Smith helping Surrey smile again
Somerset 384 (Petersen 167, Dernbach 5-57) and 251 for 9 dec (Petersen 91, Buttler 94, Meaker 5-60) drew with Surrey 366 (Davies 147, Burns 115)
He may have had to accept a draw in his maiden match as Surrey captain, but Graeme Smith welcomed the first steps on his new journey with cautious optimism.
Perhaps, if Steven Davies had held on to a tough chance from Alviro Petersen early in his second innings, and perhaps, if Surrey had included another seamer, they might even have forced victory in this game. Perhaps it was simply the loss of more than a session to rain on day two that was decisive.
But, after everything that has happened at Surrey in the last 12 months, it would be wrong to judge success purely by winning or losing. Smith, a mature leader who had seen his share of triumph and disaster, knows this. He is committed to the club for the long haul and saw plenty to encourage him in the display of his new team-mates.
"Everyone is speaking a lot about last year," Smith said. "So for the players it is good to have taken the step into the new season and set those new parameters and boundaries. It's good to move away from the experiences of last year.
"We want to get the enjoyment back. We want to play good tough cricket. That's what we are trying to instil in the club.
"I certainly enjoyed the four days. We have got a lot out of it - a lot of positives - and I think we finished the four days the stronger team. It was good to see that character from them."
As it was, this match petered out. Or Petersened out, if you prefer. The South African opener came within nine of becoming the first man to score a century in both innings of his maiden first-class match for Somerset. As it is, he will have to be content with overtaking Cameron White as the highest aggregate scorer in his first game for the club. The last man to score 100 in his maiden first-class game for Somerset was, unlikely though it sounds, Andrew Strauss. He made an unbeaten 109 against the Indians at Taunton in 2011.
While Petersen has quickly proved himself a decent overseas signing - with the only caveat being that he will play on many trickier surfaces than this - perhaps of more long-term significance was the performance of Jos Buttler. It would be wrong to read too much into one innings on a flat track but, at a time when Somerset were threatening to coax some drama out of a routine situation, he held firm against some demanding bowling and with his team under some pressure. With time running out, he fell to a catch on the long on boundary attempting to reach his third first-class century with a six.
With Buttler, it is the strokes he does not play that are as relevant as those he does. No-one doubts his ability to hit the ball cleanly or conjure outrageous strokes. It is his ability to defend and deny that remains in doubt. So, while the last 40 or so runs of this innings might linger longest in the memory - he produced some of those trademark straight drives and several powerful pulls as he accelerated in search of his century - it was the first 50 that really impressed. It showed a young man responding to his team's needs with a restrained, mature performance that exhibited a decent defence and an ability to leave and play straight. The runs that followed, with the game saved, were soft.
The cause of Somerset's earlier predicament was Stuart Meaker. After a disappointing first innings display, he bowled with pace, swing and accuracy in the second. He dismissed two England opening batsmen - Marcus Trescothick drawn into playing at one that left him and Nick Compton punished for playing slightly across an inswinging yorker - on the way to the ninth five-wicket haul of his career. The ability to dismiss such high-quality players on such flat pitches is precious.
Had he enjoyed more support, Surrey may well have prevailed. Jade Dernbach continued to bowl well, but the selection of a second spinner instead of a really effective third seamer hampered Surrey. Gary Keedy bowled 37.5 overs in the match and claimed only one wicket - caught on the boundary - for 116 runs.
Later Meaker beat Alfonso Thomas for pace, when an understandably timid forward prod brought an inside edge on to the stumps, and sustained Peter Trego's grim run of form - he has suffered three ducks already this season - by inducing an outside edge and then beat Jamie Overton for pace, too. The only concern was that he was forced off with a thigh strain and must be considered a doubt ahead of the next game.
"Stuart is an X-factor cricketer," Smith said afterwards. "He has the pace; he has the skill. He has an interesting winter - going on tour with England but not really playing - and confidence is very important. He'll go on to be successful."
At one stage, with Somerset on 82 for 4 and leading by just 98, it seemed he might have earned his side an unlikely chance of victory. But Davies dropped Petersen down the leg side - Zander de Bruyn was the unfortunate bowler - when he had scored only 13 and he and Buttler added 111 for the fifth-wicket to make the game safe. Petersen has already scored more runs (235 at an average of 21.36; he only passed 20 once in 11 innings) than he managed in his seven-match stint with Essex last year. Essex's record of reducing their team to far less than the sum of its parts is remarkable.
"Alviro was the difference in this game," Smith said. "His runs kept Somerset ahead of the game. He is an outstanding player and he showed that in both innings.
"The pitch didn't deteriorate as much as we thought it would. We thought it would turn more. Maybe we could have with an extra seamer. But we were under pressure at the end of day two but have finished the match the stronger of the two sides, so that is very pleasing. We would love to have wickets with good pace and bounce. It's been a long, rough winter for the surface.
"We were looking at big improvement from the batting unit from last year, so to have two guys make centuries under pressure was very good.
"I thought Rory Burns handled the pressure really well. He is a young guy, but he seems to understand his game and understand what it takes to be successful. And Steve Davies looked like he enjoyed his four days. His batting was controlled; his glovework was excellent. He was very tidy. If you don't notice a keeper they've done well. I think he went unnoticed. If he can bat like that and keep like that it will be a very successful season for him."
Smith, meanwhile, is already hinting that he may like to extend his stay. While he dismissed any suggestion of any imminent retirement from international cricket with South Africa, he did not rule out the possibility of registering as a Kolpak or extending his deal as an overseas player in the future.
"At the end of your career, if the opportunities come, you never know," Smith said. "Obviously I have three years at Surrey and if things go well I would love to extend that opportunity. I have signed for three years for a reason. If I have more to offer then I'd love to stay."
It was easy to see why. On a perfect summer day, a crowd of just under 1,400 witnessed the conclusion of a good quality game between two fine sides. The club has been through a harrowing episode that will never be forgotten but quietly and respectfully, the smile is returning to the face of Surrey cricket.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo