Ansari turns match as reputation grows
Surrey 292 (Davies 45, Wilson 42, Stevens 4-58, Coles 4-81) and 44 for 1 need 151 more runs to beat Kent 282 and 204 (Denly 66, Ansari 4-58, Batty 3-40, Dunn 3-61) Scorecard
Even in Division Two, the County Championship demands tenacity and bloody-minded resolve - especially for Surrey of late. A back spasm limited Luke Fletcher to six overs in the match, the third time in four games that a Surrey bowler has been injured mid-match.
With Surrey left relying upon two young pace bowlers and spin twins, a rarely spotted sight in England in May, it felt rather ominous as Kent cruised to 182 for 2 on the first afternoon. But Tom Curran and Matt Dunn, two men of whom much is expected at The Oval, shared six wickets to restrict Kent to 282 all out.
Asking them to do something similar, even after Surrey had eked out a lead of ten, was to demand a lot. The wicket at Beckenham, enjoying its first Championship match since 2009, was a little slow and low, but possessed nothing of menace. Yet they dismantled Kent for a second time, Zafar Ansari and Gareth Batty sharing seven wickets, to leave Surrey well place for victory.
"There was not anything out of the ordinary," was the assessment of Kent's Joe Denly, who reckoned that only "one ball misbehaved all day" after top-scoring with 66. That was a brute from Dunn, which lifted from a good length to catch Rob Key's bat.
Still, as Kent cruised to 97 for 2, the game had a rather somnolent feel, enlivened only by Denly's delightful straight six off Ansari. Perhaps cruising too much after reaching an effortless run-a-ball 26, Sam Northeast then edged Ansari to slip.
If Surrey could just about glimpse an opening, there was no hint of the bedlam to come. Attempting an extravagant heave, Fabian Cowdrey was stumped off Ansari, a shot that had locals accustomed to the technical proficiency of Cowdreys furrowing their brows. The following over Darren Stevens was neatly snaffled at slip after a delivery gripped and bounced. And the next ball Sam Billings, who did not quite join Ansari in making his ODI debut earlier this month in Dublin, got a leading edge straight to cover.
Three Ansari wickets in four balls had transformed the game. Yet he was scarcely less impressive either side of that burst, bowling with purpose and poise, daring to flight the ball and eschewing the temptation to bowl flatter when he was driven. It was no isolated success, either. Ansari is Surrey's highest Championship wicket-taker, with 20 wickets at 32.55 apiece, elevating himself above skipper Batty as Surrey's leading spinner.
Batty might not be the sort to care but he bowled as if a man whose pride had been prickled just a little. The delivery that spun between Denly's bat and pad prompted howls of delight: Denly had married circumspection and class in his 66.
Thereafter, there was only contrasting tail-end resistance to come. Calum Haggett batted with almost exaggerated care as he took 101 balls over 24 precious runs. Matt Coles took the opposite approach, driving with ferocious strength for 29 until slapping Batty to point. While Surrey had bowled with skill and control and fielded with intensity, no one could deny Denly's verdict on Kent's batting performance. "Some of the dismissals were on the soft side - mine included," he reflected.
Kent did enjoy the consolation of a wicket in the 11 overs they bowled at Surrey before the close, but with Rory Burns in counter-punching mood Surrey are left with only 151 more runs to secure their second victory of the season.
A few minutes after leading Surrey off after his sterling bowling effort, Ansari trudged disconsolately off after playing around a straight ball from Stevens, and was in no mood to speak to the media after play. While the development of Ansari's bowling has been one of the noteworthy aspects of Surrey's season so far, there is good reason why few cricketers in history have combined opening the batting with being a frontline bowler.
Tim Wigmore is a freelance journalist and author of Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts