Derbyshire show their steel to curtail Surrey
Surrey 227 for 5 (Burns 92) trail Derbyshire 313 (Hughes 96, T Curran 5-71, Ansari 4-61) by 86 runs
After nearly decade without a first-class trophy Surrey hardly need to be reminded how tough county cricket, regardless of the division, can be. But with promotion back to Division One just a handful of bonus points or a few days of rain away, Surrey's young and ambitious side were given one, perhaps final, reminder that regardless of what higher honours may await, the county game is hard, hard work.
There are few counties that contrast so markedly with Surrey than Derbyshire. But despite their obvious differences off the field, such an imbalance was not evident on it. After a second consecutive day of tense, gritty cricket Derbyshire are just about ahead in a fascinating and oscillating encounter.
That there was no stand-out performer for Derbyshire is perhaps appropriate on a day in which their lower-order frustrated Surrey with the bat before the same men choked them with the ball. Surrey will resume on the third day still trailing Derbyshire's first innings total of 313 by 86 and with five wickets in hand to narrow the deficit.
A draw would be enough to seal promotion and Surrey could of course, still go onto win this match, but it has already proven harder than many would have initially imagined.
The day began with Surrey harbouring hopes of swiftly ending Derbyshire's innings but, despite Chesney Hughes falling four short of his seventh first-class century, the lower order delayed Surrey long enough to extend the morning session to allow them to take the tenth wicket. An energetic partnership of 50 between Matt Critchley and Tony Palladino, who both scored 31, elevated Derbyshire beyond 300 before Tom Curran completed his second five-wicket haul in three matches.
Having lost the toss Surrey would have been happy with restricting Derbyshire to 313 but given the score at the start of the day they would have perhaps hoped for slightly better.
Derbyshire continued to confound expectations with the ball as Surrey's hopes of an easy ride in response were efficiently struck down. Only Rory Burns, who scored a pugnacious 92, passed 36 for Surrey in a display that lacked patience against some probing bowling.
Indeed it was undue haste that caused the demise of Arun Harinath, Surrey's first wicket to fall, when, having outlasted excellent new-ball spells from Ben Cotton and Mark Foottit, he flashed hard at a wide first delivery bowled by Palladino and edged to second slip.
Kumar Sangakkara was perhaps associated with the first hack of his career when at lunch he discovered his Twitter account had been broken into and a rather embarrassing photo posted. He could therefore be excused if he had other things on his mind when he became the second wicket to fall, caught behind off Palladino to leave Surrey 48 for 2.
It was then that Burns fought fire with fire, abandoning caution he took to Derbyshire's bowlers, striking 15 boundaries in a superb counter-attacking innings marked by punchy checked-drives and a dominant top hand. Burns' partnership of 83 with Ben Foakes threatened to pull the match away from Derbyshire.
They had other ideas, however. The introduction of spin did for Foakes, who fell for a frustratingly unfulfilled 31. After a handful more boundaries from Burns the match had another turn when he inexplicably chipped an innocuous delivery from Wes Durston to mid-off, leaving Surrey 150 for 4.
When Steven Davies fell to the 19 year-old legspinner Critchley less than ten overs later Surrey still trailed by 141 runs with just five wickets in hand. Indeed things could have been worse when Zafar Ansari chipped a full ball to Billy Godleman at midwicket who dropped a straightforward chance.
Ansari and Gary Wilson eventually made it to the close unscathed but that Surrey will have been the more relieved of the two teams at stumps said a lot. Derbyshire know better than anyone how hard promotion to Division One is, and they are making Surrey work for it.
Freddie Wilde is a freelance T20 journalist. @fwildecricket