Ansari leads Surrey plunder
Surrey 560 (Ansari 106, Burke 79, Wilson 72, Durston 6-113) lead Derbyshire 313 by 247 runs
First-class cricket is the most meritocratic of sports. Played as it is over a matter of days, the best team will win, or at the very least dominate proceedings, more often than not. There is charm to such an egalitarian contest perhaps unmatched by any other sport. Quality will out.
And so it was on day three at the Kia Oval as Surrey's skill finally supplanted Derbyshire's stoic resistance to take charge of this match. A day that began with the possibility of Derbyshire perhaps forcing a first-innings lead ended with them trailing by 247 runs after Surrey plundered 560.
It was not that Derbyshire played particularly badly, although they did miss chances in the field, rather Surrey, specifically Zafar Ansari and James Burke, simply played very well. Having taken 4 for 61 in the first innings, Ansari's typically obdurate 106 will only further intensify the growing calls for his international selection.
After his four wickets came on a first-day pitch under cloudy skies, Ansari continued to confound conditions and challenges on day three by scoring his runs in spite of a turning pitch and a probing Derbyshire bowling attack. Although it was the fastest of Ansari's three Championship centuries, to say so would be misleading; coming as it did off 213 balls, least slow would be more appropriate. His runs were earned as much as they were scored.
On 21 not out overnight, Ansari was unflappable in the face of bowling that tempted temptation, but he refused to be drawn outside off stump, leaving with obsessive compulsion and defending with exaggerated due diligence. Boundaries - he accumulated ten - were as surprising as they were risk-free and never once did Ansari's survival feel threatened.
His 230-ball innings was made up of 168 dot balls - the equivalent to 28 maidens. It doesn't take a man with a Cambridge degree like Ansari to decipher so many dots as essentially morse code for: I'm not going anywhere, you're not going to bore me out, I'm going to keep batting. And keep batting he did. Through drinks, through lunch, through drinks, and through tea before he was finally dismissed by a quicker ball that skidded on from Wes Durston and trapped him lbw.
Surrey's brilliance extended beyond merely the anaesthetising blade of Ansari however. Indeed, the day began with comparatively reckless abandon as Gary Wilson struck six fours in the first eight overs to race past fifty before Mark Footitt found his edge to end a sprightly innings of 72. While Ansari will seize the headlines, and rightly so, Wilson's contribution to Surrey's day three riposte should not be forgotten or undervalued. Nor too should the contribution of Burke, who registered his highest first-class score in an innings of great maturity.
Having trailed Derbyshire by 141 at 172 for 5 on day two, Ansari, Wilson and Burke put on 257 for the next two wickets. It took a tired Derbyshire attack a further 100 minutes, costing them 131 runs, to take the final three wickets as the Curran brothers and Gareth Batty smashed the ball around in the evening session. All Surrey's batsmen reached double figures and their final five wickets reaped 388 runs.
Despite never bowling terribly, the threat provided by Derbyshire naturally dissipated as the day wore on. Although the pitch took considerable turn and bounce, legspinner Matt Critchley, at just 19 years old, could hardly be expected to spin Derbyshire through Surrey's middle-order, while nor could Durston, whose six wickets were not so much taken as they were received through sheer weight of overs. That he did finish with six is indicative of the challenge Derbyshire will face against Batty and Ansari on the fourth day.
While day one and day two of this match exhibited the depth of the challenge presented by county cricket, day three showed the fine margins between those who succeed and those who do not. Patience was that margin. Surrey, in Ansari and Burke in particular, had it and with limited bowling options Derbyshire could do little but wait for the misery to end.
Freddie Wilde is a freelance T20 journalist. @fwildecricket