Surrey 211 (Dawson 4-30, Edwards 4-38) and 407 for 9 (Pope 145, Foakes 81, Borthwick 74, beat Hampshire 147 (Amla 55, S Curran 4-39, Clarke 4-39) and 332 (Northeast 129, Virdi 4-79) by 139 runs
"The truth is that if old Gareth Batty hadn't suffered a back spasm, Virdi would never have played in that match at all." In such a fashion might a Surrey supporter begin his favourite tale of how a 19-year-old offspinner took four wickets on two unseasonably benign April days and helped his team to a 139-run victory against Hampshire. His listeners in the pub will order a final pint and then listen attentively, albeit to a story they already know quite well.
They might guess that Sam Northeast's first hundred for his new side will be downplayed but they can fill in those gaps themselves. They will recall that at a time when England were looking for batsmen who could bat long Northeast defied Surrey's attack for nearly a day and made 129, an innings that was only ended when Ben Foakes' brilliant one-gloved diving catch off Matt Dunn settled the match. An epic effort, some called it, although the praise was more muted in Kent, the county he had left in the close season. Until he was dismissed Northeast hardly looked in trouble, even when Rory Burns gave Jade Dernbach three forward square legs, the fielders standing so close they could have held a seance.
In the pub, meanwhile, our storyteller might be impersonating Amar Virdi's exultant scamper up the pitch when he trapped a sweeping Rilee Rossouw for 29 inside an hour of the final morning at The Oval. If so, other drinkers might be disturbed, but the landlord, a benevolent fellow, will know there is no mischief in it, just as there was no gloating about Virdi's celebrations, merely the precious joy of youth.
And for once this will not be a tale given wings by alcohol. Virdi did not even bowl in Hampshire's first innings yet his 4 for 79 was a fitting counterpart to this season of daring growth. The trees are forming their generous arcades in Tooting Graveney and there are even blossoms shading the thickets of brickwork surrounding The Oval. To see young cricketers do well in September is to receive reassurance about the following year; to watch players like Virdi excel in springtime is to feel consonance with the seasons.
"Eyes, ears are old. But not the sense of spring. / Look, listen, live some inward watcher warns. Absorb this moment's meaning and be wise / With hearts whom the first primrose purifies.
It was not difficult to summon Siegfried Sassoon's lines in "Another Spring" to mind on this fresh Monday at The Oval where the brisk wind helped Virdi's drift. They fitted the mood perfectly as Kyle Abbott drove the spinner's well-flighted ball to short mid-on, where Burns took the catch. By then, though, Liam Dawson had inside-edged a back foot drive off Dernbach into his stumps and it was only Northeast's sound technique which allowed Hampshire to lunch on 212 for 7.
The same patient skill was again in evidence during an afternoon session in which Surrey took only the wicket of Chris Wood, who was leg before to Sam Curran after hanging around for 55 minutes in making 26. That innings, though, was the prelude to nearly 90 minutes propping and blocking by Brad Wheal, who was at the wicket when Northeast pushed the single which took him to his 171-ball century. There were times during that 68-run stand when the Oval pigeons looked more of a threat to the batsmen's sangfroid than the bowlers. They were certainly just as stubborn, defying thrown caps, waved bats and, no doubt, the occasional Anglo-Saxon rebuke.
In the end it was Dernbach, himself no stranger to the caustic rejoinder, who took the ninth wicket with the fifth delivery after tea when his slower-ball yorker made Wheal the 17th batsmen in the match to fall leg before. Then, with 23.4 overs left to be bowled Dunn ran in from the Pavilion End and nipped one wickedly away from Northeast.
"So anyway," our storyteller in the pub will conclude, "that's how a young bloke who wasn't supposed to be playing in the match ended up helping to win it for Surrey. Their next game was against Lancashire at Old Trafford. And do you know what happened there? Well…"
"Time, gents, please," calls the landlord. "You'll have to tell them that story another day." And, indeed, he will.