Titles can’t be won in the opening months of the season, so goes the adage, but they can be lost, and Surrey were wise to pay heed to the caution when they sent out Jason Roy and Steven Davies to chase down the 216 runs required in the evening dusk for their first victory of the season.
If they are to achieve promotion this season, in what looks to be a closely fought division, it’ll be in these evenly poised matches where they take decisive steps towards the top tier. In the end, Surrey reached the total with 2.4 overs of the minimum 24 on offer to spare, the opening 145-run run partnership putting the game beyond Leicestershire.
Roy, channelling Kevin Pietersen’s first innings heroics, who rested for the whole of day four following a scan which revealed an achilles injury that will keep him out of the IPL, blasted the bowling around, his heave off Clint McKay over the heads of the front 10 rows of those in the OCS Stand a particular shot of note.
Eleven; 23; 28; 48; 60 read the first five overs, as Surrey set about the challenge with calculated disdain. It was an ungainly end for the visitors, whose previous tight lines vanished when needed the most.
Even when they did make a breakthrough, as Rob Taylor managed in his opening over of the innings, 11 overs in, the overwhelming force of the opposition showed. Removing Roy first ball, caught on the boundary by Angus Robson, Kumar Sangakkara arrived to dispatch Taylor for consecutive fours.
At the other end, Steven Davies continued his grand early Championship form, which he now averages 141 in. Although seemingly not as ferocious, he was just as deadly, timing the ball serenely over the boundary with an elegant ease. Fifty-seven deliveries were all he needed to bring up his second century of the season, hitting nine fours and four sixes along the way.
While Sangakkara left cheaply, Robson again the catcher, this time off Jigar Naik, there was no slowing of the run rate,;Gary Wilson a temporary visitor to the crease before Rory Burns helped Davies acquire the last 12 runs.
“We thought we could give this ago with 10 wickets in hand,” Davies said afterwards. “We could always shut up shop if we needed to. After the first couple of overs Jason and I were hitting the ball pretty well. Fortunately for us we kept going, and we managed to get that hundred partnership and set a good platform.
“I went away to Cape Town for six weeks over the winter to work with Graham Ford, we did a lot of work in the nets and I felt in good knick. So to come into the first proper games and get a few runs is great.”
A little over an hour-and-a-half earlier and few would have predicted the outcome with any assurance. Frustrated and forlorn after more than four sessions in the field, Surrey could have understandably wilted under the glare of expectation.
Resuming the day on 292, Leicestershire spent 66.1 overs for the addition of 188 runs, Niall O’Brien and Ben Raine setting the tone spending 102 deliveries in the morning pushing Leicestershire into a lead until Raine fell to Zafar Ansari.
From there O’Brien begin to fight back, turning Batty to the boundary for consecutive fours. Inspired, team-mate Clint McKay went after Ansari, striking him over midwicket and then long-off for another two boundaries. The plan was thwarted quickly after lunch though, O’Brien driving Tom Curran on the up to Rory Burns at short extra cover.
Where Pietersen had flayed before, Leicestershire fortified, building a position from which they thought Surrey would be incapable of bulldozing through.
Enthusiasm occasionally got the better of their cussedness, McKay succumbing to Ansari leg before three balls after launching Currran into the Bedsar Stand. But with his departure came a stoic display by Taylor and Naik. Where Leicestershire may have crumbled in previous years, the youngsters dug deep, tiring the bowlers and slowly accumulating a score they hoped to defend.
Ansari and Batty eventually accounted for the tail – the former picking up his second first-class five-for, the first coming against the same opponents last season – before the carnage began once more. Without Pietersen, Leicestershire could have been forgiven for thinking it would be a fairer fight, but Surrey were in no mood as they attained their first win in seven Championship matches.