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Burns lightens gloom but umpires darken the mood

Surrey 260 for 6 (Burns 101) v Hampshire
Scorecard

Right now, it takes a fair bit to get Surrey fans to grumble. They are a team on the up, with a cup final a week Saturday and their relegation fears all but eased. They have much of the brightest talent in the land, and a seam attack suddenly the envy of the shires. Here, they had a pretty good day on a pitch that was lively from ball one. One of those young thrusters scored a ton and, having been invited to bat without the tossing of a coin, they are on their way to carving out a match-shaping score.

But grumble they sure did. They grumbled because three times, on a gloomy but cricketable late season Tuesday, the umpires took the players from the field for bad light. Each time, the floodlights were on. On the first two, the conditions appeared fine and the umpires remained on the field with the conditions barely seeming to have improved. The third, at around 5.15 and with the new ball due, proved terminal.

As always, the Oval had a healthy crowd (that should not be taken for granted) and their grumbling - and the booing, and the heckling - was not without reason. These were people who pay their money to watch cricket. Vital points, for both sides, were at stake. At a brilliantly equipped Test ground, with the floodlights on, neither did batting feel dangerous (on the first two occasions, Liam Dawson was bowling his left-arm orthodox), nor did a fielder fail to pick up the ball.

Umpiring is a thankless and tricky task, and fans are generally understanding of this, but taking a generous light reading shortly after lunch on the first day - and thus setting the benchmark for the rest of the match - is self-destructive. Those fans grumbled that they would not be going off if the game was on TV, and were quick to remind the umpires that they had paid for this displeasure. Some announced loudly that they would not be returning on Wednesday because "well, what's the point?"

It seemed one of those regular reminders that through all its troubles, county cricket often fails to help itself. Sixteen unbowled overs may not seem much, but if this is the set precedent, then fans of the county game should not expect to see too much cricket this September.

Through the gloom shone Rory Burns, who made his second Championship century of the season, after a far simpler one came in the reverse fixture at the Ageas Bowl in July. There are many reasons why Surrey have flown up the table - the end of Sam Curran's schooling and Stuart Meaker's relocated zip among them - but the elegant solidity Burns, the vice-captain, has offered from the top of the order has proved vital.

These were tough runs. The pitch was fresh and the humidity helped the ball move in the air; Gareth Batty, Burns believed, would have bowled first, and 350 seems a very fine score.

It took Burns 16 balls to score a run and he appeared relaxed about regularly being beaten outside off-stump. Burns' unorthodox, crouched stance - unlike Eoin Morgan, that crouch seems to get deeper the better he bats - with a little glance to midwicket as the bowler approaches the crease, may seem peculiar, but it produces an array of stylish strokes. He pulls and cuts powerfully and with placement (Hampshire, just as they had at the Ageas, fed these strengths), while his work off his pads is brutal.

His century came shortly after the second delay for light, with a pull for six beating the three men set for the stroke (a "heart in the mouth moment", he said) followed by a scampered single to mid-off. Another pull, this time with a tamer top-edge, found one of those three men.

Burns' last and most fruitful stand - 76 - was with Ben Foakes, who was capped by Surrey at lunch played beautifully straight for his unbeaten 47, but four others had come and gone before. A brilliant legside catch by Lewis McManus did for Dominic Sibley, a ball after he was hit amidships, while both Kumar Sangakkara and Steven Davies fell to balls that got big just as they were beginning to purr. Arun Harinath carelessly slapped to square-leg.

Late on, Sam Curran became Dawson's first wicket, caught off bat and pad. The left-arm spinner, who seems increasingly likely to tour the subcontinent with England even though that was just his 13th wicket of the season, toiled hard but without great flight or marked turn. With a red ball, consistency is his currency and he seldom leaks runs; whether that is enough remains to be seen.