Ollie Pope hit 48 and Sam Curran scored 47 before Surrey’s bowlers turned the screw as they successfully defended 163 against Sussex, the Sharks going down by 26 runs in their first Vitality Blast defeat this season.
Imran Tahir finished with three for 24 and Tom Curran three for 20 — although he departed the field three balls from the end after pulling up mid-over — and Sussex, who had bowled so well themselves, were left considerably short at The Kia Oval.
The visitors were productive early with both Phil Salt and Luke Wright finding boundaries, but Salt looked to go big in the fourth over and skied one, Ben Foakes taking a terrific diving catch running towards short fine leg.
Surrey began to be restrictive and Luke Wright, who was starting to be starved of strike, attempted to cart Jordan Clark back over his head, only to see Clark take a simple high catch at the bowler’s end.
The Sharks have found victories easy to come by in the Blast this season — only against Gloucestershire and in the tie against Surrey have they stuttered slightly — but they stalled in the middle overs, a used wicket deteriorating and with spin tricky to hit.
Even as the rate continued to climb, Sussex’s power-hitters were unable to get anywhere, finding the boundary twice in eight overs after the powerplay. Imran Tahir, Gareth Batty and Clark were accurate, offering nothing to hit.
Laurie Evans nicked behind trying to slog sweep with Sussex needing more than ten an over, and the momentum was with Surrey. Alex Carey and David Wiese tried to salvage the chase but when Carey and Delray Rawlins fell to Tahir’s final over, they needed 47 from 18 balls.
Poison gas is less asphyxiating than Surrey were in the middle overs, with Sussex taking just 90 from their final 14 overs. From the halfway point of their innings, they never looked like getting close, opting to lightly jog to the target before realising too late the race was beyond their reach.
This comes as a shock result, both due to Surrey’s struggles in the competition — just two wins in nine previous games — and because Sussex had been so impressive, topping the south group. Aside from having a squad with impressive depth and where the batting lineup has, with the exception of Delray Rawlins, played a fair amount of franchise cricket, they are supremely well-drilled.
This season, Sussex are yet to win the toss and bat. For the fourth time upon calling correctly, Luke Wright chose to field at The Kia Oval, and the middle overs proved why. Poison gas is less asphyxiating than the Sharks were after the powerplay here — Surrey scored 102 in the last 14 overs.
Surrey had made a good start. Aaron Finch and Mark Stoneman went in successive overs early on, but Sam Curran and Ollie Pope embarked on a recovery mission, with Curran taking a particular liking to the square boundary.
He slapped Danny Briggs’ third ball over cow corner, but that was where the fun stopped. Surrey did not find the boundary for another 53 balls, a statistic that seems all too familiar for Surrey but for which Sussex’s bowlers deserve full credit.
Will Beer, in his first Blast match of the season, was the standout, picking up three for 22. His approach was simple: with no mystery and not a whole lot of turn on offer, he was stump-to-stump and darted the ball through.
Sam Curran rocked back to pull his third ball, but lost leg stump instead. Ben Foakes looked to sweep in Beer’s third over only to find the man at short fine leg, before Will Jacks chipped one back four balls later.
It was death by slow bowling for Surrey — in Rashid Khan and Danny Briggs, Sussex had a trio of spinners who proved remarkably difficult to hit on a dry surface, although neither took a wicket. Rashid bowled one over in the powerplay but Sussex filled overs seven to 18 with spin.
Chris Jordan’s first over had been hit for 16; his last two, at the death, went at a run-a-ball and saw Pope and Tom Curran both castled — Pope with a sublime yorker. A pair of lusty blows from Jordan Clark got Surrey above 150. At the break, it never looked like being enough; by the end, it proved more than above par.