Dawson luckless as Surrey find safe ground
Surrey 329 (Burns 101, Wheal 4-100) and 248 for 3 (Sangakkara 84*, Harinath 57)drew with Hampshire 582 for 9 dec (Ervine 158*, Alsop 117, McLaren 100, Footitt 6-161)
Liam Dawson's big chance seemed tailor made. His one over on the third evening, according to Sean Ervine, had both gripped and turned. The greenish pitch, as it has been at The Oval all year, was barer at each end. Ten Surrey wickets to take, to prove that he is not merely a part-timer (that most pointed of cricketing barbs) and his readiness to tour Asia with England, which he seems ever more likely to do, despite his modest returns. What's more, for a cricketer constantly sold as a great team man, here was a chance to spin Hampshire to a win that would propel them to fifth.
James Vince - who confirmed that he has not had talks with Essex, and that the first he had heard of this was when someone tweeted him - agreed. Dawson bowled the Vauxhall End's first 23 overs of the day, then, after a two-over trundle from Will Smith, returned to bowl 12 more, before rain brought a draw - that ensures Surrey's Division One status - a few minutes early. Hampshire have a week off, and need a favour from Surrey - who play Durham at Chester-le-Street - to ensure that their season remains alive when they host Durham on September 20.
For Dawson, it all started so well. His fifth over of the day saw one grip, turn and take Rory Burns' inside edge; Tom Alsop, a very fine short leg, dived forward to take a smart catch. He had his 15th wicket of the season, but all that followed was plenty of frustration.
Dawson did as Dawson does. He wheeled away, finding some - albeit slow - turn from the footmarks, which sat wide. There were chances, but the outside edge was seldom beaten, and funky bounce only appeared late in the day. Kumar Sangakkara, who batted as beautifully as ever, cover drove him to the fence every time he overpitched, but four of them in 83 balls hardly seems a disaster. Parsimony and consistency are Dawson's currency, and an economy of 2.63 - a tick under his season's figure - was testimony to that, but there is no mystery and little magic.
England know they are not selecting a man ever likely to rip through a side, even if Joe Root is said to have found him the toughest bowler to score off at nets, and his elevation will come as much thanks to his proficiency batting against spin, as his ability to bowl it. This was Kennington, not Kotla, and what turn there was seemed sluggish, but he troubled all the Surrey batsmen except Sangakkara. Arun Harinath saw a catch loop up into space close on the leg side, while Steven Davies could have been given lbw or caught at slip. With many men round the bat, Dom Sibley did not look comfortable.
"Daws was very unlucky," said Vince. "He bowled accurately with good pace, and looked like creating a lot of chances. He could have had four or five." Vince might have reflected that Mason Crane, Hampshire's main spinner, would have been handy, but he was left out due to the green surface on day one. One of Dawson's rivals for an England spot, Gareth Batty, who also found little joy in the surface, agreed with Vince's assessment.
"He bowled nicely," said Batty. "For the last two or three years he has improved tremendously as a spinner. I always thought of him as a batsman who bowls reluctantly, but he bowled 34 or 35 overs today and that is a man who wants to push his skill and his craft forward. That's brilliant to see. I love seeing people who want to bowl spin. He was a bit unlucky, and the pitch didn't really help him, despite a couple of wide foot holes. That means that the good players get outside the line and snuff out that one area on the pitch. Credit to him, he stuck at it well."
While Sibley and Harinath played fine hands before both being brilliantly caught down the legside by Lewis McManus, Sangakkara's was a masterful, controlled innings, full of cuts and flicks, drives and dabs. Late on, he was joined by Davies, another man Surrey are trying to tempt into signing on for next season, for a typically classy cameo that reminded fans of their value. Batty confirmed that talks were ongoing with both, but not resolved.
"I greatly hope we can get something sorted because they are both very much part of our group and very, very fine players," he said. "We are ridiculously lucky to have someone of Kumar's standing within the game - not just on skill but how he talks to our young boys… it's invaluable."
One such young player, Zafar Ansari, looks set to return from injury against Durham, as Surrey - who are the only team bar Nottinghamshire with nothing to play for in the final round - look to cap a remarkable recovery. As ever, there were pointed words for rivals from Batty.
"It's the manner in which we play our cricket that has pleased me," he said, "we haven't gone down the route of other sides in rigging surfaces to guarantee results. We've got big runs and applied pressure. If you are winning games on the surfaces we have played on, you are not a million miles away from having the skills to play international cricket."
Whether Dawson now has the skills to play international cricket remains to be seen. Before we find out, with a turning deck expected at the Ageas for the visit of a Wood-and-Stokes bolstered, seam-heavy Durham, he has a huge role to play for Hampshire.
Will Macpherson writes on cricket for the Guardian, ESPNcricinfo and All Out Cricket. @willis_macp