Draw becomes the favourite as rain and wind cut short proceedings at Kia Oval
Surrey 185 for 8 vs Middlesex
Perhaps it was inevitable that the return of fans to The Oval would coincide with the wettest week of south London weather yet this summer, with 46mph winds blowing across the ground and rendering the floodlights unusable for reasons of health and safety. Persistent rain meant that only 18 overs were possible on the second day of the London derby, and while an uncharacteristically green pitch and a brittle Middlesex batting line-up means that there is still some chance of a definitive result, the forecast leaves the draw as the strong favourite.
Surrey resumed six wickets down following their dramatic collapse on the first afternoon and the tempo of the first hour was dictated by two veterans, their last recognised batters. “Watching two 39-year-olds do battle at The Oval in a howling gale is what makes county cricket so special,” Chris Nash, the former Nottinghamshire and Sussex batter, tweeted as Rikki Clarke cut Tim Murtagh for four, with Hashim Amla, 38, resting on his bat at the non-striker’s end and contemplating his relative youth.
Clarke had started with consecutive boundaries off Martin Andersson in the first over of the morning while Amla, fresh from 215 in his most recent innings at this ground, was typically restrained, occasionally steering through backward point and gully but otherwise exerting himself as little as possible. There are a number of hypotheses as to why more and more county cricketers are playing on into their late 30s and early 40s – better pay, less real-world experience after the shift away from summer contracts in the late 1990s and improvements in sports science and medicine among them – and both seem to have the enthusiasm to keep going for some time yet.
But after the calm of their 43-run stand, both fell in the space of four balls, dismissed by two of Middlesex’s brighter prospects: Amla lost the top of his off stump to Tom Helm, while Blake Cullen found Clarke’s outside edge as he shaped to play a booming drive through cover.
Helm has been the pick of the Middlesex attack across the two days, returning 2 for 43, and is in an intriguing phase of his career. He has regularly been on the fringes of the England white-ball squads over the last 12 months without coming close to a debut but has never played more than seven games in a Championship season and took two wickets for 186 runs across his first two games of this summer.
A tall bowler who was clocked at 87mph/140kph on Sky’s feed on the first day, Helm’s ability to find extra bounce can be lost on the slow pitches seen at Lord’s in recent years but is more valuable on the livelier side of the Thames. He is contracted to Middlesex until the end of 2023 and looks unlikely to move away any time soon but at 27, it will be intriguing to see whether he becomes a limited-overs specialist or can flourish across formats. He used the crease to subtly change his angle of attack, as demonstrated with the dismissal of Amla when he went wider, angling the ball in before nibbling it away just enough off the seam to beat the bat.
Cullen, meanwhile, is highly rated at Middlesex and already looks like an exciting prospect at the age of 19. There is plenty of scope for him to add some extra pace once he fills out, but he found good bounce from a length from the Vauxhall End and deserved Clarke’s wicket. His skills should complement those of Ethan Bamber, the 22-year-old “Mini Murts” who has 22 wickets at 21.86 this season with his 74mph/119kph nibblers, and the two of them could form the spine of a strong red-ball attack for a number of years.
Eight down and with two genuine tailenders at the crease, Surrey might well have declared to make use of conditions if not for the prospect of a batting bonus point in 15 runs’ time. Their seamers will relish the chance to expose Middlesex’s top-order frailties at some stage on Saturday, but with three-and-a-half sessions lost to rain already, the result which suits neither team looks likely.
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98