Hamilton-Brown and Batty mask Surrey's mistakes
Stumps Northamptonshire 12 for 0 (Peters 12*, Loye 0*) v Surrey 322 (Hamilton-Brown 74, Batty 64, Daggett 3-63)
Surrey were left to ponder another day of what might have been as their top-order batsmen squandered good conditions and a series of bright starts to end a middling 322 all out against Northamptonshire at The Oval.
Captain Rory Hamilton-Brown, so often the main culprit for wasted opportunities last year, held the innings together with a typically forceful 74 but it wasn't until Gareth Batty dug in with 64 from No. 8 that Surrey were sure of posting a competitive score.
The earliest start to a Championship season was quite possibly its sunniest too and the decent Oval crowd were given plenty of entertainment as 55 boundaries were struck and 10 wickets fell in the day. For a team desperately needing some results to match their lofty reputation it was a frustrating showing for the home fans though. Most of the Surrey batsmen came in, looked good, and got out before making a decisive contribution. With the pitch already offering spin 322 may well be sufficient but given Northamptonshire's limited attack it was not ruthless enough.
Michael Brown was the first to fall, and having missed last season with injury his comeback didn't last long. First ball Chaminda Vaas swung one back into his pads to send him back for a duck. At 37 Vaas does little more than 'put' the ball on a length but displayed all the experience gained from thousands of overs on flat decks in Sri Lanka to dupe Gary Wilson into a loose drive and collect his second scalp. Wilson had looked fluent through the covers but in his fifth over Vaas steadily pushed the ball wider and wider before the pitched-up-full ball outside off found a groping outside edge.
If Wilson had been out-thought there was no excuse for Zander de Bruyn. On his Surrey debut after moving from Somerset, he had looked in good order for 35 before inexplicably falling to James Middlebrook's first over of offspin. Having taken a boundary earlier in the over de Bruyn stretched well outside off stump to paddle a dinky sweep and only succeeded in ushering it onto his leg stump.
It brought the Surrey captain to the middle with the familiar feeling of his side in trouble at 88 for 3. Hamilton-Brown immediately set upon restoring order together with his deputy Steve Davies. Collecting a succession of hard-hit offside boundaries he looked untroubled as he guided his team to lunch. Two balls after the break, though, brought the worst dismissal of the day.
Davies pushed a gettable single to cover, but Hamilton-Brown was unmoved and continued to ignore his partner as Davies hared down towards him. By the time Davies had made a forlorn effort to turn back the bails were off and he had been sawn short for 31.
Unperturbed, Hamilton-Brown continued to counterattack and found in Tom Maynard a partner willing to match him stroke for stroke. In an entertaining stand the pair rushed Surrey back into control with Hamilton-Brown hitting eleven fours, including two in succession, to bring up his half-century.
Maynard struck his second ball to the cover rope and added three more boundaries before he'd reached 20. With the pair looking set to deliver the kind significant score that eluded Surrey too often last year Maynard attempted, and missed, a needless slog-sweep to depart for 32 and give Middlebrook his second wicket.
Chris Schofield fell soon after and Hamilton-Brown, alongside Batty, shut-up shop for a period after tea against some accurate bowling from Middlebrook. Desperately looking to make the three-figure statement early in the season the Surrey captain fell foul to his opposite number when one from Hall kept a touch low to trap him in front.
At 247 for 7, Surrey looked in danger of subsiding quickly but Batty did what his top-order team-mates couldn't and scrapped. Bad balls were dispatched, good ones resisted and he quietly worked his way to the 25th first-class fifty of his career. He added 26 with Yasir Arafat and 44 with Stuart Meaker before Lee Daggett took the last two wickets to finish with 3 for 63. Batty may well come into the game later and his innings ensured Surrey 's bowlers have something to work with.
Sahil Dutta is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo