Another chapter in one of the longest-running rivalries in cricket will unfold when Warwickshire start their Specsavers County Championship campaign away to Surrey.

The two powerhouses of English cricket have fought out many great games – and none greater than at The Oval in 2002 when, for the first and still only time, the Bears won after following on.

Michael Powell captained Warwickshire in that game. Here he reflects with Brian Halford upon “the best first-class match I ever played in.”

When Warwickshire travelled down to The Oval early in July 2002, Surrey were already well on the way to a County Championship title they would ultimately lift by the emphatic margin of 44.75 points.

Surrey were unbeaten – and appeared set to stay that way when late on the third day the Bears, having followed on 182 behind, slid to 132 for three, still 50 behind.

We got rolled in the first innings. But then Jim and I just batted and batted in the second. Saqlain Mushtaq and Ian Salisbury bowled a lot of overs and I defended to the hilt while Jim was more aggressive. I remember him lifting Saqlain into the pavilion.

Michael Powell

Another stride towards the title beckoned for Adam Hollioake’s side. Just the fourth-day formalities to close out, surely.

Not so fast.

That fourth day brought one of the most amazing turnarounds in championship history. An incredible fightback forged from the Edgbaston-hewn batting skills of Michael Powell and Jim Troughton and the South African class of Shaun Pollock.

“It was a special game,” recalls Powell. “Surrey totally dominated it for three days, like they had most championship games that year. But we hung in there and then had an amazing session.”

After choosing to bat, Surrey piled up 475, built around Mark Ramprakash’s unbeaten 210. They were making heavy weather of it at 147 for five before Ramprakash was joined by a certain Rikki Clarke (79, 135 balls) in a sixth-wicket stand of 175. After Clarke departed, another future Bear, Ian Salisbury, helped Ramprakash add 82 and even former Warwickshire player Ed Giddins, an old-style number 11, mustered nine runs in a tenth-wicket stand of 40 which saw Ramps past his double-ton.

Dougie Brown finished with seven for 110 and Pollock 22-11-37-1 but Neil Carter and Mel Betts between them harvested 38-1-220-1. Surrey’s total was imposing.

After replying with only 293, the Bears followed on and were still 50 in arrears with Mark Wagh, Ian Bell and Dominic Ostler back in the hutch when Troughton joined Powell at the crease.

The former batted nearly five hours for 95 and the latter just over four for 94 to eke out valuable time. They kept their side in the game, though there was little lower-order support and when the last wicket fell on the stroke of tea, Surrey’s target was 169 in 34 overs.

“We got rolled in the first innings,” said Powell, “but then Jim and I just batted and batted in the second. Saqlain Mushtaq and Ian Salisbury bowled a lot of overs and I defended to the hilt while Jim was more aggressive. I remember him lifting Saqlain into the pavilion.

“Eventually we were bowled out on the stroke of tea, so Surrey needed 169 in a session. With Adam Hollioake in charge, they quite rightly went for it.”

It was an awkward target but one which Surrey’s powerful batting unit fancied. Pollock then got busy.

He trapped Jon Batty lbw and had Ramprakash caught-behind first ball. Five for two. After Carter removed Ian Ward and Nadeem Shahid, it was 32 for four.

Alastair Brown and Hollioake calmed Surrey’s nerves with a counter-attack which took the score past 100, but then a terrible mix-up saw Brown run out. When Clarke quickly fell lbw to Dougie Brown, home nerves were jangling.

Surrey’s self-assurance evaporated as Pollock dismissed Salisbury, caught behind, and Saqlain lbw and Hollioake skied Brown to Carter. Then, at 137 for nine, on came off-spinner Smith to deliver the perfect spell of bowling: 0.1-0-0-1. And Warwickshire had won by 31 runs.

“Polly was just world-class and his two wickets in two balls set it all up,” said Powell. “Ramps had batted forever in the first innings but Polly got him first ball and suddenly it was game on. They went into a bit of freefall, then put on a partnership but after the run out wickets started falling again.

“At nine down, I brought Neil on. Jimmy Ormond was batting and we had eight men round the bat and one floating at mid-wicket in case he decided to have a big swing. Neil’s first-ball trapped him lbw and that was it!

“We all went crazy. It was an amazing turnaround and certainly the best first-class match I ever played in.

“The Surrey lads took it well. They were a confident side but just shook our hands. They were quite open to the fact that, while they had lost, they had been part of a very special game of cricket.”