As the Surrey players split off into two groups — following both bowler and fielder — to indulge buoyant, unrestrained celebrations against Lancashire last Wednesday, there was a sense that it could prove a season-defining moment.
Their nervy six-run win kept them at a comfortable distance ahead of nearest challengers Somerset, whose own victory over Essex helped reduce that Surrey lead from 34 points to 32.
A few hours prior to events at The Oval, Nottinghamshire were 85 miles southwest being blown away by Hampshire. They come into this match 60 points adrift of the leaders having played a game more; they’re half as far from relegation as they are from the top. Either is still very much possible, although neither seem especially likely.
Nottinghamshire will also be stung by the Vitality Blast quarter-final defeat at Somerset on Monday, and will need a quick turnaround in this match.
They have a good opportunity, too, with Surrey not at full strength having lost Ollie Pope and Sam Curran to England, and Jade Dernbach and Jason Roy to injury. Surrey are forced into five changes from the side that won emphatically at Trent Bridge a month ago — Scott Borthwick is also injured.
The visitors have been winless in South London since 2008 — albeit only three matches have taken place since — and if that record is maintained this week, then Surrey will be another step closer to the Specsavers County Championship title.
The last time Nottinghamshire won at The Oval, Surrey had Shoaib Akhtar in their ranks. Morne Morkel might not be the fastest bowler in cricket history, as Akhtar is regarded, but the former South African has been quick enough to terrify Division One’s batting line-ups. He has 33 wickets in just five matches, averaging 14.12 with the ball. Surrey often look more potent even when he’s fielding, as though his mere presence induces brainfades in those who stride to the crease. There have been few better Kolpak signings on the county circuit this season.
Samit Patel has been a regular part of this Nottinghamshire side for over a decade, and is likely to be the only player appearing this week to have also played that match in 2008 — Stuart Meaker, who made his Championship debut ten years ago, probably won’t make Surrey’s team. Patel has had a mediocre red-ball season so far, notching up five half-centuries with 519 runs. Only three other batsmen have scored more Division One runs without a hundred, but his average of 28.83 is the worst of anyone with over 500 runs. He will want to change that record. Patel will also be eager to play on a surface likely to take turn — he has just ten wickets this season.
Dean Elgar returns to the Surrey squad in place of Aaron Finch. With Pope and Curran on England duty — and no possibility of being released, given that the fourth Test starts a day after this match — expect Arun Harinath to retain his spot and Tom Curran to replace Sam. Dernbach misses out having sustained a groin problem against Lancashire, while Roy is still absent with a self-inflicted facial injury.
Surrey squad: Rory Burns (c), Ben Foakes (wk), Gareth Batty, Rikki Clarke, Tom Curran, Dean Elgar, Arun Harinath, Will Jacks, Conor McKerr, Stuart Meaker, Morne Morkel, Ryan Patel, Mark Stoneman, Amar Virdi
New signing Ben Slater could make his Nottinghamshire debut this week. The former Derbyshire batsman is on loan until the end of the season before his three-year deal, signed last week, kicks in at the start of next season. Jake Ball is missing having been ruled out for the rest of the season with a back injury.
Nottinghamshire squad: Steven Mullaney (c), Tom Moores (wk), Kraigg Brathwaite, Matt Carter, Luke Fletcher, Harry Gurney, Jake Libby, Matt Milnes, Samit Patel, Billy Root, Ben Slater, Riki Wessels, Luke Wood
Weather and Conditions
It should remain dry throughout the four days, with overcast conditions for much of the first two days and patchy sunshine heading into the weekend. The used pitch at The Oval took considerable spin when Lancashire visited a week ago. On what will be another used wicket, the same may occur.
Date: 29th August-1st September 2018
Ground: The Kia Oval
Odds (SkyBet): Surrey 8/15, Nottinghamshire 6/4