Worcestershire 135 for 1 (Mitchell 77*) trail Surrey 434 (Burns 137*, Foakes 72) by 299 runs
Worcestershire, bottom of Division One with three defeats from three matches, were left facing another uphill struggle after Rory Burns' superlative 193 had taken Surrey to a challenging first innings total of 434 at the Kia Oval.
On a sunlit late afternoon, however, Daryl Mitchell's gritty 77 not out from 132 balls showed they still have some stomach for the fight as Worcestershire reached 135 for 1 from 45 overs in reply by the halfway point of this Specsavers County Championship match.
Mitchell's innings was the first championship score of fifty or more made by a Worcestershire top order batsman this season. In their three previous games, only wicketkeeper Ben Cox and all-rounder Ed Barnard had made half-centuries, while opener Brett D'Oliveira had endured successive scores of 1, 1, 3, 5, 3 and 0.
When D'Oliveira square drove Sam Curran for four to go to 14 he had more than doubled his run tally from those wretched first six innings of the campaign and he must even have started to feel comfortable when a beautifully-timed stroke off his pads against Rikki Clarke brought another boundary.
On 23, however, and shortly after tea, D'Oliveira was leg-before at the start of the 18th over to a ball from Clarke which Surrey's veteran seamer ran on into his pads.
That left Tom Fell (27 not out) to keep Mitchell company until stumps, with the pair negotiating both a testing and pacy six-over spell from Conor McKerr, a tall and well-built 20-year-old fast bowler, and some teasing off spin from the 19-year-old Amar Virdi.
Surrey captain Burns batted for just eight minutes short of nine hours, hitting 18 fours from 408 balls of determined accumulation and, eventually, was eighth out as Mitchell hung on brilliantly at slip to a fast-travelling thick-edged cut off fast bowler Charlie Morris.
Mitchell displayed wonderful reflexes to pull off a chest-high catch to his right - indeed, the ball seemed almost to have flown past him - but Burns swished his bat in annoyance at missing out on the second double-hundred of his career. He walked off, though, to a standing ovation from a good-sized Bank Holiday weekend crowd.
Burns had resumed on 137, with Surrey 278 for 4 overnight, and the left-hander soon saw both Ollie Pope and Sam Curran fall to Joe Leach's canny seamers, snicking to second slip and bowled through the gate respectively. Then, however, Burns was joined in a seventh wicket stand of 89 by Clarke, who made a good 38 before being leg-before to a Morris nip-backer.
Stuart Meaker became 20-year-old slow left armer Ben Twohig's maiden first-class wicket when he shouldered arms to a well-flighted ball and was bowled, and a brief last-wicket flurry from McKerr and Virdi ended when the latter steered a short ball from Josh Tongue to second slip, where Mitchell again made a sharp catch look easy.