<
>

Stoneman makes himself at home for Surrey

play
County Championship Round-up: Stoneman's fine start (1:04)

ESPNcricinfo brings the best of the opening day of the County Championship as Mark Stoneham launched his Surrey career in style and Yorkshire too charge against Hampshire (1:04)

Surrey 327 for 3 (Stoneman 165, Burns 71) v Warwickshire
Scorecard

Not so long ago, Mark Stoneman said he hated London and could never imagine living there. But, on this evidence, he seems to be settling in rather well.

Stoneman, on his Championship debut for Surrey having made the painful decision to leave Durham, made a chanceless century to punish Ian Bell's decision to bowl first (the toss was uncontested) and give his side a formidable platform in this game. He looked every inch a prospective England batsman.

He may soon fall in love with London, too. Certainly on days like this - with the trees in bloom and a decent-sized crowd enjoying a perfect early-summer day - there is much to admire about the city, though it may be the benevolent nature of the pitch that consummates his relationship with his new club.

Afterwards Bell admitted he had erred in his toss decision - "it was definitely a bat-first wicket," he said, "isn't hindsight a wonderful thing?" - and Warwickshire might reflect that, in the first session, with the pitch damp, their bowlers failed to utilise any help that might have been available.

But to focus on their shortcomings - and they were not awful by any means - would be to deny Stoneman credit for an almost flawless innings. Against one of the best spinners and left-arm swing bowlers in the county game, he demonstrated excellent judgement outside off stump, admirable patience (he had faced 16 balls before he hit a boundary) and a pleasing ability to be able to put away even half a bad ball. His treatment of the short ball, in particular, was merciless - 102 of his runs came from boundaries.

"He didn't give us a sniff," Bell said. "We're really impressed by him."

There may be mixed feelings about this innings in Durham, though. While the majority of those involved with the club - players, supporters et al - will celebrate Stoneman's success, they will rue the fact that their financial plight led to his departure. As he put it: "Because of the financial situation at Durham, my contract was allowed to run into its final year. I decided to move to Surrey to further my career."

Few could blame him. A professional sporting life is not long and some desire for security and, yes, better remuneration is natural.

He will have to replicate this innings a few times if he is to become a serious contender for the Test side. His career average - 32.99 before this game - is modest and there are several younger men (notably Keaton Jennings and Haseeb Hameed) ahead of him in the fight for a place. But he has long been respected as one of the best openers in the county game by his fellow pros and can claim mitigation for that average with the demanding quality of the surfaces that he played on in Durham until the start of 2016.

He also made a century in his final innings for Durham, meaning that he has scored two Championship centuries in succession. He is the first England-qualified player to make a century on Championship debut for Surrey since Mark Rampakash in 2001. Aaron Finch (2016), Kumar Sangakkara (2015) and Ricky Ponting (2013) are the three most recent men to do so for Surrey.

Stoneman was given fine support in a first-wicket stand of 154 by Rory Burns. While Burns will be disappointed not to make a century that appeared to be his for the taking - something of a recurring theme in his career - he will be encouraged by the manner in which he saw off the new ball and took the attack to Warwickshire's bowlers.

"They never let us settle," Jim Troughton, Warwickshire's first-team coach said afterwards. "We probably got the toss decision wrong and there were too many boundary balls, but Surrey batted very well. We've known Stoneman was quality player for a few years and he showed everyone that today."

Warwickshire could also have regretted dropping Scott Borthwick, another recruit from Durham, on 4 (Barker was unable to cling on to a top-edged pull off Chris Wright) but he soon fell after flirting outside off stump.

It might have been worse for them, though. At lunch, with Surrey 133 without loss after 31 overs and Jonathan Trott already employed as a bowler, it looked as if they were in deep trouble. But they dragged the run-rate back through the rest of the day and didn't let the batsmen capitalise in the final session. However, Sangakkara remains - he played some drives so sweet he must have been tempted to light a cigarette as he watched them scurry to the boundary - and, with no heavy roller available for this game, the pitch may become more difficult for the side batting last.

Earlier, Surrey included Jade Dernbach - his first Championship appearance since 2015 - ahead of Stuart Meaker and Gareth Batty, the captain, ahead of Zafar Ansari. Nor could they be blamed for doing so. While Ansari was deemed good enough to represent England only a few months ago, the decision to play T20 cricket in a block and cut the schedule has pushed the Championship ever further into the margins of the season. The counties will have played eight of their 14 Championship games before the end of June. There is no mystery in England's continuing weakness in producing and playing spin bowling.