Ramprakash falls agonisingly short of another hundred
Surrey 364 for 9 v Derbyshire
It is often said that scoreboard pressure can play a key role in cricket, but rarely can its influence have been so swift or direct.
Moments after celebrating an apparent century, Mark Ramprakash found himself walking back to the pavilion after being dismissed for 99. The scoreboard operators had incorrectly attributed three of Stewart Walters' runs to Ramprakash so, a couple of balls after raising his bat to acknowledge the applause of the spectators, Ramprakash was walking off after falling tantalisingly short of another hundred.
While Ramprakash dismissed the incident as "irrelevant", it did seem to unsettle him. He had scarcely played a false shot to that point and had looked utterly untroubled as he skipped down the wicket to loft the left-arm spin of Robin Peterson for a six to bring up his half-century and eased a series of deliveries from the seamers through the covers off front and back foot.
It was an unfortunate end to a fine innings. While Derbyshire's bowlers rarely allowed him the freedom to flourish, Ramprakash nevertheless produced a masterclass in batting on such low, slow wickets by accumulating quietly and leaving the ball with admirable discipline outside off stump.
It was the strokes he didn't play that were as impressive as those he did. While his colleagues flourished briefly only to fall to loose shots, Ramprakash almost eliminated chance with his stout defence and measured aggression. Immediately after lunch he scored just seven runs in 19 overs.
His team-mates should take note. While Rory Hamilton-Brown impressed in taking four boundaries off Tom Lungley's second over, he looked less impressive when trudging off after edging a lavish cut to slip. Younus Khan's pleasing innings ended when he was punished for feeling outside the off stump, while Usman Afzaal and Stewart Walters paid the price for similar errors of judgement.
It is testament to Walters' sweet timing, however, that he could be confused with a player as accomplished as Ramprakash. While this was the first half-century of Walters' season, it was an innings studded with pleasing stokes that promised better times ahead.
Surrey were grateful for his contribution, too. The fall of Afzaal's wicket had precipitated something of a collapse, with the visitors losing five wickets for 65 runs in 18 overs. Wilson was beaten by turn and edged an attempted drive to slip, before Batty dragged an expansive drive on to his stumps and Nel was beaten by one that may have kept a touch low.
But if Ramprakash was unfortunate, he was also the victim of a fine piece of bowling. Minutes after leaning into the sumptuous cover drive that was believed to have brought up his century, he was bowled off the inside edge as Tim Groenewald found his way through a small gap between bat and pad.
Very well Groenewald bowled, too. While Lungley and Smith were punished for dropping short on this sluggish surface, Groenewald maintained excellent control and probed away just back of a length and was rewarded with the first five-wicket haul by a Derbyshire bowler this season.
Groenewald is a much-improved cricketer. The 26-year-old, who attended the same school in Pietermaritzburg as Kevin Pietersen, has thrived on the extra opportunity since joining Derbyshire from Warwickshire at the start of 2009 and now looks a very reliable player.
"You learn through playing," Groenewald said, "and at Warwickshire I was in and out of the side. I've learned that you can't go searching for it. Here I just wanted to hit the deck hard, aim for the top of off stump and not allow them to drive."
Remarkably, it was the second time Groenewald had bowled Ramprakash this season and the third occasion in the last two years. So, what's the secret to dismissing the most prolific batsman of his generation?
"I wish I knew," said Groenewald. "All three times the ball has just nipped back a little. Unfortunately I don't always know when that's going to happen. But he is a class player and I do always challenge myself to perform against the best.
"Any batsman would have been distracted. It doesn't matter how many times you've been there, it's a different thing batting in the 90s to batting with a hundred. I think he was just looking to push a single and he played-on off the inside edge."
It was the fourth time in Ramprakash's first-class career that he had been dismissed for 99 and the 15th that he has been dismissed in the 90s. Tellingly, however, it was the first time since 2005.
Not only did the dismissal delay Ramprakash recording the 112th first-class century of a remarkable career, but it may also have robbed him of the opportunity to become the first man to 1,000 first-class runs this summer. He currently requires 41 more runs, with the likes of Adam Lyth, Stephen Peters and Chris Rogers breathing down his neck. None of them are likely to catch him in one regard, however. When Ramprakash does record his 1,000th run, it will be the 20th time he has done so and the 12th year in succession. No other current player has managed the feat even half as many times.
Still, Surrey's total could still prove highly competitive. While the fast outfield and short boundaries aid the batsman, there's just enough in the wicket to encourage the seamers. Surrey's taller fast bowers may prove better able to exploit such help.