A welcome return to the more sedate rhythms of the English county summer brings us to South London and the Kia Oval baked in glorious Sunday sunshine, a celebration of all that is quintessentially English. This encounter brought together two strong sides, with Surrey in first place and continuing their relentless push to retain the County Championship title; and Lancashire in sixth looking to pull away from the relegation zone. This round of fixtures also brings with it the Kookaburra ball, being used as a way to prepare English cricketers for the challenges of overseas international cricket.
The hosts welcomed back Sam Curran into the side for his first red ball game of the season to strengthen an already strong bowling attack including Sean Abbott, Dan Worrall, Jordan Clark, and the exciting youngster Tom Lawes. Tom Latham also slots into the top order at number three for his home debut, as part of his short-term stint as Surrey’s overseas player.
The Lancashire side had more of a youthful look to it with home grown talent such as Jack Morley, Jack Blatherwick and George Balderson making up the seam attack for the visitors, alongside a powerful middle order of New Zealander Daryl Mitchell, and England’s Phil Salt supplementing an experienced top order of Keaton Jennings, Luke Wells and Josh Bohannon.
To those experienced in the art of Sunday cricket, one of the laws of any cricket played on a Sunday is to bat first regardless of the conditions. But Rory Burns, the Surrey captain bucked that trend on a pitch with more than a tinge of green to it and kindly gave the visitors the first opportunity to wield the willow (in fact the only captain who elected to field first today throughout the county circuit). This decision drew rewards almost immediately with Sam Curran removing Luke Wells for 3, drawing the edge to Dom Sibley in the slip cordon who took a smart low catch. Curran looked to have added a little bit of pace and appeared to hurry the Lancashire batters, which will help his prospects of a late Ashes call up. Alongside Dan Worrall, they both bowled tight probing lines and lengths to make things difficult for the Lancashire batters early on. As the session progressed, the batters began to find their feet as the new ball started to lose its shine, with Jennings and Bohannon both playing some glorious shots through the covers to push the score along.
That was until Sean Abbott struck with his first ball of the day to rap Bohannon on the pads. So confident was he in his appeal that he produced a ‘celebrappeal’ that Stuart Broad would have been proud of and duly persuaded the umpire to dispatch Bohannon for 10. A few overs later, Abbott brought out the celebrappeal again to good effect as he won another LBW decision against Jennings to send the Lancashire skipper on his way for 25, just as he was looking set for a long stay at the crease. This brought Mitchell to the crease who immediately looked positive and tried to impose himself on the Surrey bowlers alongside Dane Vilas as they counter-attacked and ticked the scoreboard along nicely until tea, most notably launching Curran for 6 back over his head. This was interspersed with some moments of good fortune as Abbott continued to move the ball off the pitch to threaten both edges, many which tended to find their way down to third man or fine leg. After all of this, Lancashire ended the first session at 98/3 off of 28 overs with the contest finely balanced.
After the resumption of play for the afternoon session, Lancashire continued as they finished off before the interval, until Abbott struck for the third time to remove Vilas for 39 with a ball that lifted outside off stump that he could only fend to Tom Latham at second slip. In the very next over, Lawes struck to remove the dangerous looking Mitchell for 27, with a brilliant in-swinging yorker that snuck through Mitchell’s defences. This left the visitors on 119/5, with Burn’s decision to bowl looking ever more justified.
The modern ‘Stokesian’ thinking on red ball cricket dictates that when you are on the ropes, you should come out swinging and try to get a few jabs in of your own, and this is the sort of game that plays right into the strengths of Phil Salt, whose reputation as a dasher stems from his excellent white ball record. Salt did indeed throw a few counterpunches of his own, but not in a reckless or uncontrolled way, but in a stylish, positive and controlled manner. George Balderson at the other provided stoic support at the other end to Salt to help the rebuilding effort as the partnership reached 50, but with still a lot of work for the visitors to do to restore a firmer foothold in the game. The Salt-Balderson rear-guard was not without a little bit of good fortune as the Surrey bowlers still managed to find the edge on occasion, especially Dan Worrall who bowled without luck in the first two sessions. No sooner had Lancashire brought the 200 up with a crisp boundary by Balderson, with visions of building towards a 300 plus first innings score, than Jordan Clark then managed to find the edge of his bat for 34 to end a good partnership of 82, with the visitors reeling on 201/6.
Number eight Tom Bailey played a couple of nice shots, but unfortunately for the visitors his stay was not a long one, as he tried to hook Jordan Clark and popped a simple catch up to Sam Curran at mid-on as Lancashire teetered on the brink at 213/7, with a lot resting on the shoulders of Phil Salt to pull them up to a competitive first innings total. While the chaos went on the other end, Phil Salt was watching on helplessly and saw little of the strike in the period leading up to tea but managed to reach his 50 off of 69 balls in a classy innings.
Jordan Clark and Tom Lawes were particularly impressive with the ball during this phase of play, bowling with pace, hostility, and getting considerable bounce from an aging Kookaburra ball. Lawes looks to be a real prospect, and it would not be a surprise to see him gaining some form of international recognition over the next couple of years. Despite the best efforts of Clark and Lawes, the eighth wicket pair of Salt and Blatherwick managed to hold onto the tea interval, with Lancashire on 236/7, Salt on 56 not, and Blatherwick unbeaten on 11.
Any hopes of Salt following on to emulate the hundred he scored against Hampshire a couple of weeks ago were dashed just three balls into the final session, as Sean Abbott induced a false shot and found a healthy edge through to Foakes for his fourth wicket of the innings. At 238/8, the visitors were in danger of missing out on batting bonus points, but a few lusty blows by Blatherwick against the off spin of Will Jacks took them past that all important 250 mark, until he played one shot too many and gave an easy catch to Jamie Smith at cover, and give Jordan Clark his third wicket of the innings, leaving Lancashire at 270/9. Jordan Clark then polished off the innings for 274, employing the short ball to find the edge of Jack Morley’s bat into the safe hands of Ben Foakes after a couple of close appeals previously. Clark was the pick of the bowlers with 4/47 off 15 overs, alongside Abbott who finished with 4/71 off 18 overs.
This left the Surrey opening pair of Rory Burns and Dom Sibley around 20 overs to negotiate in the evening session. It only took as long as the second over for the visitors to strike back, as Will Williams produced a beauty to take the outside edge of Rory Burns’ bat and for keeper Salt to take a superb diving catch just above the turf. The early exchanges were tight as the Lancashire new ball pair of Tom Bailey and Williams gave nothing away, but the stranglehold was broken when Latham attempted a risky single into the leg side with Sibley struggling to make his ground, thankfully the throw missed and sped away for four overthrows. Sadly, for Sibley, the reprieve did not last long as he tickled one down the leg side off Williams to the safe hands of Salt for an 18-ball duck.
Now it was looking apparent that 274 may well be a much better score than originally thought. Jamie Smith, the highly rated young keeper batter strode out to the middle at number 4, and immediately looked to impose himself by hitting his first ball for four with a classy clip through mid-wicket. A short period of relative calm followed until Bailey nicked off Latham to the safe hands of Jennings at second slip for 10, to leave the hosts reeling at 27/3 with still 9 overs left in the day. This brought Ben Foakes to the crease, who went about his business in his typically unflustered and stylish way alongside Smith, as they quietened things down again as they brought the Surrey 50 up in the 16th over as the change bowlers allowed a release of the pressure built up by the new ball pair of Bailey and Williams. The Surrey pair looked relatively unruffled, except for one simple chance off Smith’s bat dropped at slip by Mitchell, until Blatherwick induced Foakes to inside edge a short ball onto his stumps to bowl him for 23, to leave the home side at 70/4, with perhaps Lancashire now having the better of the day’s play.
Overall, this was an excellent days play where there was something for both batters and bowlers in this Oval pitch. Batters who applied themselves with good technique and positive intent were able to score, and bowlers who maintained a good line and length were also rewarded. The Kookaburra ball was also an interesting experiment, and how the ball behaved in English conditions was not too dissimilar to how it behaves in Australia, with the ball appearing to do a lot less after the first 10 to 15 overs.