After a three Test summer against West Indies, in which he averaged just 30, it would not be unfair to say Mark Stoneman is yet to fully adjust to Test cricket. But it would seem quite clear that putting on an England shirt suits him, and that he wants little more than to keep doing it for years to come.
Were it not for the third Test having been concluded within three days, Stoneman wouldn’t even be playing for Surrey this week. But it did, he is, and he hit 131 – his third highest first-class score of the season.
His was a classy knock, the sort that put him in contention for an international call-up in the first place. He punished the bad balls – of which there were many – beautifully, defended gracefully and, save for his dismissal, gave very little in the way of chances.
Elegance through the offside is a trademark of his game and he drove as crisply as one might expect. There was a confidence and determination about Stoneman, as if every time leather hit willow it was less a cricket shot than him knocking loudly on Trevor Bayliss’ door to ask about the Australian summer climate.
Yorkshire were ill-disciplined; they created pressure in the opening few overs with testing line and lengths but quickly began to bowl deliveries screaming to be hit with alarming regularity.
Stoneman and opening partner Rory Burns obliged, taking 22 boundaries in the morning session (65 ultimately came from the day). England’s latest opener was no slouch in piling on the runs to demoralise the attack, his innings coming from just 171 balls.
He slowed the tempo shortly before lunch, but still departed the field unbeaten on 72. His first fifty took 58 deliveries with his 20th first-class century coming 67 later.
By the time he cut one through to first slip Stoneman had passed a thousand first-class runs for Surrey and given his side a commanding position.
Stoneman admits that the Test series has helped his confidence: “I came back feeling confident in my game and the way I practised yesterday couldn’t have gone any better. My general game felt in good order so I guess that would be where the confidence came from for my innings today.
“That first partnership with me and Rory really started the day nicely, and the way we finished with two lads set at the crease means it’s been a really positive day and hope we can take advantage of that in the morning.
“It’s the kind of wicket where if you’re bowling stump to stump it’s quite slow but any width on offer, the quality of the outfield here, the ball races away.”
At 233 for two, the last thing a bowler wants is for the outgoing centurion to be replaced at the crease by one of the best batsmen still in the game. In Kumar Sangakkara, that is exactly what Yorkshire received.
He has a maximum of five first-class innings remaining – perhaps fewer, dependant on whether Surrey bat again in this match and September’s unreliable weather – yet his display here suggests he could very easily continue playing, for he turns batting into art.
Sangakkara’s control over any given innings is remarkable, though he did present Steven Patterson with a caught and bowled opportunity on 47. But he so rarely looked as though he might get out; that chance was a result more of a poorly executed shot than outstanding bowling.
As he caressed the ball through cover time and again, passing 50 for the 149th time in first-class cricket, it was difficult not to muse over the hole his retirement will leave in cricket.
He was more than ably assisted by Ben Foakes who, by the close, looked in even better touch than his senior partner. That was no more apparent than when he took four consecutive boundaries from Tim Bresnan to move to a terrific half-century, his fifth of the season.
A pair of gorgeous straight drives soon followed and by the close he and Sangakkara had put on 143, leaving Surrey in a dominant position by stumps.
Earlier, Burns continued his run of good form, striking an impressive 75 as he passed 6,000 first-class runs for the county. He and Stoneman now both have higher first-class averages each this summer than in any previous year.
Having played nicely on both sides of the ground and with the opening partnership worth 178 – Surrey’s highest of the season there – Burns was disappointed to see the finger raised when squared up by Jack Brooks and adjudged to edge behind.