Surrey v Somerset, The Oval, 1st day April 17, 2013

Dernbach shines after Petersen ton

Somerset 344 for 8 (Petersen 167, Dernbach 4-42) v Surrey

They may have come to see a South African opening batsman make his debut, but there would have been little pleasure for Surrey supporters in the identity of the century scorer on the opening day of the season at the Kia Oval.

Instead of watching Graeme Smith bat, it was his compatriot and opening partner Alviro Petersen who dominated the first day of this game. Petersen, Somerset's overseas player, compiled an untroubled century in his first innings for his new club that took his side to the brink of four batting bonus points and earned them a strong foundation. Had he donned slippers and a onesie, he could have hardly looked more comfortable.

Petersen's excellence threatened to expose the high-risk selection of the Surrey side for much of the day. Chris Tremlett, fit and available after months of rehabilitation, Jon Lewis, Matt Dunn, George Edwards and Tim Linley were all overlooked as Surrey opted for an attack that included just two specialist seamers: Jade Dernbach and Stuart Meaker. With Meaker some way below his best, Surrey were unhealthily reliant on Dernbach.

Dernbach shouldered the burden impressively, though. Maintaining a good line and length, he also generated movement in both directions and kept his side in a match that, for much of the afternoon, seemed to be slipping away from them. On a slow pitch offering him little, his spell with the second new ball was exceptional - he claimed wickets with the first two deliveries; an outswinger following an inswinger that would have pleased James Anderson - but it was his consistency and the absence of 'release' deliveries that was most impressive. Just as Somerset relied upon Petersen, so Surrey relied upon Dernbach.

Perhaps Smith's influence was relevant. In the past, Dernbach has demonstrated an ability to bowl several fine deliveries - though the inswinger is a new weapon - but has lacked the consistency to capitalise upon them. Here, with Smith urging him on, he sustained the pressure throughout the day and produced a performance of both skill and maturity. While the former word has been associated with him often, the latter is a newer attribute.

It has been a difficult few months for Dernbach. Quite apart from losing his place in the England ODI side, he lost his good friend Tom Maynard and then faced some uncomfortable questions at the inquest into his death. But while Rory Hamilton-Brown felt the need to leave the club to reboot his career, Dernbach has remained with Surrey and is now determined to show he can play a role for England with the red ball as well as the white.

"I never thought about leaving the club," Dernbach said. "Last year was difficult, but the people here have looked after me. There is no reason for me to leave the club. I want to be here until the end of my career. I'm a Surrey player through and through.

"Today was tough, but we showed good patience and discipline. It is really exciting for us to have Graeme Smith here and he is telling us to stay in games for longer. I hope my name is there or thereabouts [in relation to England selection] and it's important to keep nudging the selectors."

Dernbach's performance masked the oddly unbalanced Surrey side. With no Jason Roy - he did not even make it into the 13 man squad - Surrey instead included three wicketkeepers (Steven Davies, Rory Burns and Gary Wilson), two 37-year-old middle-order batsmen (Zander de Bruyn and Vikram Solanki) and two spinners with a combined age of 73 (38-year-old Gary Keedy and 35-year-old Gareth Batty). While the decision to inject some maturity into the dressing room was understandable, it is hard to avoid the suspicion that the pendulum might have swung a little far in the other direction.

Batty also enjoyed a decent day. Apart from the vital wicket of Marcus Trescothick, beaten by a quicker delivery that turned and defeated an angled bat, he also made the key breakthrough. Petersen and Craig Kieswetter had added 143 and seemed to have put Somerset on course for a match-defining first innings total when Batty, spotting Kieswetter skipping down the wicket, fired the ball in fuller and saw Davies complete a neat stumping. It meant new batsmen were exposed to the new ball, due only six overs later, and allowed Surrey to strike twice more in quick succession. Had Alfonso Thomas, edging to the slips, been held on just 3, Surrey might have been batting before the day was out.

Petersen, who scored a double-century for Glamorgan here in 2011, was the one man to make batting appear straightforward. Feasting off some uncharacteristically loose bowling from Meaker, who conceded nearly five an over, Petersen's only moment of concern came on 52 when he attempted to cut a delivery from Dernbach only to see the inside edge slip past his leg stump and away to the boundary. The rest of the time he played the spinners comfortably - several times he skipped down the pitch to drive them over the top while his cutting and pulling allowed little margin for error - and milked de Bruyn, over-promoted in the role of first change seamer, without difficulty.

The only regret from a Somerset perspective is that he could not have produced something similar in the first game of the season. Petersen's arrival in the UK was delayed after Cricket South Africa insisted he undergo a series of fitness tests so he was unavailable for Somerset's first game of the season, when a batting collapse saw them slide to defeat against Durham.

Few of Petersen's colleagues impressed here, either. Nick Compton, who had already scored 481 first-class runs by this stage last season, played-on as he tried to dig out a yorker, James Hildreth tried to cut one too close to him and also played-on, Jos Buttler left one that swung back sharply and Peter Trego edged a delivery that left him.

While Kieswetter showed admirable resilience - he scored only one run from his first 31 deliveries - the manner of his dismissal partially squandered his hard work and allowed Surrey to fight their way back into a game that had been sliding out of their grasp. By the time Petersen was lbw playing across the line with about 20 minutes of the day to go, honours were just about even.

"Playing county cricket is as close as you can get to playing Test cricket at domestic level," Petersen said afterwards. "So I'm very happy with the way I batted. I think we're slightly ahead as the pitch is quite dry and it may turn and bounce unevenly towards the end.

"Dernbach bowled very well. The pitch is slow so he couldn't really use his bouncer, but he still bowled with good pace, he moved it both ways and he has a beautiful slower ball. He tried really hard, too."

Bearing in mind the tide of South African players electing to make a living as Kolpak registrations in county cricket, it is a route that may soon become attractive to Petersen. ESPNcricinfo understands that Somerset also approached Ashwell Prince ahead of this season , but he preferred to remain with Lancashire partially as the prospect of fielding at Taunton was so unattractive; an oddly negative way for a batsman to view a decent pitch.

"I wouldn't rule it out," Petersen responded when asked about registering as a Kolpak. "The key thing is finding the right county. But I'm contracted to Cricket South Africa now and I'm not thinking about that at the moment."

Flags at the ground - and around the first-class counties - were flown at half-mast throughout the day at the suggestion of the ECB as a mark of respect for Lady Thatcher, whose funeral took place during the day at St Paul's.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo