Hampshire will try to make it a miserable birthday for Kevin Pietersen and tame the ‘Dilscoop’ when they take on two of the world’s best T20 batsmen against Surrey at The Oval tonight.
James Vince has led Hampshire to six wins from seven T20 Blast games but they face one of their biggest tests of the season this evening, when they face Pietersen on the day he turns 34 and Sri Lankan legend Tillakaratne Dilshan, who makes his county debut. Pietersen cannot do any worse than he did in his two games against Hampshire last year, when Liam Dawson dismissed him for two golden ducks in the respective limited-overs competitions.
The England discard will be hoping to return to something like his best form when he plays his third game against Hampshire since leaving the county in 2010, having made just six runs from two innings since returning from the Indian Premier League. But he is not the only big name standing in Hampshire’s way tonight.
Dilshan may not have played county cricket before but his influence has been there for all to see.
It is five years since the former Sri Lanka captain, pictured below, first developed the Dilscoop, the shot that sees batsmen go down on one knee before scooping the ball back over the head of the wicketkeeper.
Dilshan first used it at the World Twenty20 in 2009 and it has been used by others in the T20 Blast to varying degrees of success.
But Hampshire’s bowling attack will be the first to come up against the real thing in the county game.
Dilshan arrived at The Oval yesterday, a month after helping Sri Lanka beat England there and fresh from finishing the subsequent ODI series as the leading run scorer on either side (222 at 44.4).
It is a year since he played the last of his 87 Tests, but he remains a regular in both limited-overs forms and is happy to be reunited with former Sri Lanka coach Graham Ford as well as Pietersen, a former teammate at the IPL.
Unlike Pietersen, Dilshan is also expected to play in the LV County Championship match against Hampshire, which begins at The Oval tomorrow, after replacing Hashim Amla as Surrey’s overseas player.
But for all the box-office appeal of Pietersen and Dilshan, Hampshire would surely rather have Vince and Glenn Maxwell, two of the brightest young batting talents in world cricket, in their side.
Vince is so good he has no need to improvise and a big innings from Maxwell, the only Hampshire player with experience against Dilshan, is not far away. But tonight’s game may well be decided by the form of Jason Roy and Jimmy Adams, the respective leading run scorers.
Or Michael Carberry and Kevin O’Brien. The talent in both squads is as good as it gets in the county game. Even with Dawson injured, Hampshire have been able to leave out Owais Shah for the last two games, with Matt Coles more than justifying the decision to select an extra bowler.
Hampshire will head to the Oval with great belief. They did the double against Surrey last season and have have only lost three of their last 19 domestic T20 games away from The Ageas Bowl.
But it should be remembered that two of those were against Surrey; last year’s semi-final at Edgbaston and a group game at The Oval in 2011 (the recent one-run defeat against Somerset is Hampshire’s only other away defeat since then).
Hampshire are expected to be unchanged tonight but Chris Tremlett could play his first T20 game of the season because of a hamstring injury to Jade Dernbach. The match is scheduled for 6.30pm.
Surrey (from): Wilson (capt), Ansari, Batty, Curran, Davies, Dilshan, Jewell, O’Brien, Mahmood, Peterson, Pietersen, Roy, Tremlett.
Hampshire (probable): Vince, Carberry, Adams, Maxwell, Ervine, Wheater, Smith, Coles, Wood, Abbott, Briggs.