Amid the gloom of Australia’s 2013 final Test frustration at The Oval, following a fourth day fractured by rain, debutant James Faulkner candidly announced his displeasure at England’s protracted batting when 3-0 up in the series.
Almost two years on and, returning to the ground for his first first-class game here since, Faulkner demonstrated the type of innings capable even when backs are firmly pressed against the wall, recording his maiden century in the format, as he helped guide Lancashire from a perilous 108/6 to past the follow-on score.
Full of decisive drives and well-timed nurdles to leg, Faulkner produced a considered attacking display compared to his walloping short-format escapades, eventually departing for 121. While the 25-year-old gained notoriety in limited-overs cricket after bursting onto the international scene, it was representing Tasmania in the Sheffield Shield that he originally made his name.
Known for his determination in difficult situations, “The finisher’ moniker earned from consistent performances navigating Australia to victory could well have been handed down much earlier. In Tasmania’s 2012/13 Shield win, it was his rallying, man of the match, outing that saw them to victory. Called on to create with bat and ball, he struck 135 runs across both innings off 316 balls.
Here he remained cooler than the jumper-inducing English summer conditions, transfixed by the task of saving Lancashire from a possible losing position to their Division Two title rivals.
“It was nice to fight back,” Faulkner said. “ I think there were some heavy legs from the overs we spent in the field, and the boys have spoken about how many overs we have spent there this year.
“For me, having bowled on the wicket, we knew how hard it was to take wickets, so considering all the partnerships they had there was no reason why we couldn’t have the same effect. Although we lost early wickets, we thought there was still a chance to build a partnership.
“[Getting a first-class century has] been a monkey on my back for a little while. I’ve sort of worked my way up the batting order in various teams and it’s obviously nice to contribute.”
Ably aided by Jordan Clark, a combative cricketer who likes to hit the ball as hard as he tries to bowl it, Faulkner accumulated runs at a steady pace. Much as the day before, when the grumbling cloud overhead moved on and the sun beamed down, the pitch flattened out and the ageing ball failed to trouble the batsmen.
Faulkner used a mere 61 balls to reach his half-century, a flick off his hips and a dashed single bringing up the landmark. His next 50 required a little longer, Surrey turning to the tweaking abilities of Zafar Ansari and Gareth Batty. This is where his patience shown through, eking runs out and then clattering the bad ball. Pushing a single through cover off Stuart Meaker, he raised his bat in jubilant century celebrations, quickly whipping his helmet off too.
Clark, meanwhile, pushed for his career-best score, flashing two straight sixes on his way to 63, when bowled by Matt Dunn. Faulkner then crashed a couple of boundaries of his own before Dunn had his bails flying – Tom Bailey and Kyle Jarvis seeing the closing overs out comfortably.
It was a stark contrast to how Lancashire began their reply to Surrey’s 448, as the host’s quartet of seamers maintained a hostile environment for the batsmen. Tom Curran had Karl Brown fending off to Jason Roy at second slip, prior to Paul Horton edging Dunn behind.
The South African Kolpak duo of Ashwell Prince and Alviro Petersen offered momentary resistance, the pair falling to Curran and Meaker respectively either side of Steven Croft’s dismissal off Ansari. Alex Davies was the last to go before the Faulkner and Clark show, Meaker showing signs of his dangerous best.
But as the game wore on and conditions improved the bowlers struggled to make further inroads, the new ball proving to be the difference later, accounting for Clark and Faulkner inside three overs.
Earlier, Surrey bizarrely chose to carry on batting having already put 435 on the board. Meaker departed first ball of the day, dropping a shortish Jarvis delivery onto his stumps to screams of “Who are you?” from the 5,000 children in attendance as part of Schools Day. A few wishful swipes later by Dunn, connecting with one to more roars from the crowd, and he left, clipping Clark behind for Davies to snaffle.