Borthwick slipstreams 'master' Sangakkara
Surrey 319 (Burns 91, Parry 3-31) and 323 for 3 dec (Sangakkara 136, Borthwick 108*) drew with Lancashire 470 (Chanderpaul 182, Clark 140, Footitt 5-118)
If Surrey are to make the title tilt that many consider within their grasp, they will seldom be able to bully teams as they did Warwickshire at The Oval last week. To thrive in a Division One that appears more competitive than ever, Surrey will need resilience, stubbornness, and the savvy to escape from precarious positions with minimal harm. Kumar Sangakkara and Scott Borthwick displayed plenty of such qualities in adding 256 to ensure a draw against Lancashire.
Both played magnificently. In recent times Sangakkara's innings for Surrey have taken on the air of a father playing with children in the park without wanting to be too mean-spirited: he has thrashed the bowling around a little and then generously chipped the ball to the on side, as in his tame dismissal for 46 on the third day.
His brilliance for Surrey has been more fleeting than a club would hope from their overseas star; a year had passed since his last Championship century, during which there have been seven half-centuries, each containing wondrous shots yet none leaving an indelible mark on a match. But here, dreamy batsmanship fused with tenacity, as if Sangakkara was piqued by the notion that this game would be defined by another retired Test great, Shivnarine Chanderpaul.
After Surrey's inertia against Lancashire's spin twins in their first innings, Sangakkara resolved not to let the opposition attack establish such a hold again. Each of his 16 boundaries were hit so sweetly that the fielders themselves seemed inclined to applaud. Three particularly stood out: caressing Kyle Jarvis down the ground, generating ferocious power from nothing more than a nonchalant push; shimmying down the pitch and contemptuously lifting Simon Kerrigan into the second tier; and then slog-sweeping Kerrigan to reach his century, a shot in keeping with the determination to dominate that infused his innings.
Borthwick, meanwhile, moved to The Oval hoping to construct innings such as this. He batted rather more austerely than Sangakkara, underpinned by a firm forward stride to inoculate his stumps from harm. If there was less for aesthetes to savour from Borthwick, he was no less effective, sweeping efficiently against spin, greeting any width on the off side by thrashing the ball through the covers, and scything anything short through his favoured leg side, as when he received an egregious long-hop on 99 to reach his century.
"It's something I've dreamt of for the last five or six months," he said. On a day when Durham lost their opening game in Division Two, this, following Mark Stoneman's debut century for Surrey last week, was another reminder of the talent that Durham has produced and now has lost.
It is a little over three years since Borthwick's solitary Test cap, as a legspinner, and a little under a year since he was primed to be picked against Pakistan as a specialist Test batsman, only for his batting returns to fall away just as the scrutiny increased. On this evidence, the first cap of the new stage of his career might not be far away, though the scramble for England places has seldom been fiercer.
Borthwick believes that batting alongside Sangakkara, just as he used to for Durham, will aid his prospects. "Batting with him it's almost like you're learning by watching him and the way he's talking to you. He's a bit of a batting coach as well, he gives you tips, especially against spin," Borthwick said. "At Durham you don't get to play against spin much so it's good that I did what I did today, and can learn from Sanga - he's the master."
Yet, as well as Borthwick batted, he knows that honing his legspin, restricted to nine overs so far in 2017, will increase his chances of another England cap.
"I don't want to be a frontline anything - I want to score runs and take wickets and be an allrounder," he said. "If we get wickets that can turn I might be able to get more wickets. Looking at that wicket there we've just batted on, it'll spin. So hopefully if we do produce wickets like that than myself, Gareth [Batty] and Zafar [Ansari] can come into the game because I think it will definitely spin. Hopefully we can help each other. There'll be times when it'll be my day and times when it'll be their day."
Lancashire's flag was removed prematurely from the ground in the afternoon, as if preparing the side for an early getaway, and it seemed a recognition that this was not their day. Yet that detracted little from an admirable display in south London, with the return of James Anderson for their next fixture providing a further source of comfort.
Tim Wigmore is a freelance journalist and author of Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts