Surrey v Gloucestershire, County Championship, The Oval, 1st day May 3, 2006

Weston breaks ton drought but Surrey take charge

Surrey 132 for 1 (Newman, Ramprakash) trail Gloucestershire 207 (Weston 102) by 75 runs

Phil Weston reaches his hundred © Martin Williamson
Phil Weston fought a lone battle on the opening day at The Oval as Surrey took charge of the clash between two of last season's relegated teams. He scored almost half of Gloucestershire's runs as the rest of the top six fell in single figures and only some stubborn support from the tail enabled him to edge the score past 200. The total was made to look suitably under-par as Surrey cruised along in the final session.

No side believes they belong in the second division but for Surrey, and their collection of household names, it is certainly not somewhere they want to call home for very long. Following a slightly false start against Derbyshire, when they were forced to bat out a draw after following on, their pursuit of promotion back to the top flight is taking shape.

Weston proved their only obstacle with his first Championship century for nearly two years. Last season was forgetable as he scored just 465 runs at 23. His last hundred in this competition was also against Surrey, at Bristol, on June 4 2004. That innings set up a Gloucestershire victory - there will have to be a dramatic turnaround for the same to happen here.

Last season age was starting to catch up with the team, but the eleven on the field today showed few changes from the majority of the sides from 2005. Only James Benning, drafted in to replace Rikki Clarke who is on England A duty, would not be classed as a regular, but he chipped in with a couple of useful wickets - although the rest of his bowling was fairly ordinary. As far as the Championship goes it seems that `you got us in this mess, you can get us out of it' firmly applies.

The Pakistani pairing of Azhar Mahmood and Mohammad Akram got Surrey's day off on the right note with an early strike apiece as they found some helpful seam movement. Craig Spearman can score violently so when he pushed at one that left him Gloucestershire were immediately on the back foot.

The batsmen kept coming and going from the pavilion as five fell before lunch to a mixture of consistent bowling and poor shot selection. Alex Gidman - acting captain with Jon Lewis called up by England A - played around a straight one and Ian Harvey was brilliantly snaffled at second slip by Mark Butcher after edging a drive.

Ian Salisbury was one of the more forlorn figures during last season as poor form and a series of injuries restricted him to two Championship matches, which brought seven wickets at 51. However, the talk around Surrey is that he has recaptured some of his best form over the winter and pre-season and he snapped up three of the lower-order, including Martyn Ball and Carl Greenidge with successive balls.

When James Averis was caught at slip, Weston was still short of his hundred but Steve Kirby, sometimes prone to a hot-heated waft, maintained a commendably straight bat and Weston reached his hundred off 207 balls. Only as the tailenders joined him did he open up, launching Benning for six straight down the ground, and he fell trying to plant Nayan Doshi into the stands.

Surrey bowled as a unit, despite the loss of James Ormond with a back spasm after he'd bowled eight overs. He will be fit to bowl in the second innings but, judging by the ease with which Scott Newman and Mark Ramprakash batted, he could have plenty of time to rest up. The pair cruised along to an unbeaten century stand as Surrey ticked along at four an over with few alarms.

Newman became the first batsman to pass 500 first-class runs for the season while Ramprakash cracked ten fours in an 80-ball half-century. Tomorrow they'll be thinking big and Gloucestershire could be in for some serious leather chasing.

Andrew McGlashan is editorial assistant of Cricinfo