At the end of a year like no other, Richard Spiller looks back on a season which brought much glory for Surrey. Martin Bicknell, spearhead of the attack, and wicketkeeper Jonathan Batty dust down their memories.
Having had to wait 28 years before winning the County Championship in 1999, Surrey started the new century hoping they could deliver the title again.
Going unbeaten and securing the pennant with two matches to spare were ample reason for optimism but there was an additional challenge – for the first time in its history, the Championship had been divided into two divisions and they must take on rest of the top nine home and away.
It did not start well for Adam Hollioake’s side, three of the first four matches losing at least a day’s play through rain and resulting in draws, broken only by a 231-run thrashing at Durham in which Surrey were dismissed for 104 and 85.
A breakthrough win looked certain when Hampshire, set 266, sank to 173-9 only for Dimitri Mascarenhas and Simon Francis to add 90. Hollioake threw the ball to speedster Alex Tudor for one last effort and his bouncer was top-edged vertically by Mascarenhas, Tudor wheeling under it before completing the catch.
JB: We came down with a bit of a bump at the start of 2000. Beating Hampshire was pivotal because it would have been very hard to pull it back without that. I can still remember Tudes’s celebration – he took the catch, threw it into the ground and then set off running round the ground, with us all chasing him. I’m just glad he didn’t mess it up.
Even then, Surrey weren’t firing on all cylinders, losing a bad-tempered match at Derby by seven wickets in three days.
MB: We made a very dodgy start. The pitch at Durham did a lot for the seamers and we lost on a green snakepit at Derby. Teams had decided they were going to try and negate our spinners.
The next match, Somerset arriving at The Oval showed why. Surrey amassed 548 all out – Mark Butcher’s 82 followed by Graham Thorpe (115), Nadeem Shahid (77) and Batty’s 100no, his maiden century – before the spinners got to work. First Saqlain Mushtaq (6-47) and Ian Salisbury (4-31) hurried out the visitors for 145 and then leg-spinner Salisbury hogged the spotlight during the follow-on by claiming 8-60, knocking over Somerset for 190 for victory by an innings and 213 runs.
JB: It had taken me rather a long time to get to my first Surrey ton. I gloved one over the keeper’s head when I was in the 90s and thought ‘this might be it. Calm down now Jonathan’. Saqi and Sals were on fire that season and the Somerset game was a classic example.
Having hit form, Surrey blazed a trail around the country. Their final trip to Hampshire’s Northlands Road ground, soon to make way for the Rose Bowl, saw a 120-run success with Saqlain claiming 10 wickets. Then it was off to Oakham School in Rutland, where Leicestershire were playing for the first time in 62 years. At 190-7 they were in trouble but Alistair Brown’s remarkable 295no – aided by partnerships of 141 with Tudor (22) and then last man Saqlain (66) drove them to a formidable 505 all out.
This time Bicknell and Tudor led the way with three wickets apiece in dismissing Leicestershire for 143, another trio for Bicknell and Saqlain’s 5-35 finishing off the hosts in the final moments of day three to send Surrey top of the table.
JB: At Oakham we were in a fair bit of trouble but there were a few scores down the order and Browny played the most incredible innings. We got the last wicket just as it was starting to rain and then the heavens opened while we were walking off the field. We wouldn’t have played again because it turned into a monsoon.
Yorkshire had emerged as one of the leading challengers and were next up at The Oval, Ryan Sidebottom’s 5-40 ensuring Surrey were dismissed for 226 before Michael Vaughan’s 80 earned them a meagre lead of 16. That might have been considerable greater but for Saqlain’s 6-63, Bicknell claiming his 800th first-class wicket when he removed Australian dangerman Darren Lehmann for 55. When Surrey were 85-4 second time round the match was in the balance but Brown’s knack of scoring runs at vital moments saw him hammer 140, the declaration coming at 345-8. Needing 330, Yorkshire crumbled to 126 all out and it was Saqlain (5-41) and Salisbury (3-36) who again did the trick. If the spin twins earned much of the glory, much as Laker and Lock had done in the 1950s, Surrey’s opening attack certainly earned their corn.
JB: Adam used to say that you could put the Bickers and Saqi on at the start of each session and they would give you control and take wickets. Which is what every captain wants.
Leicestershire boss Jack Birkenshaw had stated after the Oakham match that he felt Bicknell was, in his view, the most important member of that attack and his words to come back to haunt him when the sides rejoined battle just two weeks later at the Guildford Festival. Ben Smith’s 102 led the Foxes to 318 all out on a superb batting pitch, Bicknell’s 7-72 from 28.1 overs on his home turf a masterly display. Opener Ian Ward’s 107 led the reply which then slid from 198-3 to 288 all out, Jimmy Ormond’s 6-87 behind their decline.
MB: We had barely lost a session for a few matches but when we did, at Guildford, it came as a bit of a shock to collapse like that in our first innings. The lower order was so strong – one of the reasons my batting came on so much at that time was because it was so competitive and I was determined not to be batting 10 or 11 again. We had done very well to bowl them out on a flat pitch on day one and when we walked out to field for the second innings I felt absolutely knackered, having bowled all those overs the day before. I wasn’t very happy with the footholds, which meant I had to try and go outside them or inside them. My bowling was built on repetition, so it was alien to me.
With around an hour to bat on day two, Leicestershire looked to build on their handy lead but were confronted by Bicknell seemingly on fire. Flimsy footholds or not, Leicestershire were suddenly in dire trouble at 33-6 – Carl Greenidge pinching the last – and then capsized for 87 on the third morning as Bicknell grabbed 9-47, finishing with 16-119, the best match figures in England since 1956. Mark Butcher and Ian Ward knocked off the runs required to earn Surrey victory by 10 wickets. That was five wins on the trot and Lancashire were to be blown away by 272 runs at The Oval, never recovering from Tudor’s fierce 7-48 in the first innings, Salisbury’s 5-46 starring in the second.
A third home match in succession saw Derbyshire polished off in only two days, all-rounder Gary Butcher grabbing his opportunity by claiming 5-18, including four wickets in as many balls. A reply of 260 was sufficient for Saqlain (7-11) to wreak havoc in their second innings of 97 all out. That made it seven wins in a row, all by heavy margins.
JB: Tudes got more hostile as the season went on and was a real threat. Gary Butcher was a very talented cricketer and potentially could have been could have been around for a long time but unfortunately it didn’t work out for him. His four in four was nearly five in five but one dropped just short of Bickers in the slips.
MB: When we got going it was unbelievable – that was the best period of cricket I played in. We were so good. Everyone was on his game, we were beating everyone around us and felt unbeatable.
By now it seemed to be when rather than if for Surrey but Yorkshire fancied their chances of an ambush at Scarborough. Yet their plans went awry, the visitors making 356 all out on a seaming pitch which earned their hosts an eight-point penalty which only served to cost them runners-up spot instead, the match suffering badly from weather interruptions.
MB: I couldn’t play at Scarborough but we knew the form by that stage. I followed it all on Ceefax, which tells you how long ago it was now! Our plan against Yorkshire was always the same – bat as long as possible, make their battery of seamers bowl as many overs as we could and take the game into the final day, when our spinners would be heavily involved.
Durham, struggling near the foot of the table, were nowhere near the force they had appeared in early-season and as the final visitors to The Oval that season found Butcher (191) and Ward (144) in unforgiving mood, their 359-run opening partnership the fourth highest in Surrey’s history, which dominated a total of 453-4dec. Salisbury dominated this time, his 7-105 putting them out for 241 first time while 4-49 completed a fine haul as Durham were dismissed for 144 in their second innings for defeat by an innings and 68 runs
It wasn’t quite enough to wrap up the Championship – Surrey would head to Old Trafford needing one bonus point, duly gained when India’s Sauruv Ganguly edged Tudor and skipper Hollioake took a flying catch in the slips.
JB: In 1999 it was a huge party when we won the title. This time we got our bonus point, celebrated and then had to carry on with the game. It was a bit surreal winning it like that.
MB: It was a relief to wrap it up, more than anything.
The rain- affected draw also garnered Lancashire sufficient points to confirm second place. Not to be forgotten was Surrey’s other success of the season. Although the two one-day knockout tournaments brought disappointment – losing to Glamorgan by 32 runs in the Benson & Hedges Cup semi-final and a blistering Andrew Flintoff century seeing Lancashire to victory in the NatWest Trophy last eight clash – there was a second piece of silverware.
The CGU National League had been split in two a year earlier than the Championship, Surrey in the lower half and having finished only sixth in 1999. But 11 wins from the first 13 outings secured top spot and promotion came alongside Nottinghamshire and Warwickshire. The new century had begun on the most promising of notes.