Surrey gamble on a green-top to revive season
Leicestershire 56 for 2 v Surrey 294
Rarely has there been a pitch at The Oval as green as the latest produced by Scott Patterson, the new head groundsman, so Kevin Pietersen was probably secretly quite happy that his comeback isn't slated until next week. It also meant that Surrey's 294 was enough to keep them very much in the contest, especially after their strong pace attack claimed two Leicestershire scalps before the close.
The first of those, Matthew Boyce, went to Chris Tremlett in his first match of the season following post-winter rest. He is a rhythm bowler, so given the lay-off a certain amount of rustiness was expected, but he immediately located a splice-jarring length which made life difficult. He should have had Will Jefferson for 3 by the time Boyce fell but Tom Maynard, who continued his impressive form with a 73-ball 70, spilled a simple chance at third slip.
Too many Surrey batsmen wasted their starts, but unlike last week at Lord's where the line-up collapsed dismally twice, they can be offered a little more mitigation here because there was help throughout for the quick bowlers. The ball didn't stop swinging all day and that coupled with the bounce meant wickets were always on offer. It made for lively cricket as runs also flowed at four-an-over.
Already it has got to the stage where Surrey are desperate for a win. For all the positive talk around The Oval, this has been another difficult start to a summer in the Championship. One of the key problem areas has been the opening combination and Chris Adams, the cricket manager, opted to pick his best team, which included the fit-again Mark Ramprakash, and find an opening combination from it.
These were certainly tough conditions to blood a young and untested pair in, after both Michael Brown and Gary Wilson were dispatched back to the second team. Rory Hamilton-Brown, the captain, offered to fill one of the spots and the other went to 20-year-old Jason Roy who was fresh from a productive weekend of CB40 action.
This time, though, Roy was undone by some perfect swing bowling from Matthew Hoggard as two outswingers were followed by a nip-backer which trapped him lbw. However, Surrey appeared to have set a solid platform as Hamilton-Brown and Ramprakash added 68, but that would remain the best stand of the innings.
Ramprakash's first boundary was an edge through fourth slip, but he was soon suggesting there'll be plenty of runs this season. Hamilton-Brown drove powerfully for most of his eight boundaries and thought he had another when he hooked Wayne White only to see Nadeem Malik pull off a superb catch at long leg. When Ramprakash edged a good delivery from Nathan Buck which bounced, the pressure was back on the middle order.
Steve Davies had two recent 90s to his name but played the poorest shot of the top order when he fished at a wide delivery and edged to first slip. Then Zander de Bruyn was undone by another ball that lifted off a length having worked hard to reach 40.
Maynard, in a productive run after a maiden hundred and an unbeaten 98, reached a positive half-century off 58 balls and became ever more expansive with his stroke play, twice lofting drives over the off side and also skipping down the pitch at Henderson to drive him over mid-on. However, Gareth Batty was undone by Hoggard's swing as he tried to play to leg and edged to gully where Matthew Boyce made amends for an earlier drop.
Claude Henderson, who is enjoying an excellent start to the season, then showed there was something on offer for the spinners, too. He had already made a few turn when Maynard gave his impressive innings away by loosely picking out cover and shortly after tea Stuart Meaker prodded a simple catch to slip. Arafat gave the total a useful boost with 44, before he popped a catch to short leg to give Henderson his third.
Arafat also struck before the close as he complemented Tremlett's bounce with skiddier swing and found movement to have Josh Cobb caught behind. It set the scene for an enticing duel between Tremlett and the in-form James Taylor, but Tremlett's spell ended after five overs as the paceman feels his way into the season.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo