“They’re as bored as us,” shouted one spectator in the OCS Stand during the final session of this match, as the umpires inspected the light before taking the players from the field in what was ultimately the final action of proceedings.
Said observer’s claim was probably not too far from the truth, for this was a fitting end to a day – and, indeed, match – so dull that it’s no wonder come mid-afternoon on this fourth day, there were just a handful of paying entrants spread around an empty looking Oval.
This was a flaccid pitch, a drab road that is conducive to one thing and one thing only: dull cricket. When Alex Lees was dismissed for 102, there were still 41 scheduled overs remaining in the day, but with such little assistance for both seamers and spinners, a positive result was nothing more than a pipe dream.
And this, sadly, has been the story of Surrey’s home ventures this season. This, the fifth Championship game at The Oval, is the fourth draw, with that sole win in the opening week of the season against a sorry Warwickshire side.
Nothing better encapsulated the workload thrust upon Surrey’s attack on the flaccid, drab roads produced for them than Sam Curran. Curran, still just 19, has bowled 148.2 Championship overs here this season and he let it show – at the end of his 15th over of this innings, he looked at least 20 years his senior, as though his legs were about to give way from under him.
In the interests of competitive and interesting cricket, no one wants to see minefields in which reaching the end of the second day with the match on going would be an achievement.
But, equally, the extreme opposite is arguably more problematic, conducive not to interesting cricket; instead the kind that reminds doubters just why those new to the game often loathe the red-ball game but embrace T20. And, perhaps more importantly, harmful to young seamers like Curran who need not be overworked so early in their careers.
1600.2 overs have been bowled in those five matches this season, with not a single fixture making it to the fourth innings. Even accounting for rain, that is fewer than the full allocation – although Warwickshire’s innings mauling reduces the tally somewhat – but that each game has been three innings long suggests plenty about the turgid nature of these wickets.
These run-fests have been something of a blessing, too, with Division One’s three leading run-scorers from Surrey. But they are so much more a curse; this, their tenth draw, can be at least in part put down to the surfaces they play on.
“Get the pink ball out and get on with it,” another spectator yelled during the light discussion. He was probably the only one who felt that a reasonable idea.
This was at the end of a day in which Lees and Shaun Marsh both scored valuable hundreds to keep Yorkshire out of the relegation placings, a stark contrast to this time last season as they had their sights set on a third straight title win.
Lees, who has been horribly out of form this summer with no Championship hundreds and just two fifties, was shifted down to three last week having opened in every previous innings this season, and the move clearly worked for him here.
Even in light of the pitch, make no mistake: this was a good hundred for Lees, both in the way he conducted himself and for how important it was in the context of the match, and the season. Failing to make ample use of the opportunity might have turned this high-scoring draw into a potentially relegation-inducing defeat.
Lees was stylish in his simplicity, spotting the gaps and finding them with precision. He drove and cut, pulled and flicked, and there was little the Surrey bowlers could do to stop him. An lbw shout from Curran early in the day was the closest they came to removing him, until he chopped Freddie van den Bergh on for 102.
Marsh, in his second and last Championship game of the summer, was composed and set firm on the task at hand. His 125* was classy, deploying some lovely strokes throughout the day against a weary attack.
Together, the pair put on 215, a record for Yorkshire’s second wicket against Surrey and the club’s highest partnership of the season. Not that reaching it presented too many challenges.
The hosts take 12 points while the visitors pick up ten, a return that leaves them fifth in the table but just a point above Somerset and Middlesex, level in sixth and seventh place, respectively. Division Two cricket in 2018 is very much a concern on the horizon for them.