Kumar Sangakkara’s first century since retiring from international cricket at the age of 37 – and his second-highest score in a List A career spanning 511 matches – saw Surrey to a narrow victory over Nottinghamshire in their Royal London One-Day Cup semi-final.
Sangakkara announced his arrival to the crease in style, uprooting the entire wicket at the non-strikers’ end in a superfluous and misaligned dive to register on the scoreboard. Before Surrey reached their first hundred 24 overs in with Rory Burns chipping over Steven Mullaney, Nottinghamshire had conceded only 6 boundaries and 2 extras. The visitors’ bowling and defensive field placement provided significant control but little threat, with singles into gaps – both in Read’s layout and past spectacular dives – a frequent sight. From there, Sangakkara and Burns began to execute their strokes with a greater aggressive intent, including a pirouette hook from Burns and a violent straight shot from Sangakkara that narrowly avoided the head of bowler Jake Ball.
Burns fell for 23 attempting to go to the point boundary and locating an outstretched Greg Smith who made a tough opportunity look straightforward. Sangakkara struck the only six of the innings towards the groundsman’s alcove and his thirteen fours – of which only two came in his first 50 balls and seven in his last 66 – littered all corners of the ground and gave wicketkeeper and captain alike food for thought. In few situations could one imagine a backstop in professional cricket, yet Sangakkara’s panache for paddles, ramps, and sweeps behind square as he took 61 from 31 deliveries in the final Powerplay demanded one. Each was followed with a smile through gritted teeth as he took a knee to find more energy. This was the innings the Monday afternoon crowd craved.
Gary Wilson, the member of Surrey’s wicketkeeping quintet who was actually granted the gloves, played an admirable support role in a partnership that reached 100 in 86 balls. Though he began slowly with anxious wafts at Stuart Broad, he flourished in his role of largely maintaining Sangakkara’s strike. The onslaught finally concluded in the first ball of the final over, with Sangakkara finally misjudging a paddle against Ball into the hands of the wicketless Broad. This followed a torrid final over from Harry Gurney which began with a no ball and ended with Sangakkara 19 runs better off. Fortunately for Nottinghamshire, Wilson couldn’t reach his 50, locating Riki Wessels with the last ball off the innings.
Sam Curran, the 17-year-old left-armer who managed to take the day off from school to take part, wasted no time in putting a chokehold on Nottinghamshire’s hopes. Following a relatively tidy opening over from Jade Dernbach that surrendered a solitary wide, Curran utilised steadily escalating pace to make Wessels play on second ball and trap Brendan Taylor lbw immediately after. The next over he was unlucky not to add Smith to his haul, as the ball flew narrowly out of reach of Steven Davies at mid-on, and only an incredible effort from Curran’s older brother Tom on the boundary edge prevented damage being too severe. Moved to the slips, Davies had the Outlaws three down within less than an over with a sharp catch to dismiss Michael Lumb. At 16/3 after 21 balls and with Samit Patel receiving treatment for cramp minutes later, the road to Lord’s looked stormy.
The game was subjected to a lengthy delay in the 21st over to determine whether Smith – brought into the side as a consequence of Alex Hales and James Taylor’s England calls – had hit either two, four, or six. Having driven straight over Gareth Batty, an athletic attempt by Sangakkara to take the catch or at least save a boundary proved in vain, as he was ruled to have made contact with the rope before freeing the ball from his tumbling grasp. Patel went on to escape narrowly twice in consecutive overs with a stumping appeal – referred to the third umpire to the chagrin of the crowd – and a one-handed catch from the pads by Wilson both rejected. His resilience was eventually curtailed by Zafar Ansari as he gave Davies a second catch – this time at long on – two balls after reaching his fifty.
The partnership of 91 still left the Outlaws looking for almost 8 per over, though a platform of some sort allowed the returning Dan Christian to assume the limelight as Smith quietly accumulated. A mammoth six that struck the upper tier of the pavilion chased Batty out of the attack as Surrey’s spin pair, while largely economical, hadn’t achieved the desired breakthroughs. The tandem of Currans were then granted five overs, with a few looser deliveries tarnishing their figures, before the same could be said for Ansari and Dernbach, with the former producing some heavy movement and unlucky to allow Smith into the 90s as he hit a one-bounce four to bisect the colliding Tom Curran and Aneesh Kapil at square leg. Later that over, Christian’s fifty came up with another wallop into a cluster of members in the sky, leaving 92 to win from the last Powerplay period and – much like Surrey’s quarter-final against Kent two weeks prior – a match poised for Surrey’s early dominance to collapse into complacency.
Christian only lasted an over more as a mistimed cut against Kapil went safely to Ansari, but Smith reached triple figures for the second time in his List A career soon after. It was an innings with little power – his stroke for the century itself was a fortunate glance to fine leg and only his seventh boundary – but finely accumulated. Swift running had put Surrey in command, but swifter too were the Outlaws. When Mullaney ran the ball deftly to third man, they managed two. Both his and Smith’s bats were on the floor, and a Donald-esque run-out farce was only avoided through a Wilson tumble.
Five overs later, the equation remained the same: 9.6 per over to go to Lord’s. A hobbling Dernbach surrendered briefly to the Currans, only to return and deliver his final two overs with a torn calf. Smith locates a chasm behind square on the leg side. Just after Tom put down a running catch off Sam’s bowling, Smith tried to play the ball by lying the bat on the ground; soon after, backing up and not given the shot from Mullaney he was hoping for, the centurion is gone. Tom leaned in to make sure he wouldn’t fumble this opportunity.
With captain Read at the other end, the all-rounder and sometime opener brought out his own array of behind-square specialities, before Read too perished, falling to his right to paddle a Dernbach delivery that instead found leg stump. Dernbach’s limp and grin grew ever greater as 19 from 12 slipped to 14 from 6, and a dodgy yorker from the elder Curran tucked Broad safely away at the non-strikers’ end. Standing casual and tall, were it not for Broad, Mullaney scrambled doubles. That behind-square chasm? Still there, but not enough. 5 from the last ball proves an ask too far, and the sun set on a roaring Oval with Gloucestershire in sight and Surrey’s road to Lord’s complete.