When you make a move to a new club, you inevitably want to make a good early impression. That can bring with it a certain pressure, a need to succeed, that can hamper performance. If Mark Stoneman was feeling like that on his Surrey debut, it didn’t show, and he delivered a majestic century to put his new county in firm control against Warwickshire.
The rules on the toss have remained unchanged for the new season, meaning visiting captains can elect to bowl first rather than toss for it. Ian Bell’s decision to choose to bowl first is one which he came to very quickly regret.
Stoneman, making his debut after joining from Durham over the winter, became the first man to reach a half-century in the 2017 season – reaching the milestone from just 65 balls.
He was quickly joined by Rory Burns as Surrey marched relentlessly to 133-0 at lunch.
Stoneman would lose his opening partner for 71, with the score on 154, but he reached his century in the company of a familiar face. Scott Borthwick, also on debut after joining from Durham, was down the other end to watch his great mate reach three figures from 169 balls.
Borthwick’s debut wouldn’t reach such dizzy heights, falling for a tidy 23, but Stoneman kicked on yet further, passing his 150 after Tea. Every one of his 165 runs will have forced Bell to kick himself a little harder.
Surrey ended the day on 327-3 and Stoneman’s exploits have given Surrey overwhelming control of this opening contest.
Elsewhere in Division One, it was more a case of lower order runs being the flavour of the day.
Lancashire will have been pleased to have won the toss under sunny skies at Chelmsford, but suffered an early loss as opener Alex Davies was removed in the third over for just five.
That brought together the pairing of England’s young Test star Haseeb Hameed, and young Test hopeful Liam Livingstone, and the duo set about rebuilding for Lancashire with a string of impressive strokes to all parts of the CloudFM County Ground.
But Livingstone was undone by a superb piece of fielding when he edged to second slip, and the ball was parried to Varun Chopra at first slip who took the catch.
A half-century stand between Hameed and Steven Croft had Lancashire in command at lunch, but a flurry of Essex wickets after the interval put the hosts on top.
At 160-6, Lancashire’s lower order needed to do some not-inconsiderable wagging. Cue debutant Dane Vilas, with the South African Kolpak signing delivering a valuable half-century. To add to Essex’s frustration, a 50 partnership for the last wicket between Kyle Jarvis and James Anderson stalled the hosts charge.
From a position of stuttering midway through the afternoon, Lancashire had reached a solid, if unspectacular, total of 319. Two early wickets, one apiece for Anderson and Jarvis, leave this contest evenly poised after a hard-fought opening day.
Yorkshire had a century-maker of their own, in his first game as full-time skipper, as Gary Ballance rescued Yorkshire from a sticky patch with his third century in three matches as captain.
Hampshire also made the decision to bowl first, at Headingley, and made a couple of early inroads into the Yorkshire ranks.
A solid partnership between Ballance and Australian Peter Handscomb moved the score on to 110-2 before Hampshire started to make their mark.
Four quick wickets, including a couple for West Indian Fidel Edwards, saw Yorkshire slip from 110-2 to 132-6 when Kyle Abbott grabbed his first county scalp to remove Andrew Hodd for a duck.
Yorkshire, like their Roses rivals, needed a rearguard action. Unfortunately for them, another one bit the dust as Azeem Rafiq departed. But Ballance remained, sharing an eighth-wicket century stand with Steven Patterson and displaying the kind of resolve that is a pre-requisite of a Yorkshire captain.
Ballance went on to reach his century from 163 balls. He eventually fell to Liam Dawson for a superb 120, and he had almost single-handedly dragged Yorkshire to 273.
But the left-hander wasn’t to be Yorkshire’s only opening day hero. 23-year-old seamer Ben Coad took a sensational 5-18 from his eight overs to leave Hampshire wobbling at 58-5 and take control of this match.
But no batsman had found the opening day as comfortable as Surrey’s Stoneman, who will deservedly grab the headlines.