Hampshire 147 and 116 for 4 need 356 more runs to beat Surrey 211 and 407 for 9 dec (Pope 145, Foakes 81, Borthwick 74)
On the first day of this game few things looked as unlikely as a declaration. Yet at 2.51pm on the third afternoon Surrey skipper Rory Burns beckoned Matt Dunn back to the pavilion thereby setting Hampshire 472 to win in something like 140 overs. Burns' decision was prompted by the dismissal of 20-year-old Ollie Pope, whose 145 might have been the spectators' chief memory of this day had not Amar Virdi, an even younger Surrey cricketer, complemented his achievement.
As Pope walked off the Oval outfield he was given a warm ovation and the applause punctuated the sirenned air. By the close, however, Surrey supporters were also acclaiming Virdi, a 19-year-old offspinner from Chiswick, who had trapped both Hashim Amla and James Vince leg before in his fourth over. Those wickets have done much to ensure the likelihood of a Surrey victory; Hampshire were 116 for 4 when bad light trimmed 9.1 overs off the day. Moreover, Virdi's success was engagingly celebrated by a joyous bowler who plainly respected the stature of his victims. Instead of crude send-offs, there was boyish delight. Thank you.
There was nothing terribly fortuitous about the spinner's success: Virdi bowls with a brave loop, a high arm and he spins the ball. The delivery which dismissed Amla kept low but that which removed Vince turned appreciably. The significance of the wickets was increased by the fact that both Hampshire batsmen were playing well. Vince, as ever, had produced cover drives to placate his sternest angels; Amla was settling in for the long haul and had already hit Virdi over mid-on, albeit not by much. But the spinner trusted his gifts and his gifts did not betray him. His wickets completed a fine Sunday for Surrey supporters whose team contains seven Academy graduates.
Yet as early as the first session one did not need to look very hard to see the beauties of this London morning and Surrey's batsmen enjoyed themselves on a pitch whose venoms had been drawn by three warm days. No one relished the conditions more than Pope, who reached his second first-class century just before lunch with a cover drive off Chris Wood, a bowler he had earlier cut backward of square and straight-driven to the boundary.
Had they desired, members sitting on the top tier of the Oval's mighty pavilion could have considered the city's many traps for tourists or the sleeping palaces of profit which lie just outside this most urban of grounds. But most preferred to watch Pope moving confidently onto the front foot as he took the measure of Hampshire's attack. Before long the sight of him scoring hundreds for Surrey may become as familiar as the London Eye.
Wickets fell but they became little more than the acceptable costs of Surrey's acceleration. True, Ben Foakes will have wanted to begin his season a century but he was bowled for 81 by Fidel Edwards' first delivery with the new ball, an outswinger reminiscent of this game's first two days. Edwards was to dismiss both Rikki Clarke and Jade Dernbach in the afternoon session, the latter with a savage bouncer, but the lack of celebration with which this normally effervescent bowler greeted his wickets indicated their significance. The heart of the game was elsewhere and Edwards knew it.
Pope ploughed on and his desire to do so will surely have been noted by the Surrey coaches. He scored his maiden first-class century against Hampshire last year but that was at the Ageas Bowl and he made only 100 not out. On his home ground and at the beginning of a season still in its pram, he was allowed to do something even more substantial and he grabbed the chance. He had hit 18 fours and a six when a top-edged sweep gave Rilee Rossouw a catch and Liam Dawson his second wicket of the innings.