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David Lloyd at The Oval
May 16, 2012
Somerset 441 for 5 (Hildreth 120, Suppiah 106, Compton 83) v Surrey
It would probably be best not to raise the subject with Mark Ramprakash but even someone low on form and down on confidence would have fancied his chances of making good runs on this benign pitch. As for Somerset, they do not have too many top-order strugglers right now and most of their batsmen who made it to the middle on Wednesday duly tucked in.
It is impossible not to feel some sympathy for Ramprakash, who has been dropped by Surrey after managing just 62 runs in eight Championship knocks. Almost all those innings were played in extremely challenging conditions and yet the surface produced for this match looked, and has so far played, like the answer to an anxious batsman's prayers.
Time will tell whether Ramprakash's colleagues make hay with as much ease as Somerset have done to date. But they will need to get their heads down because the men from the West Country, led by hundreds from Arul Suppiah and James Hildreth, are on course for a formidable total - even though run machine Nick Compton stalled when in sight of his fourth century of the first-class season.
Nothing looked more certain than three figures for Compton. He reached 83 with scarcely a false shot and then pushed forward, having put in a decent stride, at medium-pacer Zander de Bruyn as tea beckoned. There were two noises, or so it sounded, but umpire Trevor Jesty was confident that pad came first and raised the finger.
Shock or what? Compton's average has 'tumbled' to 117 but he still has perhaps four more innings to move from 819 runs to 1,000 and become the first batsman since Graeme Hick in 1988 to reach that grand mark before the end of May.
Somerset, though, are anything but a one-batsman team. They may be missing Marcus Trescothick at the top of the order (and are so depleted generally by injuries that 18-year-old identical twins Craig and Jamie Overton are both playing here) but most of the senior men have found some form this campaign.
They found a bit more today, helped it must be said by not only a sound surface but also a Surrey bowling attack - missing both Jade Dernbach and Tim Linley because of the county's rotation policy - that lacked discipline in terms of line and length.
Suppiah and Hildreth succeeded where Compton, unusually, failed by scoring centuries that were, in both cases, highly entertaining and expertly compiled. And yet it was the 20-year-old opener Alex Barrow who set the tone early on with a rapid, boundary-filled innings of 47.
Barrow drove merrily until Stuart Meaker adjusted his length to have the youngster caught at gully. But even at that stage Surrey's decision to play Chris Jordan and George Edwards ahead of Dernbach and Linley seemed flawed - and so it proved.
Suppiah and Compton enjoyed a double-century partnership against Notts last month and looked for all the world as though they would repeat the feat here. Other than when Compton called his partner for a particularly sharp single that required Suppiah to dive full length for safety, nothing appeared to trouble them a great deal.
Compton, as is his way these days, gave the bowlers zero encouragement while Suppiah - having initially played second fiddle to Barrow - went through the gears with alacrity to gather boundaries all around the wicket. Not every shot from the opener was out of middle, for sure, but it was entertaining to watch and he thoroughly deserved his hundred.
Suppiah did not get many more, mind, after raising the bat. He was run out for 106 after being sent back, rightly it seemed, by Compton as Surrey ended the second wicket stand on 143 through a good stop and throw from Tom Maynard. Compton's exit was an even bigger bonus for the hosts but they had to wait until just before the close - and another lbw verdict that went in de Bruyn's favour - to get rid of Hildreth.
Somerset's acting captain played beautifully throughout. His touch and timing were almost faultless and even the stroke he eased over midwicket, off Jon Lewis, seemed effortless. Add 16 fours to that one six and it was no wonder Surrey were mightily relieved to see the back of Hildreth, but there is still power for the visitors to add to the first-day punishment.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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