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George Dobell at The Oval
April 19, 2013
Somerset 384 (Petersen 167, Dernbach 5-57) and 6 for 0 lead Surrey 366 (Davies 147, Burns 115) by 24 runs
It had been, as Elton John might have said, a long, long time. But, after a grim year and a spell spent reflecting on his career options, Steven Davies provided a welcome reminder of his class with a first Championship century in almost a year.
There would have been something rather pleasing in a 147 from a Steve Davies at any time - the snooker parallels are obvious - but in the context of this game, this was a return to form that will be celebrated far beyond Surrey.
Like many of his team-mates, Davies was hit hard by the death of Tom Maynard. So horribly did he lose form after the incident that he was omitted from the side by the end of the season. After June 18, the day of the incident, he averaged just 15.40 in the Championship and he had not passed 50 since making a century, also against Somerset and also at The Oval, in May of last year. A player who had once appeared joyous and natural, often appeared careworn and crushed.
He responded by taking some time away from the game during the off-season. Unlikely though it sounds, he accompanied Elton John on tour in Asia - they became friends when the singer sent champagne to The Oval following news that Davies had 'come out' as gay in early 2011 - and, slowly, recovered his love of the game.
Here Davies provided a persuasive reminder of his extravagant gifts with a chanceless century. On a pitch that remains slow and against an attack that, on the whole, maintained its discipline, he timed the ball sweetly, but also showed abilities for which he is less well known: patience, shot selection and resilience. Playing noticeably straighter than he has previously, he helped wear down an honest Somerset attack before producing some of those familiar, dreamy caresses through the off side.
"Elton is a good friend," Davies told ESPNcricinfo "and going on tour with him was the break I needed. It took me away from the game, cleared my head and allowed me to return refreshed.
"It felt good today. I've worked hard to be where I want to be with my game and we just concentrated on spending time at the crease on a flat wicket.
"Yes," he continued with a smile, "I suppose you could say that I'm still standing."
Less than a year ago, Davies was the man the England selectors called when Matt Prior was an injury doubt ahead of the third Test against West Indies at Edgbaston. Whether he remains England's reserve Test wicketkeeper is debatable - Jonny Bairstow and Craig Kieswetter are among those who may have usurped him - but this was an innings that will have provided some assurance that he is back in the frame of mind to be considered.
But while Davies will gain the headlines, the chanceless century by Rory Burns was just as important. Indeed, it was Burns who saw off the attack at its freshest and the new ball at its hardest and Burns who laid the platform for much of what followed.
Burns is not a particularly eye-catching cricketer. He does not have Davies' innate timing - not many do - or his range of stroke. But his judgement at which balls to play at and which to leave outside off stump is exceptional, while his ability to concentrate for long periods is most unusual in a 22-year-old in the modern game.
His first 50 occupied 151 deliveries - 128 of them scoreless - but his second took only 77 more as Somerset's attack began to flag just a little. Scoring primarily between mid on and square leg, he also cut well when appropriate and looked to have a sound defence. He will face tougher attacks on tougher pitches, but he looks to have the temperament and technique to go a long way in the game.
Together the pair steered Surrey from the perilous position of 87 for 4 late on day two with a stand of 159 before Burns' innings was ended by a catch down the leg side.
It is testament to Somerset's bowling, however, that Surrey had to be content with only two batting bonus points. They had scored just 290 when the 110th over of the innings was bowled with Steve Kirby, who delivered 33 overs and remains as enthusiastic as ever at the age of 35, and Alfonso Thomas, who gained more movement off the pitch than any of his Somerset colleagues and conceded under two an over, the pick of the bowlers. Only George Dockrell, who struggled with his length, was a disappointment though in mitigation, this pitch offered him little and aged just 20, such days are bound to occur.
In general though, Somerset remained patient and tight on a desperately slow wicket. They won belated reward when Gary Wilson was drawn into nibbling at one he could have left, Gareth Batty's enterprising innings ended when he missed an attempted flick across the line and Stuart Meaker prodded outside off stump. When Davies, slogging in search of quick runs, finally fell Surrey declared to leave Somerset a potentially awkward couple of overs.
There are few demons in this pitch, though, and it will take some remarkable cricket to conjure victory for either side on the final day.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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