A brutal display of hitting from Surrey’s batting line up ensured they beat Essex by 39 runs in the Vitality Blast encounter at The Kia Oval, hitting 222 before bowling well to ensure the visitors could only make 183-7.
The result gives Surrey their first win in the format this year, at the third attempt. Aaron Finch and Ben Foakes starred with the bat, before the wily Gareth Batty and Matt Pillans took crucial scalps with the ball. Batty’s two wickets in an over, first having Tom Westley stumped before bowling Ravi Bopara for a duck (in ungainly fashion), completely destabilised the visitor’s chase and proved the moment the game swung irreversibly towards the ‘Rey.
After winning the toss and opting to set a target on a batsman-friendly surface, Surrey’s lightning start and subsequent vast score was predominantly due to Finch who, in his first Blast game this season due to international commitments, hit 58 from 33 deliveries.
The Australian opener is a swaggering bull of a batsman, and here he launched into anything short, wide or in the slot with power and brutal authority. When he eventually holed out, Ben Foakes took up the baton. Foakes doesn’t necessarily have the raw power and aggression of Finch – few do – but he does have a calm at the crease, and he soon brought up a composed half-century of his own, hitting 56 before skying a catch off the promising Australian leg-spinner Adam Zampa, one of Essex’s overseas arrivals this summer.
Zampa looked generally tidy, and economical too – no mean feat for a young leggie on what was a pretty flat deck. His figures (2-20 from four overs) were definitely one of the few pluses from an Essex point of view, with the other bowlers all being harshly treated at times by a home batting line-up bristling with attacking intent.
Sam Cook and Matt Coles in particular received some severe tap – their six overs combined cost 88. When Ollie Pope and Rikki Clarke – the young man and old man respectively of the home side’s batting – bludgeoned 25 runs off one Coles over (which featured nine deliveries in total, including a free hit), it made sure that the visitors would finish well over 200.
Even though his efforts will be overshadowed by the more substaintial innings from Finch and Foakes, Pope’s cameo was a sublime knock – he’s catching the eye this season, and will surely form an integral part of England’s plans in all formats in the coming years.
Having seen Essex’s attack treated with disdain from the off, the home bowling unit knew they faced a stiff task, even when defending such a mountain of runs. Jade Dernbach and Rikki Clarke got taken for a succession of stylish boundaries early on by openers Adam Wheater and Varun Chopra, but Matt Pillans came on after five overs and made a vital breakthrough when he induced Wheater to send the ball into orbit and see it come down into the grateful hands of Finch at midwicket. Pillans, who was on loan at Leicestershire last year, is a canny operator in this format. He might not feature in the opposition’s plans as some of Surrey’s more high profile bowlers, but he often proves every bit as effective.
Batty’s three wickets in quick succession then really put the brakes on what had, up until then, been a valiant effort at a chase from Essex, with the Giraffe (Morne Morkel) joining him in stifling the remaining batsmen by bowling the lines and lengths that his field demanded. When the target is 223, it only takes one or two below-par overs for the required rate to skyrocket. After Morkel, Dernbach and Batty provided these, Essex’s task started to look impossible as opposed to unlikely.
Chopra’s eventual dismissal for 67 off 46 balls, turning for a tight second run as he attempted to up his scoring rate, eventually confirmed their demise. His lone hand was hugely impressive, but ultimately in vain as Surrey, who have assembled one of the Blast’s most expensive and ominous-looking squads, finally clicked into gear.