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April 17, 2008
Lancashire 63 for 1 (Horton 33*, Keedy 7*) trail Surrey 537 for 5 dec (Afzaal 134, Butcher 120, Ramprakash 118) by 474 runs
April is meant to be a month of swing bowlers, green seamers and low scores, but Surrey went on an early-season run-spree at The Oval as they racked up 537 for 5 with centuries from Mark Butcher and Usman Afzaal to follow Mark Ramprakash's 118. And their short stint in the field paid dividends when Iain Sutcliffe was brilliantly held by Ali Brown at third slip to give Pedro Collins his first county wicket.
It was remorseless accumulation from Surrey throughout a sunny but bitterly cold day until Butcher called time on the feasting to leave Lancashire an hour to bat. Brown was within sight of becoming the fourth century-maker of the innings but had to settle for an unbeaten 74 in an unbroken stand of 160 for the seventh wicket.
"As a batting unit last year, apart from Ramprakash, we had a pretty hit-and-miss time so it was important that we put a score on the board," said Butcher. "There were quite a few nerves around before the first day, the first game of the season against a top team like Lancashire. We weren't quite sure about the balance of our side, but with Matt Nicholson pulling out [with flu] it made things a little easier so we went with the extra batsman. It may have been slightly defensive but with the weather around and points at a premium, we were very happy with how it has turned out."
The notable batting came from Butcher and Afzaal, two further members of the former England batsman club that have dominated this game. Afzaal, in his first Championship innings for Surrey since his winter move from Northamptonshire, was positive from the outset after Ramprakash edged Oliver Newby, armed with the second new ball, to end a stand of 218 with Butcher. It was the same combination that should have accounted for him on 0 yesterday.
With the cushion provided by Ramprakash's masterclass, Afzaal greeted Gary Keedy's first ball with a handsome straight six and appeared at ease throughout his innings. This was the venue of his third and final Test appearance, against Australia in 2001, when he celebrated a half-century with over-egged gusto that didn't impress the visitors.
He didn't make much of an impression on the England management, either, and although he toured India and New Zealand that winter he didn't find his way back into the line-up after concerns over his attitude and fitness. However, he remained a consistent county run-scorer until a poor 2007 at Northants - 570 runs at 35 - prompted another move. Division One action was an attraction and his move into the middle order has added further solidity to an impressive Surrey line-up.
He went to tea on 99 and reached his century from 165 balls in the first over after the break. The celebration was much more restrained than those in 2001 when he'd made half the score. With the hundred tucked away Afzaal began to express himself and twice pulled Sajid Mahmood over midwicket for six.
Butcher, starting the day on 80, wasn't quite at his fluent best but the concentration remained firm and he brought up his hundred off 188 balls. However he, too, was given a life when he top-edged a pull on 89 only for Glen Chapple to misjudge the catch at mid-on. Chapple quickly left the field having felt a twinge in his back but returned to the field during the afternoon session, striking to remove Butcher with his first ball via a thin edge to the keeper. Lancashire, though, continued to strike after the horse had bolted into the neighbouring paddock.
As Surrey marched on and the 130-over mark was passed - the cut-off for collecting bonus points - Lancashire waited for the declaration. Brown, who turned down an IPL offer to fulfil his Surrey deal, milked the bowling without unleashing his full power but still enjoyed a dart at Keedy.
Lancashire's bowlers struggled to make an impression although Mahmood produced a lively, and unlucky, spell in the morning when he had Ramprakash in some trouble. The one positive, perhaps more for the future than the present, was the continued performance of Andrew Flintoff. He showed no ill-effects from yesterday's workload and sent down another 17 overs at good pace. Flintoff's 28 overs were the most he'd bowled in one innings since the opening Ashes Test at Brisbane in November 2006. His next role will be batting, something Lancashire have to do for a long time before they save this game.