Surrey 211 and 217 for 4 (Borthwick 74, Foakes 50*) lead Hampshire 147 (Amla 55, S Curran 4-39, Clarke 4-39) by 281 runs
Wickets, wickets, everywhere, nor any ton to clap. Unless you have been rather lucky that has been your lot over the last week or so. Indeed, some batsmen have done rather well to stop one ball in three. Yet for a couple of sessions at the Oval it seemed this game between Surrey and Hampshire might buck the pattern. Four wickets fell in 64 overs on the first day only for nine to go down after tea and the visitors' last seven in barely more than a morning's play on Saturday. Centuries? You were more likely to see Nigel Farage sharing a fondue with Ken Clarke.
On such mornings Rikki Clarke's seamers and Sam Curran's inswing were always likely to set a clattering tone. Talk of this being a decent pitch for batsmen sounded ever more like tattle for the Sunday papers as both bowlers took four wickets and Hampshire conceded a first-innings deficit of 64. Thus, on an afternoon when increasing cloud cover was added to the batsmen's spring handicaps it seems only proper to salute Hashim Amla and Scott Borthwick, the players whose technique and bravery halted the processions of batsmen to and from the pavilion.
Borthwick's was the more significant innings: his first season for Surrey was a modest one but his 74 enabled Surrey to build a 281-run lead by close of play and that should be enough to set up a home win. However, should Amla bat as gloriously in the second innings as he did on Saturday morning, all is not lost for Hampshire. Then again, people may not be surprised that the South African batted well at The Oval. If you once scored 311 not out on a cricket ground it is reasonable to suppose you have a soft spot for the place. But unless you are Don Bradman at Leeds, you rarely return to a favoured venue in quite such glory. Poignant recollections are far more likely. It was thus an unmixed joy to see Amla transcend the occasion by making 55 of the most felicitous runs we are likely to see this season.
At the other end wickets tumbled freely and double-figures became distant summits. James Vince was leg before to Rikki Clarke's second ball of the morning and took a long moment before wandering off. Sam Northeast was caught at the wicket off Curran, Rillee Rossouw fell lbw to Curran and Liam Dawson edged Jade Dernbach to Ben Foakes. Hampshire subsided to 116 for 7.
A different game played out at the other end. For over half an hour, Amla played the ball very late and only when compelled to. Then there was a clip through midwicket, precise cuts through gully and a leg glance to treasure. These and other strokes will linger in the mind until September and beyond. Rory Burns kept faith with his seamers and justifiably so. You were more likely to see an albatross at the Oval than the Surrey off-spinner Amar Virdi bowling.
Amla reached his fifty off 67 balls while at the other end Kyle Abbott biffed a useful 23. The innings ended all too briefly for the neutrals shortly after lunch when Curran's inswing accounted for Abbott and Wheal and Clarke moved one back off the seam to have Amla leg before. It was his second false shot in 83 balls.
Surrey, though, had still taken a substantial advantage from the first half of the game and Borthwick spent the rest of his Saturday extending it. Abbott again did his best for Hampshire by having Burns caught behind and castling Mark Stoneman, albeit through the size of gate one might only see at Chatsworth.
Undaunted, Borthwick settled into his work and was soon playing the cover-drives and clips through midwicket that still has them weeping their pints across the North East. He added 45 with Dean Elgar and then a further 87 with Foakes. A pulled six off Abbott seemed the prelude to a century but the South African ended such thoughts when he gave Borthwick the unwanted honour of being the twelfth batsman in the game to fall leg before.
Yes, the ball was still moving about but Foakes reached his fifty just before the close and then helped Ollie Pope piloted Surrey towards even greater prosperity. Perhaps only Amla in his splendour can overhaul their advantage. One is beguiled by the mere prospect.