Meaker's pace unsettles Lancashire

Surrey 50 for 0 trail Lancashire 287 (Clark 56, S Curran 4-61) by 237 runs

Stuart Meaker can be a thrilling sight. His run-up oozes effort and intent, a bowler hurling everything of himself at his opponent. His action is powerful and muscular, and what comes next is very, very quick: at Loughbrough, Meaker was once famously clocked at 96mph.

Add in a penchant for reverse swing, an incisive yorker and an awkward bouncer, and it is little wonder that England's selectors have been interested in Meaker for many years. Rumours of his pace, which sometimes gained a few mph in the telling, were swirling from his 20th birthday.

But, as of now, aged 27, he has made just two ODI and to T20I appearances and has spent much of the last four years a frustrated man. He lost a little of his zip and, perhaps, a little more of his self-belief. Last season a sad ritual would be the sight of Meaker, unselected, bowling on the outfield striving to relocate rhythm. By the summer's end, all he had to show for his efforts were five Division Two wickets at 56.20 apiece.

Then, just to cap it, after an injury-free pre-season, came a freak groin injury at the end of March, sustained when Meaker refrained from wearing a box in the nets.

This unfortunate injury delayed Meaker's comeback, but it did not deprive him of his vim. After missing Surrey's opening five matches, Meaker announced his return with 4 for 78 at Old Trafford in May, even as Surrey succumbed to an innings defeat. He has not missed a Championship match since; his oomph has returned, and been rewarded by a new two-year contract.

On a resplendent summer's day at The Oval, Meaker provided a distillation of the essence of his bowling. If there were regular four-balls - there invariably are - there was also unerring menace. By the innings' end Meaker had taken 3 for 83 - giving him a day's average of 27.67, set against a season's average of 27.51 - and an economy rate of just over four an over, compared to one of just under four this season.

If these seem relatively unremarkable figures, they do not convey Meaker's skill in extracting pace and bounce. As Haseeb Hameed, Lancashire's impenetrable wall, was harried out by a surprise quicker ball, and with an older ball Jordan Clark and Arron Lilley edged when well-set, perturbed by Meaker's extra pace, it was easy to see why England's selectors have found Meaker's gifts alluring and why they may yet again.

"It's a great role to have, when the captain says bowl 90mph - happy days. I don't mind the odd boundary. It does ease the pressure at the top of the mark, thinking boundaries don't matter," Meaker said.

He is empowered to "try to knock peoples' heads off," though he does not reckon he is yet quite back to his best. "Pace-wise it's as good as ever. Before my injuries my skills were a lot more honed and a lot better than what they have been so far this year: I'd be able to swing it away form right-handers, and then reverse it round and be able to swing it back into them."

But as intoxicating as Meaker's bowling was, his role in the dismissal of Clark seemed incidental: the wicket belonged to Meaker, but really it was all Kumar Sangakkara's, who dived to his right at first slip, snaring the ball at full stretch, and celebrated with a nonchalance that belief the moment of brilliance.

"That was out and out the best slip catch I've ever had taken off me," Meaker gushed. "It was a full length dive - I don't think he could even have got a fingertip further than that. It was just amazing."

How Surrey needed it, too: Clark had counter-attacked pugnaciously to lift Lancashire from the debris of 99 for 5. Pyrotechnics from Lilley, who smeared Meaker and Sam Curran over long-on for sixes, and twice scythed Meaker over third man too, then a last-wicket stand of 48 lifted Lancashire to 287, though it felt considerably short of par.

That impression was confirmed by the ease with which Surrey batted in the evening session, at least until Rory Burns was spilled off Clark at second slip on 33, from the penultimate ball of the day.

A thoroughly contented Surrey had cause to laud the variety of their attack. "It's probably one of the most balanced bowling attacks we've had," Meaker said. "We've got so much depth that it allows people to have a bit of a break between their spells. When it's started to turn we've had the spin twins; on a pitch like this, where there's not much turn but a bit of inconsistent bounce, the seamers have knuckled down and done the work."

For all the brilliance of Sangakkara's catch, another Surrey wicketkeeper could also toast a fine day. Ben Foakes took five smart catches, even though these were interspersed with the occasional moment of shoddy glovework. He is already a taker of great catches; but he is not yet a great wicketkeeper.