Thanks to damp and dark conditions, only thirty overs were bowled at the Kia Oval on the first day of the LVCC Division Two clash between promotion chasing Surrey and strugglers Kent. What cricket there was provided an entertaining mix of wickets and positive stroke play as Kent reached 132/4 before proceedings were abandoned for the day.
Play did not start until 3pm, when gloom and drizzle gave way to simple gloom. Inserted by Surrey under floodlights and a conveyer belt of grey cloud, kept moving by a steady breeze, Kent’s opening batsmen will have had more appealing days upon which to take guard against a new ball.
The Curran brothers Tom, aged 20, and Sam, at 17 years and 40 days the second youngest Surrey player to make an appearance in the Championship, opened the bowling for Surrey and immediately had Kent in trouble. In the second over of the match and with only his fourth ball of first-class cricket, the younger sibling cleaned up Joe Denly with a delivery that came back, cramped him for room and made a mess of his stumps.
Fresh from his nine wickets in Surrey’s last match against Gloucestershire, and with fluorescent orange spikes positively glowing amidst the murkiness, Tom Curran probed away on or around off-stump at a lively pace regularly beating, and indeed finding, the batsmen’s edges. He was rewarded with the wicket of Adam Ball when the Kent number three attempted an extravagant cover drive only to gift an easy catch to Zafar Ansari in the gully.
At 27/2, the small band of Kent supporters that had made the trip up the A2 must have been fearing yet another sub-par Championship total from their side. Daniel Bell-Drummond and Sam Northeast offered some encouragement as they set about building a partnership of 61 in quick time. Striving for wickets with a full length but with little assistance from the overhead conditions, Sam Curran saw his line to drift down the leg side.
The Kent pair capitalised with a number of deliveries whipped through the expanses of empty outfield either side of mid-wicket, as Surrey skipper Gareth Batty persisted with attacking fields.
Bell-Drummond was particularly strong off his legs, whilst Northeast punished anything full of a length with a series of impeccably timed straight-drives that raced to the boundary. The Kent captain was allowed to exhibit the strength of his back foot game when Curran Junior was replaced by the tall James Burke at the Vauxhall End, who saw anything marginally short of length punched through the covers with an air of Michael Vaughan at his pomp.
With his seamers now leaking runs, Batty had little choice but to turn to slow-left armer Ansari in an attempt to regain some control. The move immediately paid dividends, as Bell-Drummond was pinned LBW for 39, although this had more to do with the batsman’s poor execution of an attempted paddle sweep than any great trickery from the spinner. Bell Drummond’s shot was one of a man coming off the back of a decent knock in the shortest form of the game and those Kent supporters would be within their rights to question whether it was worth the risk in the opening session of a four day game.
New man, Ben Harmison, adopted a more cautious approach as he and Northeast saw Kent through to 97-3 at tea without further alarm. Thereafter, only ten more overs were bowled, as the umpires twice decided that artificial light was dominant before abandoning play for the day when it became clear that no improvement was likely.
This was enough time for Tom Curran to have Northeast caught behind for 45 off just 47 balls, as he succumbed meekly with an uncharacteristically ugly prod at a ball sent down the off stump furrow that Curran had ploughed throughout. It was no more than was deserved by a young fast bowler making a name for himself with that most potent of mixes – pace and control. His younger brother will do well to follow his lead as he embarks upon his first class career.
Put in to bat in ostensibly difficult conditions – and given their difficulties in scoring runs so far this season – Kent will not be too disappointed with where they find themselves at the end of day one. Nonetheless, they will know that with starts from Northeast and Bell-Drummond, some loose bowling from Surrey’s seamers (Curran senior aside) and with a number of wickets falling as a result of over exuberant shot selection, things could be much better.