Solanki helps lay foundations
Surrey 68 for 1 (Solanki 44*) v Hampshire
Whether county cricket affords its paying customers sufficient regard is oft debated. The turgid pitches used in T20 are a particular current concern and The Oval, despite the huge crowds it attracts, is not immune to these charges: the top first innings score in the last nine T20s at the ground is 152.
So it was unfortunate that cricket should show itself in such unflattering light again today. After a scheduled start of 12, owing to the T20 match between the sides the previous night, rain delayed the start further. At 1.20, the covers were removed. Play looked all ready to start. Alas not: the umpires had already announced that lunch would be taken at 1.30. So the best weather of the day was totally bereft of play. With utter inevitability the showers then returned 20 balls later.
Still, that period was enough for Hampshire to showcase the prowess of their pace attack. Kyle Abbott and James Tomlinson have a strong claim to being the best opening pair on the county circuit: prior to this game, they had snared 63 Championship wickets at 20 apiece this season. Tomlinson needed only ten balls to add to that tally, trapping Zafar Ansari lbw for one. Umpire Stephen Gale raised his finger almost before Ansari had missed the ball.
Abbott and Tomlinson continued to bowl admirably when play resumed in melancholy skies almost four hours later. But they encountered sturdy resistance that hinted at further proof of Surrey's renewed steeliness. Rory Burns was typically resolute at the crease, while Vikram Solanki showcased his elegance after surviving Abbott's testing spell.
Given the grim attrition that marked much of Surrey's effort, there was an incongruous quality to Solanki's six off Danny Briggs. It sailed over long-on but it seemed like only a flick. After a delayed start to the season owing to personal problems, Solanki has blossomed this season: his 316 runs to date have come at 63 apiece.
Alec Stewart, Surrey's director of cricket was understandably impressed. "Vikram has been positive since he's come back in. He's a fine player, experienced and very good in the dressing room," he said. "His scoring shots were very very good. They've got through the hard work today and hopefully we can get through the hard work tomorrow and build a big first innings total."
Solanki might have some new company at the crease tomorrow. Tillakaratne Dilshan is the next man in, making his Championship debut at 37. There is also another, and rather more surprising, Surrey first-class debutant in Kevin O'Brien, who was previously assumed to have been a specialist T20 signing.
But O'Brien has been an important part of Surrey's impressive T20 campaign, mixing parsimonious seam-up bowling with the batting belligerence for which he is renowned. He also has a solid record in first-class cricket for Ireland, averaging 34 with the bat and 29 with the ball, and became the 700th player that Surrey have used in first-class cricket.
His selection also shed light on Surrey's strategy for handing Hampshire a first Championship defeat of the season, and adding further purpose to their own promotion berth. Surrey seem to be hoping to repeat the tactics that led to their victory against Leicestershire at The Oval on Wednesday: on a turning pitch, Ansari and Gareth Batty shared seventy overs - and nine wickets.
Hampshire responded with spin twins of their own, as 17-year-old offspinner Brad Taylor came in alongside Briggs for the second Championship match of his career. That Surrey withstood their five overs with ease before the close added to the sense of optimism that now pervades The Oval.