Sat, 17 Aug 2019

Surrey 240 and 184 for 7 (Smith 57, Ashwin 4-64) lead Nottinghamshire116 (Virdi 8-61) by 308 runs

Amar Virdi. Remember him? The offspinner who took 39 wickets and won a Championship medal in an extraordinary first full season but was never seen again? He's back.

Sidelined last January, when diagnosed with a "stress reaction" in his back, Virdi marked his first appearance of this season with the best figures of his young career, finishing with 8 for 61 as Nottinghamshire's spiral towards relegation showed no sign of being brought under control.

He managed to upstage even R Ashwin, who was meant to be the prime beneficiary of an unusually spin-friendly Trent Bridge pitch. The wonderful Indian offspinner returned his best haul of wickets in England when he took 6 for 69 on Saturday, yet another defeat surely awaits Nottinghamshire.

Replying to a Surrey first-innings total that you suspected would be more than the home side's struggling batsmen could accumulate, Nottinghamshire were dismissed for 116, their second-lowest tally of the year and their fifth of 126 runs or fewer, which is a lamentable statistic.

Virdi struck with the 13th ball of the morning after Nottinghamshire had resumed on 20 for 1. He may have been away but, to the amusement of a knot of Surrey supporters in the Fox Road stand, he had not forgotten the celebration that became so familiar last season, barely waiting for confirmation as the ball turned into Jake Libby's pad before wheeling away towards square leg, arms stretched wide.

Thereafter, although Gareth Batty had Joe Clarke caught at short-leg to extend one of several woeful runs of low scores among this Nottinghamshire team, it was Virdi's platform as the techniques of one batsman after another were found wanting. The celebrations did become a little more muted, largely because his colleagues tired of chasing after him, but the smile broadened with every dismissal.

Only Ashwin, as you might expect from such an accomplished practitioner of the art, had much of an answer, resisting for an hour and a half for his 27. Even he succumbed in the end, caught behind off a leg-side under-edge as he tried to whip the ball away from the posse of close fielders.

Virdi hurt his back during the winter, forcing him to withdraw from the England Lions' winter itinerary. The injury had cleared up sufficiently for him to join his Surrey team-mates in pre-season work but only in the last few weeks has his general fitness been deemed good enough for first-team cricket. Alec Stewart, Surrey's director of cricket, admitted that Virdi had needed a regime of "tough love" to push him to meet the required standard.

He looked trim enough here, and clearly his skills remain intact. It can only augur well for the defending champions, whose title may be beyond them after winning only one match in nine but who still fancy they can conjure a strong finish to the season.

Another likely to be invited to play a part in the last four matches is Jamie Smith, a batsman who keeps wicket (and is doing so for the first time in the senior side, in this match, in the absence of Ben Foakes).

Smith is another graduate of the Surrey academy system, having followed the same development pathway that yielded Virdi, Ollie Pope, Sam Curran and the others. The scorer of a debut century in the Champion County match in Dubai in March, Smith is enjoying a run in the side, having made a half-century against Yorkshire on his Championship bow last month.

He completed a second here. Indeed, no one played the Nottinghamshire spinners more impressively, using his feet in a manner than suggested he had been schooled rather better than some on the opposite side.

Ashwin claimed four more wickets for 10 in the match and Liam Patterson-White another couple on his home debut. But Surrey, with a lead of 308, are in complete control and may as well declare overnight.

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