Ansari hints at new dawn for Surrey
Surrey 286 (Clarke 4-46) and 202 for 3 (Ansari 83*) drew with Warwickshire 571 (Troughton 119 and Woakes 118*)
Perhaps the darkest hour really does come just before the dawn. After a grim period in the history of Surrey cricket, the first rays of light began to reappear as three young players resisted for an entire day to salvage a draw in testing circumstances.
While nothing will ever compensate for the horror of recent weeks, it surely bodes well for Surrey's future that they have the likes of Zafar Ansari, Rory Burns and Jason Roy coming through. After following-on 285 runs behind, the trio helped Surrey bat throughout the final day for the loss of only three wickets and secure a draw that could prove crucial at the end of the season.
20-year-old Ansari, who resisted for 88 overs for his unbeaten 83, was particularly impressive, but the contributions of Burns, aged 21, and Roy, aged 22, were also admirable. Not long ago, none of them might have expected to play in this game, but now they are the men on which the future of this great club will be built. Ansari, whose innings lasted 257 balls and more than five hours, bears more than a passing resemblance to Justin Langer at the crease and is wonderfully compact, calm and composed. He has obvious leadership potential and a bright future.
There was more good news for Surrey off the pitch. Chris Tremlett will not require surgery on his knee and could be back in action within a couple of weeks, while Rory Hamilton-Brown will play for Surrey second XI in a limited-overs game tomorrow. He could make a first team return at Trent Bridge as early as Wednesday.
Speculation about Chris Adams' future as director of cricket is also well wide of the mark. Adams, after helping his team through the most fierce period of grief, has taken a break in Portugal after he was advised by the club's chief executive, Richard Gould, that a break would do him good. Sometimes we ask an awful lot of out sportsmen and forget they are as fragile and flawed as anyone else: Surrey surely deserve credit for some compassionate man management.
It is also worth reflecting on the contribution of MCCUs to cricket in England and Wales. Both Burns and Ansari have benefitted from the MCCU system - Burns from Cardiff; Ansari from Cambridge - with the latter crediting the excellent facilities, the early opportunity to play first-class cricket and the opportunity to continue his studies as crucial factors in his development. Despite receiving no funding from the England and Wales Cricket Board, the MCCUs help produce just under 24% of England-qualified cricketers. They rely heavily on grants from the MCC. "There's no way I would be doing this if it wasn't for the MCCUs," Ansari said. "I really don't know what I would have done had I had to pick between cricket and university."
Ansari admitted, however, that he had enjoyed some fortune in the course of compiling his maiden Championship half-century and his highest first-class score. Most pertinently, he should have been given out on the third evening when he edged one from Patel to William Porterfield at slip. "I don't feel too guilty about it," Ansari said. "I wasn't absolutely sure that the ball carried and that idea than anyone else would have done anything else amuses me. Most of the Warwickshire players said 'well played' at the end."
Roy also impressed. He gave it away in the first innings, buckling under pressure and driving to mid-off. But, in the second innings, he resisted a couple of nasty spells from Boyd Rankin and Rikki Clarke that tested not just a batsman's bravery, but their technique and calm, too. Zander de Bruyn, by contrast, looked most uncomfortable against the short ball and fell slog-sweeping to a catch in the out field; an odd shot for an experienced batsman trying to save a game.
This was a somewhat disappointing day for Warwickshire. Perhaps the fact that they bowled in excess of 180 overs in succession and the fact that they play again on Wednesday might have drawn some of the sting from the attack, but it was hard to fault the bowlers. They toiled away with persistence and skill, but were defeated by a combination of a slow wicket, some obdurate batting and some errors in the field. A conservative estimate would suggest that four chances - mostly difficult and mostly off Jeetan Patel - were spurned on the last day. While Rankin beat Burns for pace and Patel found the outside edge of Arun Harinath, on such an unforgiving wicket they could not afford to spurn even half chances.
Suffice it to say that Tim Ambrose, Warwickshire's first choice keeper, was sorely missed. He is highly likely to return for Warwickshire's next game, at Uxbridge from Wednesday, with his deputy, Richard Johnson, likely to go back to Derbyshire on loan. In pursuit of the first team opportunities he requires to develop his career, Johnson may well need to find a new club in the coming weeks. Patel, meanwhile, is in talks with Warwickshire about returning as overseas player in 2013.
The draw leaves Warwickshire, with a game in hand, equal on points with Nottinghamshire at the top of the table. The two sides have to play each other home and away before the season is done in encounters that may well settle the Championship.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo