Surrey v Northamptonshire, The Oval, 3rd day September 11, 2009

Northamptonshire's prospects brighter than Panesar's

Surrey 376 and 116 for 3 are level with Northamptonshire 492 (O'Brien 128, Wessels 109, White 66, Hall 59, van der Wath 50*, Herath 4-151)

These are not the best of times for Monty Panesar. At lunch the ECB announced their new batch of central contracts and Panesar's name was a notable omission. His career is now at a crossroads after a barren season which has brought 15 wickets at 61 in the Championship and where his most successful moment was with the bat to save the Cardiff Test.

A winter of reflection is now ahead of him - and maybe some England Lions action - as he tries to reaffirm his credentials having been overtaken in the spin ranks by Graeme Swann and now Adil Rashid. At least he gave himself a small lift by breaking a solid Surrey opening stand as Northamptonshire tried to press for a victory that would sustain their promotion challenge.

Michael Brown, dropped at second slip on 1, and Jon Batty had progressed to 80 without loss when Panesar drew Brown into pushing at a ball away from his body and edging a low catch to slip. Panesar probed away unchanged from the Vauxhall End from shortly before tea and settled into a reasonable rhythm although the spark is still missing. But there was enough on offer from the surface to keep him interested and he created a few uncomfortable moments before the close.

Northamptonshire's position is much brighter than Panesar's after Nicky Boje built on the breakthrough with two further wickets. He found one to bounce at Batty which lobbed to slip and 20 minutes before the close trapped captain Stewart Walters leg before.

It left Surrey stumbling on 98 for 3, still 18 behind, but Arun Harinath and Usman Afzaal managed to level up the score in the penultimate over of the day. However, the middle order will have to fight hard to save the game, which can be difficult to do in the closing stages of a season with little to play for.

Northamptonshire's healthy lead was thanks to their South African middle-order who built on the impressive second-day hundreds from Riki Wessels and Niall O'Brien. Rob White, unbeaten on 63 at the start, resumed his innings with a runner and only added 3 before getting an edge off Rangana Herath, but Surrey were soon chasing leather again.

Nicky Boje and Andrew Hall secured full batting points with plenty to spare before Boje pushed at Jade Dernbach one short of his half-century. However, Hall continued to drive strongly while Johan van der Wath tucked into James Anyon, taking him for four fours in an over, including three in a row and launched Rangana Herath for two sixes. Anyon, in what is effectively a trial match for him after a loan move from Warwickshire, ended with the horror figures of 7-0-59-0.

With only Dernbach among the seamers offering any control, spin dominated the attack as the lead grew. Hall reached fifty from 78 balls but fell moments before lunch when he swept at Chris Schofield. The onus was now on van der Wath to get what he could with the tail and he hit powerfully down the ground with a 91-ball fifty.

Herath softened his figures by mopping up the tail, having David Lucas taken at silly point, Panesar caught at mid-on and trapping Lee Daggett leg before.

Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo