 came in 29 balls. And when Benning departed at 365/2 – having hit 15 fours and four sixes – it unleashed even greater fury.
AM: It made sense to change things around. I got a few but Rikki was the one who really cashed in.
Rikki Clarke: “There’s a few things which stick in my mind from that day. I’d not long met my wife and it was the first time she’d come to watch me play. She was sitting on the pavilion balcony and one of my sixes hit the seat next to her. She reckoned I was trying to kill her already!
“Browny and Benno just teed off and smashed it to all parts, which was why we changed the order to send Azhar and then me in. The pitch was a fair way over on the gasholder side, which made a pretty short boundary over there, but one shot I was very proud of was a pull for six off Noffke when I nailed it right over the long one. You enjoy those.”
Clarke’s blitz brought him nine fours and six sixes, his runs coming at an astonishing strike rate of 292.85 per hundred balls and after the long-suffering Mark Hardinges – whose six overs cost 77, the most expensive bowler on the day – removed Azhar, Jon Batty cracked 29 off 10 balls, which included three sixes. Their express partnership of 68 took them past the previous 50-over record, Sri Lanka’s 443/9 v Netherlands at Amstelveen less than a year earlier, having already passed their own county’s 438/5 in 2002.
Clarke hoped 500 might be topped.
RC: “I was at the non-striker’s end in the final over and couldn’t get down to the other end and Rory just couldn’t get us there. I felt a bit sorry for him after watching all that carnage and just getting in at the death.”
Nevertheless, Gloucestershire’s bowlers walked off having conceded 47 fours and 22 sixes, North’s 1/41 from five overs their most economical while seamer Hardinges (1/77 from six) and left-arm spinner Ian Fisher’s 0/90 from eight were the most eye-wateringly pricey.
When Surrey had scored 438/5 in 2002, many expected an easy victory, only for Glamorgan to get within nine runs, a memory which lived with Clarke four years later.
RC: “Martin Bicknell’s first over went for 20 and we realised the game was far from over. Alec Stewart had left the last ball of our innings for a giggle and we started to wonder if it might cost us.”
This time it was a different matter and Gloucestershire soon subsided to 65/6 against an attack led by Azhar (2/37) and fellow Pakistan Test seamer Mo Akram, who would finish with 4/36. Hardinges (57) and wicketkeeper Steve Adshead (54) delayed the inevitable by adding 114 for the sixth wicket before both becoming victims of leg-spinner Chris Schofield (3/38) and Noffke gained some revenge by clearing the boundary three times in his breezy 33 before being last out at 239, giving Surrey victory by a massive 257 runs.
AM: It was a good day out – we had a decent attack. It turned out to be my last season as a Surrey player.
Indian off-spinner Harbhajan Singh had replaced Azhar by mid-season while Clarke and Hamilton-Brown were both to depart later that year. In a fast-changing scene, Brown switched to Nottinghamshire in 2009 – like all the others he would return later, this time as a coach – while Benning departed 12 months later for a short spell at Leicestershire. He now concentrates on his business in the sustainability industry but still keeps tabs on his first county.
JB: I haven’t picked up a bat for seven years but I still take an interest. That day against Gloucestershire feels an awfully long time ago, to be honest. Maybe someone will break the record eventually but they don’t play as much 50-over cricket now.
RC: If it’s going to happen then a ground like Trent Bridge will probably be the place. You get some belting pitches and quite short boundaries. When you look at some of the scores in T20 cricket, more than 200, then it’s quite possible to do it over 50.
“You wouldn’t want to be one of the bowlers when it happens.