BY MARCUS HOOK
Surrey off-spinner Amar Virdi came within moments of making his first appearance of the season last week, against Kent, only for the England and Wales Cricket Board to put a block on him acting as a full substitute for Gareth Batty, who had been taken ill.
Surrey went on to lose the game by five wickets – their fourth defeat in the space of six championship matches.
Director of cricket Alec Stewart criticised his players, adding that the trip to Nottingham was now a huge game for the relegation-threatened champions.
“We’ve probably played poorly for 40 per cent of the games we have lost,” said Stewart.
“The league table doesn’t lie at the moment and we have to start getting batting partnerships going because, so far this season, we just haven’t played enough good cricket for long enough.
“We simply haven’t shown why we are a good team on a consistent basis. We need to regroup and improve pretty quickly because the game against Notts at Trent Bridge is a big one now.”
Wind forward a few days and Surrey appear to be on the brink of an Amar Virdi-inspired and much-needed victory over fellow strugglers Notts.
Going into day three, the hosts, having been bowled out for 116 with Virdi taking a career best 8-61, are 308 runs behind Surrey, who still have three second innings wickets intact.
Virdi, who celebrates his 21st birthday on Friday, would probably wish the surface at Nottingham – which has so far yielded 26 of the 27 wickets to spin – wrapped up and presented to him as a permanent keepsake.
“It’s a great feeling, to be back playing again,” said Virdi, who has not featured until now, despite taking 39 wickets at 30.35 in Surrey’s title-winning season last year.
“When I started yesterday I struggled with my rhythm, but this morning I was feeling good because I knew I’d have to bowl a lot of overs.
“It was tough being on the sidelines, watching the boys playing, but everything happens for a reason and hopefully I can now stay in the team going forward.”
The rapid turnaround in Surrey’s fortunes is also down to another youngster – 19-year-old wicketkeeper batsman Jamie Smith, who has batted with a maturity beyond his years to make 42 and 57 on a minefield of a pitch.
“Obviously we want to get as many runs as we can now and then get going with the ball tomorrow,” said Virdi, who also made no secret of being a big fan of Smith.
“He’s a great player. I love watching him play. He did a great job for the boys today. In tough conditions he’s done really well, so I’m looking forward to seeing him play more this season.”
The Vitality Blast T20 match between Surrey and Gloucestershire at the Kia Oval on Friday, August 9 is sold out.
Tickets are also selling fast for the derby against Middlesex on Tuesday, July 23 and the visit of Glamorgan on Thursday, July 25.
Surrey County Cricket Club chairman Richard Thompson said: “T20 cricket has been one of London’s biggest sporting successes in recent years and it’s fantastic to see demand to watch Surrey continuing to grow.
“The Kia Oval is the home of T20 Cricket and I look forward to seeing more sell outs as this incredible summer of cricket continues.
“Having sold out six One Day Internationals this year already and delivering extraordinary sales for Ashes; it is unprecedented to see this type of demand across all formats.”
AN OVER OF STATS
Ball 1 – T20 finals day, which is at Edgbaston for the 11th time this year, always plays host to three matches – the two semis and the final. Since reaching finals day in 2006, Surrey have only returned twice in 12 seasons – in 2013 when they were runners-up to Northants and 2014 when they bowed out against Warwickshire in the first semi-final.
Ball 2 – Surrey won the inaugural T20 title, in 2003. In fact, they did not lose a T20 game until a year later, when they went down to Leicestershire by a seven-wicket margin in the 2004 final. The closest the Oval outfit have come to challenging that 13-match unbeaten run was in 2013 when they won five games on the trot.
Ball 3 – In the last five seasons, Surrey’s T20 win percentage at the Oval has been 65.7 per cent- compared to 41.9 per cent away.
Ball 4 – Just two men have ever hit a T20 hundred for Surrey – Jason Roy (four centuries) and Aaron Finch (three). Finch holds the record for the highest individual score for the club – 131 not out against Sussex at Hove (2018).
Ball 5 – Seven different batsmen have made T20 hundreds against Surrey. Kent’s Joe Denly is the only player to score more than one – 116 not out and 102, both at The Oval. It wouldn’t be a surprise if July 30 has been inked into Denly’s diary since the fixtures were announced.
Ball 6 – The last six T20 champions have come from the North Division. Hampshire were the last team from the South to lift the trophy (2012). Six of the last eight domestic T20 champions were playing in Division Two of the County Championship.