Ajmal mysteriously kept at bay
Surrey 206 (Burns 79, Shantry 6-53) and 240 for 5 (Ansari 62) drew with Worcestershire 476 (Moeen 162, Tremlett 3-61)
54 overs, 19 maidens, 128 runs and one solitary wicket; a bowler of Saeed Ajmal's mystique is not meant to record such figures in Division Two of the County Championship. An Oval pitch designed to neuter him, ample help from the weather and two innings of extraordinary resolve from Zafar Ansari, was enough for Surrey to salvage a draw in spite of Worcestershire's dominance.
It was refreshing that, rather than resort to banal clichés about respecting all the opposition, Graham Ford admitted that the spectre of Ajmal had dominated Surrey's preparations for the game - to the unhealthy exclusion of the rest of the Worcestershire attack.
"There was a lot of sharing of information and even lads who didn't play in this game like Hashim Amla and Robin Petersen who had knowledge of him passed on information and that did help," Ford explained.
"Maybe we did too much talking and preparing because we really did focus on him and perhaps we should have focused a little more on what was going to happen around him but we really felt he was the main threat."
If the preoccupation with Ajmal was wholly understandable, it came at a price, helping Jack Shantry to 6 for 53 in Surrey's first innings. "We were so concerned with Ajmal that some of the lads perhaps hadn't really focused on their game plans against Jack Shantry so we were caught a little short there."
Zafar Ansari was one Surrey batsman who was certainly not culpable: he was not dismissed until the 387th delivery he faced in the match. For a man of 22 batting at No. 3 in a Championship match for the first time, Ansari was remarkably unflustered against Ajmal.
"We were helped by the wicket in that it wasn't spinning particularly big so that kind of meant that if you could get a sense of what he was trying to do with the ball - which way he was trying to spin it - then you weren't also having to deal with that happening on a large scale," he said.
"I felt like I had a decent method for playing him - I tried to play back as much as possible and just be out there as long as possible against him because the more time you spend playing him the more you get used to what he's trying to do."
It was a commendable effort. While Ansari was finally out on the final day - flicking tamely to mid-on off Charles Morris, a dismissal not in keeping with his vigils he displayed - Steven Davies and Jason Roy played fluently as only two wickets fell in the 41 overs possible on the final day.
Davies played with languid class in his 77 - his third Championship half-century in four innings - and Ford said that there are no imminent plans for him to return to wicketkeeping. "At this stage he's concentrating on his batting and getting on with it."
Despite signs of encouragement from Surrey, one win from seven games suggests that fans may be lumbered with 'transition' for longer than they would like.
"The sides that we have put out in the four-day competition in particular have been very young - we've had two school boys playing in a lot of the games, and a lot of lads playing in roles that they're still adapting to," Ford said. "Being really realistic about it it's going to take some time. Exactly how long it's going to take I'm not sure. But I think there's some really promising talent in the group but still quite a lot of youth and inexperience."
As the posters at Vauxhall station remind you, there is also Kevin Pietersen's imminent return to look forward to. Yet talk that he will play in Championship cricket seems, for now, premature.
"At this stage we haven't even got to discussing that. He's had this finger issue and I think it would be unfair to play four days of cricket with that," Ford said. "Just looking at the finger it's still not looking like a normal finger."
"For him he'll play the Twenty20s and we'll talk about other competitions at a later stage." That imbues the search for another overseas player - Hashim Amla is only available in three more Championship matches - with more urgency. "We'd like to get some experience and international class into the group."
As for Graeme Smith, Surrey are still waiting to see if the three-year contract he signed last season will extend beyond the eight Championship games he has played so far. "I haven't actually spoken to him since he's returned. He had his CSA awards things yesterday and he's got his operation on Monday I think," Ford said. "We'll wait and see how the op goes and get more idea after that."
If Ajmal is a big part of the reason for Worcestershire's 44-point lead over Surrey, they played with an ebullience that refuted charges they are unhealthily dependent on him. Daryl Mitchell - who is averaging 108 in the Championship - Moeen Ali and Shantry have also been magnificent, while a return for Gareth Andrew, who has taken 20 wickets at 16 apiece this season, is also imminent. Worcestershire are quietly mounting a formidable promotion challenge.