Surrey 395 and 68 for 0 lead Essex 448 (ten Doeschate 130, Lawrence 93) by 15 runs
The Championship season is only just stirring from its winter slumber but already Surrey have experienced the intrusion of a muffled alarm call. Ryan ten Doeschate's propulsive hundred sent Essex into the ascendency just past the midpoint of this game and it needed some careful batting by the Surrey openers, Rory Burns and Mark Stoneman, to hit the snooze button again as they wrote off a 53-run deficit on the third evening.
If Surrey are to build another trophy-laden dynasty to match those of previous eras in south London, they will have to take on all-comers. Being at the head of the pack comes with added challenges, opponents tooled up to knock you down - as in Mario Kart, sometimes a blue leader shell will hit you out of nowhere.
Essex felt the heat themselves last season, when they quickly fell off the pace in their title defence, and came into this match off the back of a shellacking at Hampshire. But inspired by their captain they fought tenaciously to reach a position from which the only likely loser was Surrey - even if a benign pitch mitigated against a collapse.
With only 20 wickets having fallen across three days a draw beckons, although it would have been interesting to note the effect if Jamie Porter, springing to his left in his follow through, had been able to grasp Burns' leading edge from the first ball of the innings.
Surrey may well end up being thankful for such a vigorous tussle in their first outing. They began the day hoping for a victory push but, with the pennant fluttering above the pavilion, having replaced the Union flag that flew on days one and two - rumour was Surrey's scorer had been sleeping with it under his pillow - those windcheater-clad faithful who hunkered down beneath a patchwork of cloud cover had to endure a ten Doeschate masterclass as he took his first-class average against Surrey into the 80s with a first Oval hundred.
It was ten Doeschate who rolled up his sleeves and got Essex over the line at this ground last year, an unbeaten 53 securing a one-wicket win that ended Surrey's chances of going through the campaign unbeaten (as Essex had the year before). The captain set his jaw against the prevailing winds - whipped up principally by Morne Morkel - and made sure that the deposed champions would not achieve an unwanted record by losing on the back of a 410-run lead.
Ten Doeschate may be approaching 39 and creaking a little more than he used to (he was unable to finish a solitary over of bowling on the first day of this match), but he can still summon bloody-minded belligerence for the cause. Essex's last recognised batsman when he walked out at 168 for 4 on Friday afternoon, he helped fashion partnerships of 81 and 102 for the next two wickets, doing the bulk of the scoring himself.
There were 20 fours in all, including a number of broad-beamed biffs through the off side, and one skip down the wicket to dump the spin of Freddie van den Bergh for six over long-on. No shot was finer than the straight drive off Morkel, armed with the second new ball, that took ten Doeschate to 99; the next delivery was dinked neatly into the covers for the scampered single that raised his 20th first-class hundred for Essex.
Having been 20 not out overnight, ten Doeschate hustled another 110 from 140 balls to push Surrey on to the back foot - a turnaround that did not seem likely after Essex had been 20 for 2 in reply to 395. Other than the possibility of an inside edge on 66, with the ball ballooning up for a return catch to van den Bergh, he was as secure as a bank vault during almost four hours at the crease.
Essex might have had two centurions but Dan Lawrence departed seven short, steering Rikki Clarke to slip having seen off the opening bursts from Morkel and Tom Curran. Middlesex loanee Robbie White was then neat and tidy in making 39 on his first Essex appearance.
When ten Doeschate eventually fell, a first Surrey wicket for the persevering Liam Plunkett who came back well after a chastening start to his debut, Essex were still 10 runs in arrears. But Peter Siddle popped his collar to good effect at No. 9, while Porter got bravely into line against a peppering from Morkel, as the last two partnerships kept Surrey in the field for another 20 overs to secure a fifth batting point and a hard-won advantage.