Yardy makes a case for permanent place
On a cold and stuttering day at The Oval, a young Sussex batsman laid down his claim for a regular spot in first-class cricket. Mike Yardy, who had frustrated Surrey with stout defence and calm judgment through the majority of the first day's play, went past 50 then accelerated towards his century with assured punches down the ground and crisp clips off his pads. Yardy, 24, who is playing in the absence of Tony Cottey, had grabbed his chance brilliantly by scoring the second of back-to-back Championship hundreds, both against Surrey, following one in the final match of last season.
With clouds hanging around a grey-washed Oval, play started 20 minutes late as Yardy and Matt Prior set about taking Sussex from a position of comfort to one of strength. Prior had overtaken Yardy with a pull through midwicket that also brought up his half-century. An over later, Yardy also passed the same landmark with a less flamboyant nudge off his legs - symptomatic of his contrasting innings.
Prior's breezy and attractive knock, 59 from 80 balls, contained enough shots around the wicket to illustrate his much-discussed talent, but the manner of his dismissal displayed a weakness. Pushing at a wider one from James Ormond, he played away from his body and Ian Salisbury clung to a great catch low and left-handed at gully. Prior could have left it, and waited for the straighter or fuller ball that he had been dispatching merrily earlier.
That was Surrey's only breakthrough of the morning session, and play was curtailed for over three hours as bad light and rain closed in. Up until then, Yardy had shown signs of breaking his fearsome watchfulness with a smattering of cuts and drives, including a wonderful straight hit off Salisbury. When he returned, his rhythm was still there and he announced his intentions with two well-timed boundaries off Azhar Mahmood. He raced to his hundred, a transformed player from the careful blocker earlier in his innings, with punchy drives that would have made Andrew Strauss - or the watching Graham Thorpe - proud. When Rikki Clarke struck him in front for 111, he had led Sussex to 290 and, on a low pitch with the ball moving in the air and off the pitch, frustrated a Surrey attack that did not fulfil its promise.
Clarke and Mohammad Akram swung the ball, but not consistently on any line or length, while Salisbury bowled with control but little variation or turn. Only Ormond displayed the patience that such pitches require, consistently moving the ball away from the right-hander and making life awkward. It is no surprise that he claimed the three biggest wickets, of Prior, Ian Ward and Chris Adams.
Once Yardy had departed, Robin Martin-Jenkins and Mushtaq Ahmed, 6ft 5ins and 5ft 4ins respectively, made an odd couple but put on an entertaining 26, with Mushy displaying no respect for the legspinner's union, clobbering Salisbury over mid-on and playing every shot to any ball. And when he uppercut to third slip off Akram, it got really tiresome for Surrey. With Martin-Jenkins looking to make up for a woeful 2004 and Kirtley holding an end bullishly, they added 44 useful runs before Clarke nipped one back into Martin-Jenkins's off stump.
Finally Jason Lewry swung and scooped Clarke to mid-off, giving him an undeserved return of 4 for 91 from 22.1 overs.
Surrey had a bad day made worse when, faced with seven overs, they lost Scott Newman three balls from the close. James Kirtley moved one away from the left-hander and clipped the top of off stump. The damage, though, had earlier been done with the ball - they simply should have bowled better. Martin Bicknell's late withdrawal didn't help, but on this lowish wicket with the ball doing enough, 370 was way better than par - mostly thanks to the dogged Yardy.
Edward Craig is deputy editor of The Wisden Cricketer