SURREY V WORCESTERSHIRE at the Brit Oval (LVCC2), 17-20 MAY 2006

The season may still be in its formative phase, but this has already become a top versus bottom clash. Surrey have won two, Worcestershire have lost two. Most worrying of all for tomorrow's visitors must be the gaining of just two batting points so far. In their opening contest the Royals answered Somerset's 406 with a paltry 161. Had it not been for Vikram Solanki's 110 against Derbyshire last week, they might not have even as much as one batting point at this juncture.

Other than Solanki, their skipper, only two New Road favourites have passed fifty with the bat this term. They are 22-year-old Daryl Mitchell - who, amazingly, has been dropped for this game - and the former Zimbabwe Test all-rounder Ray Price. On the plus side, Phil Jaques is now ready to make his debut for the visitors, after stints with Northants and Yorkshire. One slight concern, however, is that over the winter he only made 708 runs at an average of 41.64 down under, despite notching up three hundreds in ten matches. 

Worcestershire also appear to have found the ideal replacement for Nathan Bracken, the Aussie paceman who was due to be their other overseas player this summer, in India's Zaheer Khan. Khan, who guested for Surrey in 2004, already has 19 championship wickets at an average of 13.57 to his name. He has also found a more than useful ally in Kabir Ali, who has 12 at 19.16 runs apiece this season. But spinners Batty and Price have both struggled to make any impression so far.

There doesn't appear to be any approaching milestones of significance likely to occur in this match. James Benning has 911 first-class career runs; while, for the visitors, Gareth Batty has made 1,965 first-class runs in four and a bit seasons.

No Bicknell (groin) or Ormond (lower back), but everyone else is fit and raring to go. James Benning is included in the twelve for tomorrow's game. With Rikki Clarke coming back into the fold, it would be harsh to drop Benning after such a swashbuckling hundred in the last championship match. Perhaps Alistair Brown will miss out, however my money is on Nayan Doshi being asked to stand down - purely because his record at the Oval is a woeful 14 first-class wickets at an average of 58.92. 

Gloucestershire 3-5 May 2006 Won By An Inns & 297 Runs The Oval 639-8d 207 & 135
Leicestershire 26-29 Apr 2006 Won By 99 Runs Leicester 370 & 287-7d 244 & 314
Derbyshire 19-22 Apr 2006 Match Drawn The Oval 308 & 476-8d 492
Middlesex 21-24 Sep 2005 Won By An Inns & 39 Runs The Oval 686-5d 404-5d & 243
Warwickshire 10-13 Sep 2005 Match Drawn Edgbaston 225 & 313-5d 338 &26-0

You know me, if there is any rain around I will use it as an excuse to sit on the fence. It has been raining in London today and the forecasters cannot be wrong all the time, so it's not looking good in terms of obtaining result. Having said that, Gloucestershire were turned over in less than eight sessions, so anything is possible. If one team does end up winning this one, logic would suggest that it should be Surrey.

P Jacques, S Moore, V Solanki (capt), B Smith, G Hick, S Davies (wk), G Batty, Kabir Ali, R Price, Z Khan and M Malik.

Ian Gould and George Sharp.

3-6 Aug 2004 Won By 68 Runs The Oval Surrey Bat 375 & 329-5d 295 & 341
23-26 Jun 2004 Match Drawn Worcester Worcestershire Field 155 & 187-8 400-4d
20-23 Apr 1999 Match Drawn Worcester Worcestershire Field 223 15-1
3-6 Jun 1998 Won By 79 Runs The Oval Surrey Bat 502-7d & 130-4d 367 & 186
18-21 Jun 1997 Match Drawn Worcester Surrey Bat 452-9d 81-1
19-22 Sep 1996 Lost By 124 Runs The Oval Surrey Field Forfeited & 299 362 & 61-1d
1-5 Jun 1995 Lost By 134 Runs Worcester Worcestershire Bat 183 & 152 204 & 265-7d
28 Apr - 1 May 1994 Won By 9 Wickets The Oval Surrey Field 470 & 79-1 205 & 343
12-16 Aug 1993 Lost By 65 Runs Worcester Worcestershire Bat 427 & 227 406 & 313-9d
12-15 Jun 1992 Match Drawn The Oval Surrey Bat 301-9d & 169-5d 195-7d & 219-7
16-19 Aug 1991 Lost By 3 Wickets Worcester Surrey Bat 185 & 360 401-9d & 145-7
16-19 Jun 1990 Match Drawn The Oval Surrey Field 67-1d & 244-7 300-9d & 84-0d