Surrey v Gloucestershire, Division 2, The Oval, 1st day May 11, 2014

Davies adds intrigue to wild day

Surrey 118-6 (Roy 44*, Fuller 4-38) trail Gloucestershire 168 (Tavare 59, Dunn 5-48) by 50 runs

Sixteen wickets fell at The Oval but the real intrigue began before the first ball. A month ago, Steve Davies may have dreamt that one upshot of England's post-Ashes uncertainty would be a Test debut behind the stumps. But Davies handed wicketkeeping duties to Gary Wilson for this game to focus on his batting. It was quite a career move.

"It was a big surprise to both Graham Ford and myself, I must admit," Surrey's director of cricket Alec Stewart said. "He just feels it's affecting his batting at the moment. It was his decision to not keep wicket."

"We've discussed it and said 'listen, for the time being that's ok'. At the moment it's just a game-to-game thing. We'll do what's best for the team and if Steven Davies can score runs that's good for the team.

"If he's performing with both skills then he may come back into the reckoning with England - but at the moment, he wouldn't be in the England reckoning at the moment. He's not keeping wicket and as yet he hasn't posted a big meaningful score."

Surrey could certainly do with Davies returning to his best in front of the stumps. Despite a disappointing run of form since beginning the season with 67 against Glamorgan, Davies's pedigree as a batsman should not be in doubt. He averages 40 for Surrey in first-class cricket, after all.

Davies' last England appearance was in an ODI in Perth more than three years ago. Velvety glovework has not made up for the limitations of his batting. But logically the only way he can advance his career as a wicketkeeper-batsman is to score runs with the gloves on.

But gloves on or not, this was one day he would happily forget: Davies fell for an eight ball duck, neatly caught in the slips by Will Tavare off Matt Taylor's left-arm pace.

Tavare had been the one Gloucestershire batsman who seemed comfortable with the conditions. There was all the adhesiveness one would expect from the nephew of Chris, but panache too, as Tavare drove exquisitely through the covers. Yet his 59 received scant support; only three other batsmen passed double figures. In the circumstances, Surrey's haemorrhaging of 27 extras had the feel of being a charitable donation.

Not that there was much charitable about the bowling. A month ago, Matt Dunn had played only four county championship matches. Now he swiftly resembles the leader of the attack.

While Dunn generates rapid speed from his powerful frame, that is allied to an astute cricketing brain: the bouncer was deployed as a weapon of shock rather than stock, and the yorker reserved for moments when it could cause the most damage. The dismantling of Hamish Marshall's offstump was testament to that.

In theory Surrey's quick bowling was weakened, with both Jade Dernbach and Stuart Meaker rested with the Natwest Blast in mind. Yet they did not suffer for these absent friends.

Surrey supporters often bemoan that Tim Linley always seems to be the first man dropped, regardless of how he actually performs. On the basis of his outstanding first-class record for the county - 163 wickets at 25 apiece - Linley should never have to fret for his place. But his undemonstrative virtues, reminiscent of Martin Bicknell, have often been deemed dispensable by Surrey, and he was dropped after the first Championship game since the opening game of the season, despite match figures of 3-51.

He provided another reminder of his parsimony here, snaring Tavare with a delivery that seamed away just enough. Tom Curran, who rivals Dunn's pace with his skidder physique, was also excellent. Chris Tremlett almost seemed an afterthought, coming on a second change only six months after bowling at the Gabba.

In fact, Tremlett's most significant contribution of the day was still to come. An excellent all-round display from Gloucestershire's seam bowlers put a new perspective on their batting efforts. James Fuller was outstanding in claiming four wickets, including a lethal delivery that would have accounted for many more established players than Tom Curran.

That left Surrey in disarray at 62-6, with memories of the collapses at Canterbury still fresh. But, in unison with Jason Roy, who pulled and drove with purpose in an unbeaten 44*, Tremlett's bat restored some sense of normalcy to a harum-scarum day.

Their unbroken stand of 56 is already the highest of the match. Especially with concerns over whether Zafar Ansari, who is having an x-ray on his elbow after retiring hurt, will be able to bat, Surrey were in no position to be picky over who was scoring their runs.