Solanki's grace enlivens Surrey
Surrey 362 for 6 (Solanki 130, de Bruyn 99*) lead Sussex 295 by 67 runs
Warm sunshine, wonderful setting and a former international batsman making the sure-footed, seldom in doubt century that turned Surrey's slim advantage into a position of strength. And all Ricky Ponting needed to do for most of the day was watch from the sidelines.
At 37, Vikram Solanki is one of those veterans whose move to The Oval has earned Surrey criticism from a number of directions - not because the former Worcestershire player is a poor signing, by any means, but for the fact his arrival, and that of others, may have blocked the progress of home grown talent.
Well, whatever the rights and wrongs of Surrey's recruitment policy, watching Solanki in prime form has never been anything less than a pleasure. And in terms of what the acting captain's first hundred in these colours could do for his new county, the hierarchy must feel he is worth every penny.
Surrey are without a win in the Championship, and the odds are against them breaking their duck here with only a day remaining. But this was the sort of dominating performance which they were expected to produce on a regular basis in 2013 - and it ought to do wonders for their confidence for the rest of the campaign.
In fairness to Sussex, who have lost their position as table-toppers to Yorkshire, the visitors enjoyed the best batting conditions of the match either side of tea when there was barely a cloud in the sky. And while the pitch remained slow, with the odd delivery still sticking in the surface, there was a clear invitation for Surrey to take control.
Solanki, who played 51 one-day internationals for England and is currently leading this side because both Graeme Smith and Gareth Batty are injured, needed little encouragement. He had to find a supporting act, though, and, crucially, a perfect one presented itself in the shape of another middle order veteran, Zander de Bruyn.
The pair added 177 for the fourth wicket, de Bruyn ending the day unbeaten and just one run short of his own century.
Six members of the Sussex line-up had passed 30 on the second day of this game but only Mike Yardy reached 50. And when Surrey openers Rory Burns and Arun Harinath both perished when apparently established, the impression that batsmen could never consider themselves truly 'in' on this surface was strengthened.
What is more, the dismissal of Ponting - squared up by fellow Australian Steve Magoffin and caught in the slips by Chris Jordan - for only 13 left the battle for first innings supremacy in the balance. Or so it seemed.
Jordan, playing against his old county, Magoffin and Jimmy Anyon combined to produce a real threat. And had Jordan speared a yorker through Solanki's defences early on, instead of seeing it dug out, it is anyone's guess how the third day would have panned out. Instead, Surrey's No. 3 was soon driving sumptuously, cutting firmly and taking the initiative away from the hosts.
Having reached 50, Solanki pulled Jordan for another emphatic boundary, de Bruyn set about Monty Panesar's left-arm spin and, for the first time in the match, a big partnership seemed probable rather than just possible.
The century stand was sealed with the help of Solanki's off-driven six against Chris Nash (he later pulled Anyon for another big 'un) and his hundred came up with a gorgeous cover drive - one of 11 fours. A little punch of delight marked the milestone, then the captain went into overdrive, taking 30 more runs from 17 balls before holing out to long-on.
That acceleration underlined Solanki's belief that there could be some life left in a match which lost its first day to rain. And with de Bruyn staying around to supervise a final morning charge, there is hope for Surrey and a possible nervy survival battle for Sussex.
"Once you get in it's a reasonably good wicket but you have to work hard when you first some in," said Solanki. "It was very pleasing to score my first first-class hundred for Surrey but more important was that we were able to get into a position where we might be able to exert some pressure on the final day."