Oval pitch a 'lottery' - Collingwood
Surrey 237 and 164 for 6 (Borthwick 3-41) lead Durham 286 (Stoneman 77, Benkenstein 74*, Batty 5-80) by 115 runs
Only one ball was bowled after tea before the heavens opened and washed out the rest of the third day but, with Surrey 115 ahead and only four wickets still standing, the final chapter of this wet yet intriguing Division One encounter will likely be its most thrilling. It could also provide a major talking point.
After play was called off just after 5.30pm, Paul Collingwood, Durham's captain, revealed that the pitch bore some superficial damage in patches as a result of what he described as stud marks from an Australian rules football match played here last November, between AFL sides the Western Bulldogs and Port Adelaide.
"It's a little bit of a lottery because there are actually patches where the Aussie rules footballers have scuffed it up with their boots," Collingwood said. "The odd balls are hitting these patches - real dry grooves in certain parts - and jumping up. The main part of the pitch is still pretty good but you're getting the odd one that really spits. It is a bit unnerving when some stick in the pitch and jump up at you, but it's the same for both sides."
It seems surprising that the pitch might still bears scars from an match that took place six months ago. The Oval had hosted a similar event in October 2006, when the Geelong Cats took on Port Adelaide Power, so the groundstaff would have known just how much recovery and work would be required to get the pitch fit for first-class cricket.
After stumps on the first day, the ECB's pitch liaison officer was out inspecting the middle but the indication from those who have seen the report is that there is little threat of any penalty coming Surrey's way. While surprised, Collingwood was largely unperturbed by the "grooves", going as far to laud the variety of pitches on offer throughout the country.
"We've had some real skilful cricket and you find as you travel around you've got different conditions everywhere," he said. "It's amazing that you come here and it's more like Calcutta rather than England." Quite how jovial he will be this time on Monday if Durham are caught short of a gettable target remains to be seen.
Surrey made short work of taking Durham's last first-innings wicket in the morning, as Gareth Batty claimed his fifth wicket when he trapped Ryan Buckley in front in the third over of the day. But the rest of the morning session went Durham's way as they removed Surrey's top three, the hosts going into lunch effectively on 16 for 3.
Callum Thorp made good use of the early morning conditions and the new ball to sneak one through Jason Roy's immaculate looking defence. His fellow opener Rory Burns has been in fine touch this season and was engaged in an absorbing duel with Buckley - succeeding on points by playing the ball as late as he could before producing a short-arm jab to work the ball through midwicket as it turned into his bat. But when he tried the same against Borthwick's legspin, he was trapped in front.
Borthwick has bowled the majority of his overs this season in the second innings and he was right into the thick of things after lunch. After starting off at the Pavilion End, Collingwood - having exposed the variable bounce on the other side of the pitch with his first ball to remove Vikram Solanki - brought Borthwick on at the Vauxhall End and it paid off, as Zander de Bruyn was undone by a googly that turned more than it bounced to trap him hanging back on the crease.
Steven Davies was at the other end, displaying a degree of class that has had many speculating that he may re-enter into the thoughts of the England selectors before the summer is up. He was patient against both spinners and injected some finesse with strokes through cover, which made it all the more disappointing to see him go the way he did. A short, wide delivery from Borthwick, turning into Davies, was hoisted straight to Mark Stoneman at cow corner.