Chopra soothes Warks worries
Warwickshire 359 for 3 (Chopra 187*, Westwood 71, Ambrose 64*) v Surrey
Plenty has been made of Surrey's struggles so far this season. But Warwickshire are hardly sitting pretty, in the wrong half of the table and urgently in need of this dominating, day-one performance.
The defending champions can argue that a horribly long injury list and the usual international calls have played havoc with their plans. Still, they have fallen short of last year's high standards on a few too many occasions and will hope that Varun Chopra's towering, so far unbeaten, century proves a significant turning point.
Woodbridge Road and big scores generally go hand in hand (Kevin Pietersen blazed an undefeated double hundred here last year and Justin Langer went past 300 not so long ago). But, even so, this was a truly impressive display from Chopra and precisely the sort of innings he needs to keep himself on England's radar with back-to-back Ashes series just around the corner.
Having already played for the Lions this summer, Chopra is clearly in England's thoughts. Now he has three first-class hundreds to his credit this season (after 163 against MCC and 108 at Taunton) and is pushing hard for 'first cab off the rank' status, if and when the national selectors decide to look outside their current Test squad for another opener.
Chopra, a couple of weeks away from his 26th birthday, began a little streakily when top-edging Chris Tremlett's first ball of the match for four over the keeper's head. And he had a sticky patch in the 30s with Zander de Bruyn appealing unsuccessfully for lbw three times in quick succession. But apart from those moments, and a near run-out, the right-hander was in commanding form - pulling meatily, cutting precisely and, best of all, driving through the covers with delicious timing.
Good things often come in pairs, of course, and there is no doubt the return to the side of Ian Westwood not only lifted Warwickshire spirits but also served as a reassuring presence for Chopra.
The pair gave Warwickshire five century starts last season and they were at it again today, with Westwood, who had missed four Championship matches because of an ankle injury, supplying roughly half the runs during a scene-setting stand of 153. Bizarrely, 41 of those runs came off four mid-morning overs when Stuart Meaker, especially, and de Bruyn were taken to the cleaners.
By the end of the day, no one's bowling figures looked too flash, not even Jade Dernbach's. The fast bowler hot-footed it home from Nottingham after being discarded by England, replaced Jon Lewis in the Surrey XI by prior arrangement deep into the last hour, fell flat on his face (literally) after sending down one delivery and wandered off with 0 for 30 from six overs.
Chopra, meanwhile, strode away to the dressing room - having struck 28 fours in his unbeaten 187 - with the determined march of a man whose work is not yet done. He re-emerged a little later to admit to having a "sneaky eye" on going past his best of 233.
"When you wake up in the morning, see the sun is shining and know you are going to play at Guildford, it has to be good," Chopra said. "Thankfully, our captain won the toss. I've missed out in a few games this season but generally I'm pretty pleased with the way things are going."
Oh, that Surrey could say the same. But while the first day scorecard does them no favours, they stuck at their task reasonably well and have several batsmen - Ricky Ponting among them - who will fancy getting to grips with this friendly pitch and fast outfield.