Surrey 371-7 (Harinath 96, Davies 87) v Durham
Fifties from Arun Harinath, Steve Davies and Jason Roy gave Surrey control over Durham, but it was the absence of one particular Surrey batsman from that list which caused the most surprise on Day One.
With England and Sri Lanka facing off this month, it seemed fans at the Kia Oval were to be treated with a thrilling preamble of their own when Ben Stokes beat the edge of Kumar Sangakkara from the first ball of their battle.
The 134-Test Sangakkara has since retired from the longest international format, but bounced back to smear Stokes through the covers one ball later.
He’s still got it has Sanga. A contest was well and truly on.
It seemed we’d be set for a nip/tucker, particularly when Sangakkara celebrated Brydon Carse’s arrival by bullying him through cover. Two overs later, however, and it was Carse doing the celebrating, catching the Sri Lankan in a muddle and forcing an inside edge onto the stumps for just 26. The Stokes-Sanga battle was to be put on hold.
For a man pouring runs this summer, Sangakkara’s dismissal was more of a shock than anything, bringing Carse just a fourth first-class wicket – not a bad one to boast of for the youngster.
It was Stokes who made the initial breakthrough in the day, recovering from side half-volleys to find some shape to Rory Burns, pegging back the off-stump in the 14th over.
But after Sangakkara’s dismissal at 91-2, save for a three-over spell by tea, the day belonged to the hosts.
Trent Bridge centurion Harinath, replicating his form in the Midlands, looked in superfluous touch, feasting upon anything marginally off line to pepper boundaries all around the ground. A straight drive off Chris Rushworth proved a particular highlight.
Chanceless and oozing with quality, Harinath brought up a deserved half-century with a nifty uppercut over the slips, an innings one would define as an eye-catcher should the opener be in the selectors’ eye of sight. While he’ll have faced tougher bowling on less helpful batting tracks, the composition to take Surrey to lunch on 111-2 was well worth the entry fee alone.
Visitors to the newly-opened Peter May Stand will have been in the best seats for the hosts’ next session of masterclass.
Having reached lunch beyond the 10,000 first-class run mark, Davies feasted on fours post-interval, cashing in on the minimal Ryan Pringle spin with the shaved ends of the Oval track. Davies took 87 of the 135-strong partnership he and Harinath mustered, but fended Rushworth to Keaton Jennings at gully to fall short of his ton.
It was an opening on which Durham capitalised when, in his next over, Rushworth forced a miscue from Harinath, who could only give a leading edge to mid-off, four short of a second century of the season when plenty more was there for the taking. That’s not to take away from what was divinity from the 29-year-old, driving with aplomb to make a mockery of one of the best bowling attacks in the division.
You sensed, with Jason Roy and Zafar Ansari in the middle on 0, that Durham had a sniff of a fightback. But, as the Kennington May Day Carnival roared back into life, the pair unleashed some crowd-pleasing of their own after tea.
Roy in particular boasted a show of intent, drawing gasps of appreciation with regularity as the boundary rope bristled regularly from the bowling of Stokes and Carse.
It took just 71 balls for Roy, perhaps staking a late claim for the Test number five spot, to reach 50, but his desire to lay bat on ball soon led to his downfall as Graham Onions had him spooning to mid-on for 64.
Another opening for Durham? Potentially, although Ansari and Ben Foakes continued to execute shots of the highest order on a glorious, yet slightly chilly, Oval day, before Stokes forced a feather behind from Ansari having been frustrated by the leakage of runs in the preceding overs.
Further damage was imparted when Tom Curran went for a five-ball duck, but Foakes and captain Gareth Batty prodded out a nervy finish to the day to keeper surrey ahead.
At 371-7 at the close, maximum batting points should be safe for the hosts. But with a depleted bowling unit missing the injured Mark Footitt and Ravi Rampaul, the absence of a three-figure individual score could perhaps quell any overnight satisfaction heading into Day Two.