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Alex Winter at The Oval
April 24, 2013
Surrey 301 for 7 (Wilson 124, Solanki 51) v Sussex
Gary Wilson went out to bat at No. 3 for the first time in his first-class career on the opening day against Sussex. It could also be the last time he fills the slot. But he gave Ricky Ponting some act to follow with a century that propped up Surrey's batting.
Wilson was hurried up the order at the request of Surrey's captain, Graeme Smith, after Arun Harinath was ruled out of the match having taken a blow to the hand in the nets before the start of play. After Smith failed again in a 12 ball stay, Wilson deputised to great effect with his second century for Surrey.
It is easy to become blinded in an assessment of Surrey by their big-name signings but their real strength lies in those players they have nurtured themselves. The contrasting innings of Smith and Wilson provided a perfect demonstration.
Wilson was brought to Surrey by the previous head coach, Alan Butcher, as a 20-year-old and has grown from his initial role as back-up wicketkeeper to feature regularly in Surrey's one-day side. Last year's tragic circumstances gave him a chance in the Championship. He played three matches and scored 182 runs at 60.66.
Here he was handed another opportunity to show his worth in red-ball cricket and responded by working hard in the morning session to set up an afternoon where he pushed on to a hundred in 207 balls with 12 fours.
Last season it was lesser-known players, Harinath, Rory Burns and Zafar Ansari among them, that began the club's revival. Surrey fell to pieces after Tom Maynard's death and relegation was a distinct possibility but their young batsman found form and a recovery was conjured. Names that few noticed in among the swaggering stars.
Wilson was one of those and he was dealing with a double bereavement, having lost his mother to lung cancer shortly before the start of last season. His celebration here reflected someone who had gone through so much: a big punch of the air, raise of the arms and generous embrace from his batting partner, Zander de Bruyn.
But Wilson denied the celebration contained any overt emotion, saying his reaction on pushing Chris Nash through the covers to reach three figures reflected only the joy of doing the job he was asked to do.
"I battled really hard this morning to get into a good position and it was a case of pure relief, I knew I had done the hard work," Wilson said. "I knew I had a job to do for the team and it was a case of going in and enjoying batting up the order. I can't imagine it will continue but it was nice to get a few while it lasted."
Hard work was necessary in a morning that yielded only 58 runs in 32 overs. James Anyon and Steve Magoffin did all they could with the new ball, with Chris Jordan - returning to the county he spent six years with - proving an excellent first change. Anyon found a little dent on the wicket to get one to lift on Smith who edged behind but there was precious other help. In the face of such conditions, having been asked to bowl first, the Sussex attack were admirably disciplined.
Runs flowed more freely as the ball got older - with Anyon and Jordan suffering - but the attack as a whole, with Monty Panesar bowling 25 cheap overs, deserved their four wickets with the second new ball that left Surrey grateful for their makeshift No. 3.
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