The past four days have been something of a rollercoaster for Rory Burns. Gareth Batty’s groin injury on the opening morning meant vice-captain Burns was promoted to lead the side. He subsequently directed traffic in the field for 161.4 overs, and then proceeded to bat for the next 12 and a half hours.
It would be no exaggeration to say what he did was downright Herculean. Not once leaving the field during Hampshire’s innings, Burns batted just over ten hours in the first innings and just over two-and-a-half in the second to earn a draw.
Even on a pancake flat Oval wicket, he was the only Surrey man to make three figures. That they take ten points, and not five, from this match is entirely down to him.
His effort is the more remarkable when considering how few chances he gave: Sean Ervine missed a very sharp chance at second slip yesterday with Burns on 98; and on 21 second time around, he gave up running to the non-striker’s end only for the throw to miss the stumps.
Other than that, he had looked like a man who had mastered batting. Hampshire, as they were in the preceding four sessions, appeared helpless to trouble him today, let alone dismiss him.
Burns cut and pulled powerfully and elegantly, was tempted into reverse sweeps and scoops against Mason Crane, and hit through the covers nicely too. He had scored just one run in the opening 25 minutes of the morning but soon started scoring fluently.
He pulled his first and only six off Crane before a couple of overs later taking 11 from the legspinner, as he brought up his maiden first-class double century clipping four through midwicket. When Mark Footitt chipped a catch to midwicket, Surrey were 16 runs shy of avoiding the follow-on.
Burns had carried his bat with 219* – the first Surrey man to do that since Jonathan Batty in 2003 and finishing with the second highest score by a Surrey batsman doing so – and was forced to go back out just ten minutes later.
“No, not at any stage,” he said when asked if he contemplated promoting a teammate instead. “I was geared up and ready to go.”
Once again, Burns was entirely comfortable. It was very clearly not a technical battle he faced but one of mentality, of being resolute enough to bat for as long as he did – there were no demons in the pitch to cause issue.
Strangely, his stroke-making after lunch – as he approached his 11th hour in the middle – seemed to become even better. He continued to time the ball with perfection, almost willing the ball to the gaps with his mind.
Even his occasionally unconvincing shot landed safely. His second-innings fifty, brought up with a top-edged sweep, came in 64 balls – 35 balls faster than his first. Nothing, it seemed, could be done to stop him.
That was until he was stumped in a bizarre moment, on 68, advancing to Ervine and missing the ball down leg, only for it to rebound off wicketkeeper Lewis McManus onto the stumps. Burns was out 29 minutes before the end of the match.
As he departed, the few hundred spectators spread around The Oval gave a rapturous standing ovation. He had faced 535 deliveries, batted for 756 minutes, and scored 287 runs, raising his average for the season from 40.36 to 57.25.
He hadn’t left the playing arena in 351.2 overs, the equivalent of 22 hours and 55 minutes – not even for a toilet break.
“I think that is the best I’ve ever played,” Burns reflected. “I just tried to stay in my box and watch the ball.
“I managed to narrow my focus down and was thinking about balls rather than the context of the game.
“When I got the double hundred, I was more thinking about the situation of trying to get to the follow-on, which actually was quite nice.”
Captaining in the Specsavers County Championship for just the second time, Burns said: “I do really enjoy it. It’s a part of the game I actually quite like. Most of the time, I was just thinking about what we were up to.”
Aside from Burns, Tom Curran had resumed overnight on 35, and struck a stunning straight drive to claim his 1000th first-class run.
He brought up his fifth first-class half-century but was soon bowled by Ian Holland by one that kept a touch low. Amar Virdi lost his off stump to the same bowler.
Second time around, Mark Stoneman had caressed his way to 47 before being trapped plumb in front by Holland, who got Scott Borthwick two balls later, leaving one that nipped back a mile to remove leg stump.
But Jason Roy (37*) stuck around, launching Crane into the OCS Stand, and as he and Dominic Sibley (12*) took Surrey into the lead, the players shook hands. Surrey’s ten points leaves them joint fifth with Middlesex; Hampshire’s 12 takes them a point behind second-placed Lancashire.