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Blessed by fine weather, the AJ Sports Surrey Championship launched on Saturday, Premier Division champions Sunbury opening their defence of the title impressively. Richard Spiller reports.

Weybridge v Sunbury

Champions Sunbury got straight back to winning ways as they saw off Weybridge by five wickets.

An 89-run opening partnership between Stuart Van Der Merwe – hitting 65, fresh from making 79 for Surrey seconds in their mauling of Kent at Woodbridge Road last week – and Haydir Ali (32) gave the hosts a solid platform but that was wasted when the rest crumbled to 154 all out. Chief wrecker was leg-spinner Colby Dyer (5-18), Kevin Smith’s 1-19 from eight overs having kept control early on.

A typically rapid 56 in 48 balls for Sam Burgess launched the reply, former Surrey bat Nico Reifer’s 32 pushing further towards victory, and although Weybridge chipped away they were beaten in 28.2 overs.

 

Reigate Priory v Guildford

Surprise title challengers last year, Guildford made an unholy mess in launching their bid to go one better, Reigate Priory all too keen to take advantage.

At 164-2, with Jono Merlo (61) and Oli Soames (60) cruising along in a third wicket alliance worth 107, they looked poised for a formidable total. But both fell in short order to former Somerset leg-spinner Michael Munday, sparking a slide of five wickets for 12 runs which included a run out. Munday (4-54) and fellow tweaker Angus Dahl (3-31) maintained the pressure to see the visitors bowled out for 205 in the final over.

Australian all-rounder Merlo soon removed Wisden’s schools cricketer of the year Ollie Sykes for seven and Guildford were given real hope when Archie Freeth produced a beauty to castle the dangerous Richie Oliver for 36.

But George Ealham (33) was dropped early on and the visitors’ last chance disappeared when Dahl was caught off a no-ball, going on to crack 72no, assuring Priory victory by five wickets with 7.5 overs in hand.

 

Wimbledon v East Molesey

Ryan Patel’s half-century proved to be the highest score in a bowler-dominated encounter at Church Road.

Parts of the ground had been under water a week earlier and East Molesey got that sinking feeling as they lurched to 55-6, club chair Sam Burge’s 22 the best of the upper order. Jamie Southgate (21) and Oliver Haley (52) put on 63 for the sixth wicket before two wickets each for Matthew Benning, Ben Twine and Jonathan Dewes finished off the visitors for 143.

Patel (50) led the response, which was going smoothly until he departed at 85-3 and at 107-6 it was anyone’s game, not least with Wimbledon having also seen James Weir retire hurt on two.

Skipper Jack Boyle underlined why he was the Premier Division’s top run-scorer last season with 818 runs, an unbeaten 46 seeing his side to victory in the 37th over accompanied by Dewes, who made a staunch 8no from 63 balls.

 

Ashtead v Banstead

A half-century for former England opener Mark Stoneman was instrumental in Ashtead puncturing Banstead’s hopes of a triumphant return to elite level.

Responding to 216-6, the home side looked in command all the time Stoneman – formerly of Durham and Surrey and now at Middlesex – was making a patient 56 from 82 balls. Once he departed at 136-4, one of two victims for Gareth Macaskill, there was hope for Banstead but it was killed off by Simon Keene’s 55no from 48 balls, including four fours and two sixes, which secured victory by five wickets in the 47th over.

Earlier the visitors had recovered from the perils of 15-3 through Australian Patrick Rowe (53), Ben Butterfield’s 41 and Macaskill making 46no from 48 balls.

 

Sutton v Esher

Defeat by 41 runs at the hands of Esher made it a tough return to the Premier Division for Sutton.

Australian Teague Wylie (76) and Northamptonshire’s Justin Broad (34) made an ideal start for the visitors in adding 65 for the first wicket, Sheridon Gumbs – who played for Surrey in the 50-over Cup in 2022 – cracking 66 as Esher threatened to run riot at 170-1. Skipper Sam Seadon’s late entry to the attack changed all that, his 5-30 in nine overs restricting the final damage to 263-9, only David Brent (57no) of the rest reaching double-figures.

Losing hard-hitting Cameron Tanner for a duck was the first of several disasters to befall Sutton early on as Ben Townsend claimed three early wickets, the hosts now relying on former Kent all-rounder Fabian Cowdrey. He found allies in Rehan Ratnasapabathy (35) and Conor Griffin (25) but it was all too much.

Cowdrey finished unbeaten on 121no, his side dismissed for 222 as Townsend’s 3-27 was complemented by 3-51 from off-spinner Don Bouchart.

 

Best of the rest

There were contrasting fortunes for the two teams relegated last season.

Normandy began their bid for an early return with a four-wicket win over Walton, dismissing the visitors for 186, four wickets for skipper Chris Jones being followed by Queenslander Scott Palombo making 89.

Cranleigh came unstuck, though, former Gloucestershire all-rounder Ed Young’s 100 and 90 from Adam Forbes enabling Valley End to post a formidable 264-9. That proved more than enough, Max Bell’s 61 the highlight as Cranes were dismissed for 176 with Jamie Stephens and Joe Hill claiming three wickets.

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