By Mark Baldwin
Surrey face an anxious final day against Warwickshire at the Kia Oval as their former batsman Dominic Sibley leads a determined attempt to chase down 290 for victory.
At stumps on day three Sibley was unbeaten on 52 as Warwickshire reached 148 for 3 in their second innings, although they lost Sam Hain for 26 when he was stumped off Gareth Batty three overs before the close.
Craig Miles, who had picked up 5 for 91 in Surrey’s second innings 325, was sent in as nightwatchman and hung on bravely against some short stuff from Morne Morkel to be 9 not out as Warwickshire edged to within 142 runs of their target. Sibley has so far faced 111 balls, hitting just five fours but batting with great tenacity.
Surrey are aiming for their first Specsavers County Championship win of the season, at the seventh attempt, and they have been beaten in two of their previous six matches. And although Warwickshire only began this game seven points ahead of the 2018 champions in seventh place in Division One, they are seeking a third victory in four games after putting a wretched start to the campaign firmly behind them in recent weeks – beginning with a 130-run triumph against Surrey at Edgbaston in late May.
Sibley is enjoying a prolific season at the top of Warwickshire’s order, with more than 650 championship runs to his name, and has formed an excellent partnership with Will Rhodes since the pair were asked to open the innings together during last summer.
And the 23-year-old Sibley will have the added motivation tomorrow of trying to guide his team home against the county he first played for at the age of nine and for whom, as a teenager in 2013, he scored 242 against Yorkshire at the Oval to become the youngest player to make a championship double hundred – and the second youngest in first-class history behind WG Grace.
Sibley left Surrey in 2017 after turning down the offer of a three-year contract because he could not secure assurances that he would bat in the top three across all formats.
It was Batty, with the last ball of his second over, who made a much-needed breakthrough for Surrey by removing Rhodes after he and Sibley had put on a strong-minded 70 for the first wicket in 24 overs.
Rhodes had just cut Batty for two fours from successive balls, one of them through the upstretched hands of a diving Rikki Clarke at slip, when he was beaten by the 41-year-old off spinner’s arm ball and leg-before for 43.
Rob Yates, in at No 3, survived a huge appeal for a catch at the wicket off Morkel before he had scored and managed only one scoring shot, a flick to deep square leg for four off the same bowler, before he did get an edge pushing at a ball angled across him from the giant South African paceman to give keeper Ben Foakes a simple catch.
Surrey had earlier been boosted by half-centuries from Dean Elgar and Sam Curran, plus some lusty late hitting by Clarke, as they moved from an overnight 141 for 3 to 325 all out.
Elgar made a gritty 53 and Curran a more elegant and fluent 52 before veteran all-rounder Clarke reached 49 off 46 balls with two sixes off Jeetan Patel and also eight fours.
Fast bowler Miles bowled with great heart both in the morning session, when he sent back Foakes for 12 and Elgar for 53, and afterwards, when he completed a deserved five-wicket haul by having Curran superbly held off a skier by a diving Oliver Hannon-Dalby at deep square leg and also dismissing Jordan Clark and Morkel cheaply, with both caught behind by Tim Ambrose.
Foakes had earlier sliced to cover, after adding just seven to his overnight score, and Elgar hit 11 fours in his 100-ball stay before swinging to long leg. Miles finished with 5 for 91, while Hannon-Dalby had Jamie Smith leg-before for 14 soon after lunch and off spinner Patel ended with 3 for 65 by having Clarke caught at cover from a miscued heave to leg to wrap up Surrey’s second innings.
Surrey batsman Elgar said: “We need to be patient tomorrow- we have to bowl In partnerships and hopefully we can get a couple of wickets early.
“Run-scoring is quite tough on this pitch as we have seen throughout the game. We have had two good days to get back into the match after we had to bat on a difficult pitch on day one, when they also bowled very well. But if at the start of the game we had been given a 290-run lead going into the last innings we would have taken it so hopefully it is enough.”
Warwickshire fast bowler Oliver Hannon-Dalby said: “Another exciting day’s play is in prospect tomorrow. Dom Sibley has batted brilliantly so far, and hopefully he can keep going in the morning.
“But Will Rhodes, Sam Hain and also Craig Miles at the end there- when Morkel was coming around the wicket at him – have all helped to set us up. There are 142 runs to go and we have to dig deep again.”