Somerset and Middlesex are not the only counties in danger of relegation but their meeting at Taunton next week has the makings of a sudden death affair

Surrey 433 (Sangakkara 157, Stoneman 51, Pope 50, Clarke 50, Trego 5-67) and 146 for 4 (Foakes 42*) beat Somerset 269 (Davies 86, Trescothick 65, Clarke 7-55) and 306 (Trego 68, Davies 52, Meaker 3-65, Batty 3-84) by six wickets

Perhaps it was better this way. Sure, Kumar Sangakkara, in the final ever first-class game at a ground he has made into his private playground, was batting serenely, once again, with victory only 15 runs away. All inside The Oval were united in expecting him to stroke the winning runs.
Then Sangakkara took a couple of steps down the ground, drilled a delivery from Dom Bess back to the bowler, and suddenly was out. The silence that enveloped the ground, and even Somerset’s own players, reflected just how surprising this moment was. Sangakkara paused for a few moments, and then walked back. As he did so, every Somerset player shook his hand to congratulate him for a stupendous career – “You’ve got to appreciate genius when you see it,” explained their captain Tom Abell. Sangakkara took off his helmet to soak in the standing ovation he received from the entire ground. He walked up the stairs to The Oval changing room for the very final time, and that was that.

A few minutes later, Ollie Pope, one of Surrey’s many young players to have benefited from the extraordinary privilege of three years with Sangakkara, strode down the wicket to thump a six to tie the scores. Two balls later, he lofted a four through long on and secure Surrey’s win. Sport, like life, can move on very quickly.

Not that anyone will be forgetting Sangakkara anytime soon. His seasons at Surrey – not just the runs they have brought, but how he has carried himself – have enriched his legacy in the sport and, for those who stayed behind to take selfies with him or simply to say thanks, will not easily be forgotten.

“That was very, very special to me,” Sangakkara said, crediting Surrey with rekindling his passion for the game.

“The county professional is a very, very special breed of person and I’ve found a completely new respect not just for county cricket but for the game as a whole. To understand that wherever there is first-class cricket, the pride with which they play this sport, the pride in which the club supports the players and the pride with which the fans come and embrace those players, it’s something that suddenly hit me and it hit me once I retired from international cricket. I regret that but I thank Surrey for allowing me to rediscover that immense love and passion that first-class cricket and cricketers have for this game, and what an amazing breeding ground it is for players.”

And what of this extraordinary summer, which has already brought 1407 County Championship runs? “I was just hoping to pull my weight in the dressing room. This has been something very special. I don’t really know how it happened. I’ve changed my batting over the last three seasons – I’ve changed my backlift, I’ve tried various things. Something this season has worked.”

Whoever replaces him as Surrey’s overseas player – Mitchell Marsh and Hashim Amla are among the names being considered – will have quite a task. “For sides to evolve and grow, you need new ideas, new perspectives and new players coming in. Surrey has a great opportunity next year to look for somebody who will continue to make Surrey grow and for them to become stronger. And I think I’m not that guy, no matter how many runs I get for them. They need someone new, someone different. They have enough talent in that dressing room to be a real, real force in county cricket.”

For all the vim with which Somerset bowled on an excellent cricket wicket – how their spinners would have loved assistance of the sort they seem certain to receive at Taunton next week – Ben Foakes’ swagger in the early evening sunshine ensured that Sangakkara’s farewell to The Oval would be in a victory. It was certainly an overdue one for the club: their last County Championship victory came way back on April 10.

If Surrey’s target of 143 to win in 39 overs always seemed meagre, it has still taken all of Somerset’s resolve to get that far. After Abell flashed Rikki Clarke’s outswinger straight to second slip, Somerset showed great stoicism and application to add another 174 for the last five wickets.

Once again, Steven Davies underpinned a Somerset recovery with an innings of finesse and fortitude. His move from The Oval to Taunton was expected to bring abundant runs; instead, it brought agonising early season struggles. Yet in recent weeks Davies has produced some of the most fluent batting of his career – and much of it against Surrey. After scoring 142, his maiden Championship century for Somerset, at Taunton against Surrey last month – since followed by another against Lancashire – Davies contributed innings of 86 and 52 here. His second innings featured an enthralling duel with Stuart Meaker, who bowled with great vim and located a yorker to uproot Davies’ stumps, only to be received by a no ball. It took a flighted delivery from Gareth Batty, edged into Clarke’s reassuring hands at slip, for Surrey to finally be rid of their old teammate.

Then, they had Peter Trego to contend with. Few have embodied Somerset’s decline better this season: from averaging 44.58 in the nearly glorious 2016, he arrived at the crease with an average of 15.91 in 2017. Trego gave the impression of a man channeling Ferdinand Foch’s line: “My centre is giving way, my right is retreating, situation excellent, I am attacking.” If he could not entirely trust his technique, Trego could trust the eye and power that have earned him cherished status in Taunton; on this evidence, his driving has not lost any power. To his evident consternation, Trego would be bowled by Ryan Patel’s energetic medium pace, playing across the line to a straight delivery, but not before he had made 68. Still, Dom Bess’s driving, so crisp that it hinted he could one day be considered an allrounder, ensured 64 would be added for the final two wickets.

That Somerset extended the final day beyond 5 o’clock also owed to a hint of fallibility from Sangakkara. The day after Surrey’s end of season awards had, essentially, been an exercise in handing out more awards to one man than he could carry, Sangakkara dropped Trego at first slip, a relatively straightforward chance. Maybe he was just making it easier for Surrey to cope with life without him.

While Sangakkara heads to Old Trafford for his last ever first-class game, Somerset have what Abell called a “cup final” against Middlesex next week, needing to win to preserve their Division One status, a task made harder by the possible absence of Trego, who could only bowl one ball because of an ankle complaint. Their plight is partly a reflection of the underwhelming cricket – especially lax batting – that has marred their Championship season. But it is also a reflection that the quality in Division One may well be greater than ever before – and, the sheer ruthlessness of 25% of teams being relegated each year. As September nears its end, Somerset must summon all their reserves of spirit once again.

Tim Wigmore is a freelance journalist and author of Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts

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