Cricket is sometimes a cruel, cruel game. It may yet turn out rosy, but Mark Stoneman is sure to be uncomfortable when he goes to bed tonight having been left unbeaten on 99 by a premature close due to bad light against Nottinghamshire.
After a 15-minute delay owing to the search for a new helmet for Tom Curran, struck by a ferocious bouncer, two more overs were bowled before the umpires adjudged the natural light too dark, to a chorus of jeers from an agitated crowd, with Surrey 256 for six.
But should Stoneman fall desperately short in the morning, it must still be acknowledged how good of an innings he has played.
Stoneman’s record this season has been worrying. His 99 is only the second time he’s passed 50 — the fixture at Trent Bridge last month was the other — but it was the sort of innings to remind the Surrey faithful why he was selected by England at the end of last summer.
It is a testament to the depth of this Surrey side that they do not have to rely on the same players to save them each time they need it. Amid a top order collapse which saw his side fall to 36 for three, Stoneman negotiated a tough first hour — the entire morning session, in a delayed start after 75 minutes had been lost to rain — as he looked to bat into the afternoon.
Once he did, he freed up and looked back to himself, cutting with precision and driving handsomely. A 90-run partnership with Ben Foakes proved both batsmen particularly fluent, and he later added 78 with Will Jacks.
His half-century came from a drive through backward point for four, his eighth boundary and he would go on to score four more before the close against an aging ball under recurring gloomy skies.
The delay as the helmet search went on saw him sit in the nervous nineties for more than half-an-hour. Adding one more run after a further 16 hours of waiting would surely dispel any jittery thoughts he may have.
Nottinghamshire, having opted to bowl first under grey skies, made the most of the new ball. Surrey captain Rory Burns, who reached 1,000 first-class runs for the fifth consecutive season during his ten, found a faint edge behind to a ball that nipped back just a fraction from Luke Fletcher.
Dean Elgar, back as the overseas in place of Aaron Finch, made eight before Harry Gurney pinned him in front and Luke Wood had Ryan Patel caught behind an over later.
Foakes was typically stylish and aggressive for his 48, taking eight fours including a powerful pull off Fletcher and a deft drive through backward point off Harry Gurney. He fell just short of his fifth first-class half-century of the season spooning to mid on, where stand-in captain Samit Patel — leading Nottinghamshire at senior level for the first time — took a simple catch.
Both Ollie Pope and Sam Curran were nominated by Surrey to play in this match as replacements should England not require them. Pope, having not been selected for the fourth Test at The Ageas Bowl, will replace Jacks on the second day having been kept in Southampton in case of last-minute injury.
It would have proven an awkward situation had Jacks made the most of a good start with the bat. Entering the fray just before tea, he smashed four then pulled six. He continued that charge after the break, too, driving forcefully and flicking his wrists to glorious effect.
Jacks rode his luck, too, with Chinese cuts and airy shots that just landed safely, but made 48 before being bowled off the inside edge by Matt Milnes. Alas, no sermon will be required to justify Pope’s inclusion on Thursday.