Surrey's batsmen cash in as match meanders
Essex 548 and 112 for 2 v Surrey 506
A game that produced 1,000 runs inside eight sessions appears destined to finish as a tame, high-scoring draw after the captains of Surrey and Essex failed to reach any form of run-chase deal in Croydon.
The Whitgift School pitch, having offered a modicum of assistance to the seamers on the opening two days, flattened sufficiently to allow Surrey - with only one previous 350-plus score to their credit this season - to reach 506 in response to the Essex first innings total of 548.
After Surrey had had their fill, England opener Alastair Cook cashed in with his second half-century of the match for Essex and goes into the final day unbeaten on 62 with power to add. All of which will be music to the ears of the selectors ahead of Thursday's first Test against Sri Lanka in Cardiff.
Needing a mammoth 399 simply to avoid the follow-on, Surrey coasted past their target to post maximum batting bonus points courtesy of a season's best 159 from home skipper Rory Hamilton-Brown. The captain's ton, coupled with half-centuries from Kevin Pietersen, Zander de Bruyn and a Surrey-best 79 from Gareth Batty, ensured Surrey comfortably avoided the spectre of an innings defeat as they moved with 42 of the Essex total.
There was an air of 'After the Lord Mayor's Show' to Friday's proceedings which, though entertaining, paled in comparison to Graham Napier's explosive world record-equalling knock with 16 sixes here on day two.
Hamilton-Brown, who clipped 28 boundaries in his stay, caught the eye from time-to-time with some crisply timed strokes until he became Surrey's first casualty of the day nine overs after the resumption. Another 122 runs were required to make Essex bat again when Hamilton- Brown, hurried into an attempted pull shot by Chris Wright's skiddy bouncer, ballooned the ball off the splice of the bat and gently into the gloves of Essex captain and keeper, James Foster.
Foster was soon in action again, gathering a regulation outside edge from the bat of Surrey counterpart Steven Davies as he pushed hesitantly at one from Graham Napier to make it 311 for 6. De Bruyn then joined forces with Batty to frustrate Foster's side for more than 18 overs in a seventh-wicket stand worth 106. Batty hit out lustily to club 10 boundaries in his 56-ball 50, only to lose his partner in the very next over.
To that point De Bruyn had been the embodiment of clinical efficiency. The former Somerset right-hander remained unruffled and compact at the crease in batting two hours 20 minutes for 61 runs and though few of his runs or the 10 boundaries he hit lingered long in the memory, the South African at least staved off the ignominy of following on as Surrey reached 400 by lunch.
De Bruyn's dismissal soon after the resumption seemingly followed his first moment of indecision when, in checking an attempted drive against Wright, he picked out Mark Pettini at cover.
Batty continued to go for his shots and was 21 shy of a hundred when he chased a wide one from Maurice Chambers to toe-end a third catch to a tumbling Foster. Chris Tremlett clubbed three fours before being caught overhead by Napier marshalling the ropes at long-leg, then Tim Linley went leg before to the very next ball to leave Masters on a hat-trick going into the second innings.
Batting again with only a modest lead, Essex added a fortunate 85 for the first wicket through Cook and Jaik Mickleburgh, both of who might have gone early. Mickleburgh top-edged to long leg to be caught off a Tremlett no ball on one then Stuart Meaker, at deep midwicket, downed a running chance off the bowling of Batty after Mickleburgh had reached eight. Then Cook almost chipped to mid-off.
The luck ended soon after when Mickleburgh pushed at a Pietersen arm-ball to be caught at slip then, in the next over, Pettini fenced one from Tremlett to second slip. Matt Walker and Cook reached stumps without further alarm and will hope to bat a while longer before the side's shake hands on a probable stalemate draw soon after 5pm on Saturday afternoon.