Surrey67 and 477 for 5 (Roy 128, Pope 114, Stoneman 86, Jacks 52*) lead Essex 477 for 8 dec by 67 runs
When the best climbers reach the top of a mountain they look about them for the next summit. Surrey won the County Championship a fortnight ago; their challenge now is to go through a season unbeaten. The achievement of that goal was greatly imperilled on Monday morning when they were dismissed for 67 and it was placed in greater danger 24 hours later as Essex amassed a lead of 410 before declaring. This day's cricket, however, reminded us all why Surrey are champions, albeit their efforts may not be sufficient to save them from defeat
By the close Surrey had wiped out their mighty deficit and two of their batsmen had contributed hundreds to a total which may yet set a few records. Jason Roy made the more galvanic of these centuries but Ollie Pope played the more cultivated innings and actually reached three figures in 97 balls, just five more than Roy had needed.
However, Pope's dismissal for 114 when he played across a ball from Matt Coles and was unluckily adjudged leg before wicket left Surrey with a lead of only 8. Will Jacks and Ryan Patel had extended that advantage to 67 by the end of play but there are only the bowlers to come. We could be in for a tense session or two at the Kia Oval before this great stage is curtained for winter.
For the Essex attack patience was the essential virtue. On Monday they had disposed of ten batsmen in 27 overs; now they laboured for a full day, conceding 389 runs and taking but four wickets, none of which fell in the morning. Instead, Roy and Mark Stoneman levied 20 runs off the opening two overs and 40 in the first half hour of play. Whenever Coles or James Porter employed width or over-pitched they were punished by batsmen who knew they could trust the pitch.
"My centre is giving way, my right is retreating, situation excellent, I am attacking," Marshal Foch messaged Marshal Joffre during the First Battle of the Marne in September 1914, and the same spirit seemed to inspire Surrey's overnight pair. Roy reached his 50 off 47 balls and his second Championship century of the season, in only his third match, with a back foot force off Simon Harmer, the only Essex bowler capable of calming the run rate.
By lunch Roy and Stoneman had put on 122 runs off 29 overs and had appeared in little trouble. Yet within an hour of the resumption both had been dismissed, Roy in circumstances that might irritate his coaches. Having posted two men on the leg-side boundary, Matt Quinn bowled short of a length, plainly inviting the hook. Roy obliged and the substitute fielder Aron Nijjar took the catch. The ruse could not have been more obvious had the fielder worn a sandwich board with the words, "I am part of a trap" scrawled in large letters upon it. On the same afternoon he was named in the England Lions squad the immensely talented Roy was offered a reason why he has not yet made his debut in long-form representative cricket. There are batsmen for whom 128 would have represented no more than a start.
Three overs later Stoneman was dismissed for 86 when he played inside a fairly straight ball from the tireless Harmer but by then Pope had begun to take possession of the afternoon's cricket. Displaying composure beyond his age, the 20-year-old calmly demolished the Essex attack, repeatedly cover-driving Harmer's offspin and cutting most of the pace bowlers to the crowd seated in front of the Tenison Terrace. Ravi Bopara was wristed to the fence four times in the six balls he was allowed. Having reached his fourth hundred of the season, Pope looked set to dominate the evening session in company with Ben Foakes, but the pair's 115-run stand for the fourth wicket was ended when Foakes moved across his stumps and was leg before to Quinn for 32. Less than an hour later Pope needed only 14 runs to reach a thousand in the Championship when he fell to Coles, who was determined to grab the opportunity to deputize for the concussion-victim, Simon Cook.
Other sides might have crumbled at this point but Jacks and Patel shepherded the innings safely into the penultimate evening of the season. And as the shadows advanced upon the ground 19-year-old Jacks brought up his maiden first-class fifty. Thus in the season's end is a young cricketer's beginning; and the autumn offers a portent of what next summer may bring.