Surrey v Northamptonshire, The Oval, 1st day August 2, 2006

Shafayat leads Northants fight

Surrey 3 for 0 (Newman 2*, Batty 1*) trail Northamptonshire 347 (Shafayat 91, Phillips 65, Rogers 59) by 344 runs

Bilal Shafayat lofts straight during his vital innings of 91 © Martin Williamson
For half of the opening day at The Oval it was easy to see where the frustration that led to Kepler Wessels's departure from Northamptonshire had come from. The top order threw their wickets away to hand Surrey the early initiative but, at last, there was something for the visitors to cling to as Bilal Shafayat and Ben Phillips led a stirring rearguard which marshaled Northamptonshire towards a competitive total.

Wessels left because he believed he couldn't take the club any further although, in truth, they haven't come that far under his guidance and are languishing near the foot of division two. But with the slipshod batting of the first session it was possible to why Wessles would have been pulling out his remaining hair. David Capel, the man in charge until the end of the season, has the tough task can't be expected to turn things around this summer but he will have been hearted at the fight shown after the early collapse.

To lose four wickets before lunch at The Oval needs one of two things; exceptional bowling or wasteful batting. Northamptonshire provided the latter in bucket loads. Only Stephen Peters can be partly excused after being squared-up by a decent delivery from Mohammad Akram and edging to gully.

The shots of Chris Rogers, Usman Afzaal and David Sales left much to be desired. Rogers - back after the Top End series in Australia - returned in place of Sourav Ganguly and battled fluently for his half-century, being especially strong down the ground. But a limp pull against Nayan Doshi picked out square leg before Usman Afzaal chipped one back to Anil Kumble. Moments before lunch David Sales inexplicably lofted Doshi mid-off.

It would have been easy for Northamptonshire to have folded given their current state of upheaval but it is to their credit, and especially Shafayat's, that the innings remained afloat and began to flourish. Shafayat is only batting at No. 6 because of taking on the wicketkeeping duties from the injured Rikki Wessels.

He had a moment of fortune when he was missed by by Scott Newman, at short leg, on 33. But he rode his luck well and wasn't afraid to take the attacking route with some handsome straight driving off the spinners and his half-century came off 105 balls. Ben Phillips, no mean No. 8, provided powerful support in a century stand for the seventh wicket which knocked the wind out of Surrey's sails.

Ian Salisbury continued his impressive season with three wickets © Martin Williamson
Phillips was harsh on Mahmood, who he pulled over deep square-leg for six, during an expensive post-tea spell and went to his half century off 85 balls. The partnership was progressing so serenely that Surrey were struggling to keep a lid of the scoring rate, but Kumble was rewarded for a solid day's work when Phillips pulled to Ian Salisbury on the square-leg boundary.

Shafayat's innings was studded with glimpses of his huge talent which has yet to be fully realised in his five-year career. There are rumours that he will be heading back to Nottinghamshire, where he began, next season to replace the retiring Darren Bicknell and being settled in one place would surely help his career. His quick footwork stood out here as he played Kumble with confidence and a century was there for the taking when he skied Salisbury to cover

The three Surrey spinners shared eight of the wickets and performed well together. Kumble kept the batsmen guessing although sent down an unusually high number of loose deliveries. Doshi produced some teasing flight while Salisbury continued his impressive season, taking his tally to 42. Salisbury and Kumble - two legspinners who have enjoyed contrasting careers - finished level pegging after this outing.

But the strength of Northamptonshire's fightback is shown by the last five wickets adding 164. At one stage one batting bonus point would have been a decent effort; when Jason Brown was the last man out to give Salisbury a deserved third wicket they would have been disappointed to miss out on four points. Maybe Capel has something work with after all.

Andrew McGlashan is editorial assistant of Cricinfo