Surrey 313 for 7 (Sangakkara 121, Foakes 86, Rafiq 3-51) beat Yorkshire 289 for 9 (Lyth 75, Handscomb 60, Rampaul 3-54) by 24 runs
Everywhere he goes in England this season, Kumar Sangakkara makes runs, and makes them with utmost serenity. He has eight centuries now, spread between Championship cricket and the Royal London Cup. The latest, compiled with draining inevitability, was enough to bring Surrey a 24-run win in the Royal London Cup play-off against Yorkshire at Headingley.
That this was his 100th hundred in all formats made it extra special, but if it was not that it would be something else. The records are falling upon him in his closing years like gifts of commemoration.
Not that this was a one-man show. Sangakkara, a team man to the core, was quick to observe as much. Lots summed up Surrey’s superiority: Ben Foakes batted intelligently alongside Sangakkara in a stand of 180 in 28 overs that was the centrepiece of their innings; Sangakkara, who does not really need another magnum of champagne, suggested Foakes deserved to win it. Surrey were also sharper in the field and more adept at their variations with the ball.
Surrey are now pitted against Worcestershire in a daytime semi-final at Worcester on Saturday, with the winners of the other play-off, Nottinghamshire, who outdid Somerset in a high-scoring contest at Taunton, now heading for a floodlit encounter against Essex at Chelmsford the previous day.
The Royal London Cup has increasingly struggled to gain much attention, and especially this summer – a great shame because the 50-over final at Lord’s should fittingly be one of the finest days of the summer. This summer the competition has less chance than ever with these two group play-offs, plus the semi-finals, submerged by the final stages of the Champions Trophy.
Perhaps it was fitting therefore that this tie was tense rather than compelling, observed by an increasingly serious-minded Headingley crowd, which rarely cheered its approval, but preferred to study the game quietly with in-built match awareness that told them Yorkshire were always slightly off the pace.
Serenity, a gift given to few, exudes from every pore when Sangakkara is at the crease. If his career is on the down slope, he is managing it quite beautifully. His international retirement came two years ago. Last month, he announced that this will be his farewell season in first-class cricket. All that might remain is a gig or two in Twenty20 judging by his aside that he has not entirely killed the mercenary within him.
In his last summer in England, he is gorging on runs. He struck two hundreds in the 50-over group stages, averaging 88, and in the Championship, even more remarkably, recorded five successive first-class hundreds, one of them a double, to give Surrey visions of a title challenge.
He gave a semblance of a chance here, on 17, when Alex Lees, a bulkier figure these days, made decent ground at deep midwicket to get a hand on the ball, but no more. To have fallen to a rank long hop from Azeem Rafiq would have been a frustrating way to go.
It was a better ball from Rafiq that had him stumped for 121, from 121 balls – a slower delivery that drew him down in search of another drive. Before then, he had been easy on the eye, mixing orderly deflections with judicious off-side drives. A severely weakened Yorkshire attack rarely put him under pressure, however generous his assessment.
After his innings, he kindly praised Yorkshire’s young spinners, not just Rafiq but the slow left-armer Karl Carver, hidden as ever behind multi-coloured shades. Neither had shone in Yorkshire’s nerve-jangling Championship win against Somerset at Taunton. A combined return of 4 for 103 in 20 overs in this match was a solid response on a docile pitch, but it was not to prove enough.
Rafiq grew into his spell, having Scott Borthwick lbw when he trusted unwisely to the back foot and Foakes caught at long-on. His 86 from 88 balls, strong through the leg side, was in keeping with a season where in the group stages of this tournament he averaged 131 but after Rafiq removed him and Sangakkara in successive overs it took some zestful reverse-sweeping from Ollie Pope to bring Surrey’s closing overs to life.
Last August, Foakes also scored heavily in Surrey’s semi-final win here in the same competition. On that day, he was outshone by another wicketkeeper, Steve Davies, who at the end of the season moved on to Somerset to take up the gloves again. Now Davies can’t get a run and Foakes is seen by influential figures in England’s set-up as a future Test wicketkeeper.
Yorkshire marshalled their reply stoutly but the energy gradually fell from their innings. Adam Lyth fed on off-side width in making 75 from 83 balls before he drove Ravi Rampaul to deep cover, but Lees pulled Jade Dernbach to deep square and Jack Leaning, on 42, edged one that bounced to give Rampaul a second wicket.
All three had survived narrow escapes: Lees a run out when Rory Burns’ shy was off target, Lyth’s pull against Rampaul, on 63, palmed aside by the substitute Stuart Meaker at long leg, and Foakes’ appeal for a catch against Leaning ignored by the umpire and the bowler, Sam Curran, who merely stuck his tongue out thoughtfully.
But Yorkshire became becalmed, weighed down by a lack of faith in their lower order. Tom Curran, who spent some time off the field injured, proved fit enough to bowl in the closing overs and a potential Yorkshire escape route was blocked off. For all his nous and experience, it is questionable whether Tim Bresnan, orthodox at No. 6, should bat above the lively Matthew Waite when a mounting run chase demands something exceptional. By the time Waite produced a breezy 34 it was too late.
Yorkshire’s fading hopes realistically departed before Waite’s entrance with Peter Handscomb, who fell for 60, from 52 balls, to a great running catch at long-on, a metre in from the line, by Burns as he tried to haul Dernbach into the crowd. A ball earlier, Burns had been involved in an energetic two-man retrieve at long-off before dashing 100 yards to take up his new position at long-on.
Slick work which, along with the mastery of Sangakkara, summed up Surrey’s night.