Maynard knock helps Surrey edge opening day
Sussex 105 for 5 trail Surrey 264 by 159 runs
Amid the chaos comes opportunity. With England's batsmen having struggled over the winter, a host of young pretenders will start this domestic season harbouring realistic aspirations of an international call.
Among them is Tom Maynard. The 23-year-old, who endured only modest success on the Lions' tour of Bangladesh, looked a class above every other batsman on display on the first day of the Championship season at The Oval. While players of both sides surrendered their wickets to a succession of loose strokes, Maynard plundered an unbeaten 86 studded with ferocious cuts and drives. Only his teammates' profligacy denied him the century he deserved.
Not that conditions bore much resemblance to those in Asia. On a day so cold that polar bears would have been forced to don scarves and gloves, just two overs of spin were delivered and it was only the illumination provided by the ground's floodlights - on from start to finish - that ensured a brave coterie of spectators (the official gate was 1,445) saw the cricket their resilience deserved.
By the close both sides would have felt they had missed an opportunity. Sussex, having inserted the hosts on a pitch that started just a little damp, would reflect that they had delivered too many four balls and failed to take advantage of the match situation when they batted, while Surrey would reflect that too many of their batsmen played a part in their own downfall.
Batting was never completely straightforward. On a sluggish pitch providing some seam movement, neither side demonstrated the requisite patience to prosper. Jacques Rudolph, frustrated for 12 scoreless deliveries, set the tone when he chased a wide one without foot movement and edged to slip, before Chris Jordan, unconvincing as an opener, played on as he, too, pushed at one without much foot movement. Perhaps Mark Ramprakash, well forward to a delivery that swung back, and Rory Hamilton-Brown, caught down the leg side, were a little unfortunate with their dismissals, but generally the Surrey batting continued in a stand-and-deliver mode that may not prove wise on early season wickets.
There were exceptions. Zander de Bruyn arrested Surrey's early slide with a typically unfussy half-century, leaving the ball well and putting away the loose delivery efficiently.
Some might find de Bruyn's selection controversial. He is a 36-year-old Kolpak registration, after all, and has taken a position that could have been given to 21-year-old Jason Roy, an Englishman of some promise. But Surrey had good cause to be grateful for de Bruyn's grit and, if the players of both sides can learn from his example and up their game, perhaps he could be considered to have played a role in the strengthening of English cricket. It is an emotive debate.
De Bruyn tarnished his innings somewhat by the manner of his dismissal. Drawn into driving at a wide one, he edged to the keeper, before Rory Burns, who justified his selection ahead of Gary Wilson by helping Maynard add 82 for the sixth wicket, was drawn into poking at one outside off and Gareth Batty played on as he attempted a cut. Stuart Meaker, attempting to steer one to third man, was brilliantly caught by a diving Chris Nash at backward point and Jon Lewis was caught at slip attempting a footless waft.
Maynard protected Jade Dernbach for a while as the pair added 29 for the last wicket, but when the latter fell to a remarkably ambitious stroke - down on one knee, driving at a wide one - Maynard was left 14 short of what would have been the fourth first-class century of his career.
It had been a fine innings. Timing the ball particularly well off the back foot, Maynard was quick to latch onto to anything short - deliveries that tend to sit up and ask to be smacked on this surface - with some of his forcing shots through the off side bearing the hall mark of real class. Just as importantly, he also demonstrated a tight defensive technique against fuller balls that suggested he is developing into a well-rounded batsman. This was his first innings in the higher division, but he made the step up with some ease. He is certainly one worth watching.
The chief beneficiary of the rest of Surrey's poor batting was Amjad Khan. It now seems most unlikely that the 31-year-old will add to the single Test cap he earned in the Caribbean in 2009, but here he bowled with good pace - this Sussex attack certainly does not lack in that department - maintained a consistent off-stump line and generated a little movement both ways. This was the ninth five-wicket haul of a career that, but for injury, might have delivered far more.
Surrey's bowlers, maintaining a fuller length than the visitors, hit back in the evening session. With the ball having made indentations on the damp surface in the first hour (there is no heavy roller to iron out such imperfection these days, remember), the pitch is just a little two-paced. Lewis, showing that he requires neither a Tiflex ball or second division batting to look dangerous, nipped one back in his first over to trap Ed Joyce, before Luke Wells' half-hearted forward prod and Murray Goodwin, back rather than forward, were beaten in a distinctly sharp spell from Dernbach.
Perhaps Sussex, by now batting in deepening gloom, were unfortunate. But by the time that Nash offered a leading edge to mid-off and Michael Yardy followed one he could have left and guided a catch to slip, the hosts had their noses in front.
Edited by Alan Gardner
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo