Surrey v Derbyshire, The Oval, 3rd day August 31, 2013

Testing pitch promises tense finish

Vithushan Ehantharajah at The Oval

Derbyshire 231 for 7 (Madsen 59) and 219 lead Surrey 289 by 161 runs

When they talk of the calm before the storm, this "calm" has nothing peaceful about it. A fretful period in which little can be done but speculate of the toll of the ensuing chaos, this time is best spent preparing to endure. As for life beyond it, like the man who stockpiles seeds in his nuclear bunker, just make sure you survive it first.

Today, 218 runs scored for the loss of seven wickets in 94 overs, as both sides foraged for their Division One lives ahead of a fourth day that will fray the nerves of all involved. Both sides performed admirably, but Derbyshire will go into tomorrow as favourites by virtue of having runs on the board.

As expected, the pitch has deteriorated sufficiently over the last two days to shift the balance towards the bowlers. However, this assistance is skewed towards the Pavilion End, which has displayed some drastic variable bounce.

It started, rather alarmingly, at the end of the seventh over of the day, when the left handed Ben Slater tried to tuck a good length delivery on leg stump from Tim Linley behind square on the leg side. The next thing he knew, the ball had somehow managed to take the leading shoulder of the bat and loop to point for the first wicket of the day.

Soon after Wayne Madsen was on the receiving end of a sharp uppercut, as Linley found the same spot to daze the Derbyshire captain. But Madsen took the count before rallying to see things through to tea, by which time he had passed fifty and helped build a lead of 84, with the further wickets of Paul Borrington - Linley's 150th first class scalp for Surrey - and Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who fell lbw to Gareth Batty.

Madsen could not hold off the demons for much longer, as Chris Tremlett, who had looked innocuous earlier in the day, shot out both he and Alex Hughes with identical balls from the Vauxhall End that kept low and clattered the pads. On both occasions, the batsmen were already turning to the dressing room - having given the offending area of the pitch a stern stare - before the umpire's finger was in full view.

Surrey's decision to delay taking the new ball (eventually making an appearance in Tremlett's hand in the 93rd over) was a wise one considering how much joy they were getting from an older, softer one. Batty was the last to benefit from it when he coaxed Peter Burgoyne forward and took his outside edge with Zander de Bruyn taking a smart catch low to his right at first slip.

Surrey's captain deserves some plaudits for the way he marshalled the field and his bowlers. He even displayed some impressive self-restraint after a host of unsuccessful lbw shouts, some of which were mighty close. After one particularly visceral appeal was turned down, he stood still, baffled, before returning to the bottom of his mark to reconvene with an extra grumbling skip in his step. Having missed the FLt20 Finals Day for a breach of discipline, he is all too aware that any further displays of dissent will elicit further sanctions, regardless of how vindicated he might be.

But some handy contributions late on from Richard Johnson and Tim Poynton, as well as a more unconvincing one from the David Wainwright, mean that Derbyshire will start day four with a lead of 161, already ensuring a tricky fourth-innings chase. The surface will play more unpredictably, and with the pace of Mark Footitt and the turn and bounce of Wainwright (who looks more like the bowler who took 44 wickets last season) to come, it won't be easy going.

For one team, defeat will mean all but the end of their stay in Division One.