Redemptive ton for Davies
Surrey 392 for 8 (Davies 124, Ansari 105) lead Derbyshire 153 by 239 runs
Steven Davies' decision to renounce wicketkeeping duties at Surrey, on the back of an uncomfortable start to the season, took many by surprise - particularly given the uncertainty over the England berth at the time - but, when the runs dried up, it also led to him being overlooked. A few days after being dropped for Friday's T20 Blast outing, Davies channelled all his resolve into manufacturing a first Championship century of the season and helping Surrey assume control of this Division Two encounter.
On a day short of highlights, a punch through cover off Tony Palladino - having tottered through the nineties for almost three-quarters of an hour - late in proceedings sparked cock-a-hoop celebrations on the balcony but the reaction in the middle was far less impassioned; a simple acknowledgement to the spectators that had persevered into the dying embers. This was a nothing more than a job that needed to be done for Davies.
If he was restrained on reaching three figures, Zafar Ansari's delight was palpable. Expectations can weigh heavy, especially on young shoulders, and having stumbled at the final hurdle last week at Bristol, Ansari ensured there would be no mistake this time around as he constructed a plucky, yet striking, maiden first-class ton.
"It was pure relief, above anything, when the runs came because obviously I've had a few near misses," Ansari said. "It takes the pressure off."
Ansari and Davies, who came together the over before lunch, put on 140 for the fourth wicket and by the time Ansari, continuing as a makeshift opener, fell two deliveries after tea for 105, any hopes of Derbyshire limiting the damage of Sunday's batting calamity were extinguished: the lead at the close stands at 239.
For all the apparent adversity, Davies had scored three fifties in four Championship innings hitherto but there was a point that needed to be proved. From the moment he strode out to the middle, after Vikram Solanki had tamely chipped the part-time offspin of Scott Elstone to mid-on, there was a sense of purpose about his batting.
Once he cut Palladino the fence, the wheels were set in motion. While Ansari was typically watchful at the other end, steadily accumulating in ones and twos, Davies pounced on anything loose and played with plenty of swagger allied to a steely determination.
He reached his fifty off just 74 balls and continued to accelerate thereafter, as Derbyshire's bowlers flagged with every passing boundary. Ansari was first to reach his landmark, guiding Alex Hughes down to a vacant third man before being embraced by Davies; the significance was evident but Davies' moment was still to come.
While the pitch remains slow and rewarding for bowlers who put the ball on a good length consistently, Derbyshire were unable to muster any measure of pressure to make the inroads they needed after being dismissed for 153. Davies negated any lateral movement the lively Mark Footitt was extracting from the pitch and the incessant shuffling of his pack by Wayne Madsen during the afternoon did little to worry Davies.
That Ansari and then Davies went about their business, especially after lunch, so comfortably will irk Graeme Welch, Derbyshire's head coach. Both Footitt, who picked up three wickets, and Tom Taylor were lively in spurts but once again Madsen's hand was limited, often turning to part-timers in an attempt to find something from somewhere. Tim Groenewald, dropped after indicating he will leave at the end of his contract, leaves a big hole in the attack.
Taylor, however, looks highly promising. He bowled with great maturity and confidence during an opening spell that made it difficult for the batsmen to settle. He was duly rewarded with a maiden first-class wicket as he got one to nip back and clip Hashim Amla's pad - certainly one to tell the grandchildren about for Taylor.
But, that was about all that awoke the Derbyshire faithful from their slumber. Solanki ignited proceedings in an abrupt burst before lunch as he crunched successive boundaries off Taylor and then lifted him over midwicket in the same over. His departure, for 52, only provided the platform for the two centurions.
Footit provided some late inspiration with a hostile new-ball spell that hinted at a measure of frustration, as he sent Jason Roy's off stump cartwheeling and then trapped Gary Wilson, the Surrey captain, in front. It did little to stem the flow and halt Surrey's charge as a lively innings from Chris Tremlett - including a couple of hefty blows for six - saw the visitors near 400. Davies' moment of recklessness at the end, bowled attempting to send Marcus North into Derby town centre, could do little to take the gloss off his, and Surrey's, day.