Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98
Surrey 513 for 3 (Amla 215*, Pope 131, Burns 80, Smith 66*) lead Hampshire 92 by 421 runs
Most greats of the game empty bars rather than filling them, but Hashim Amla's unflappable, effortless manner does not lend itself to edge-of-the-seat drama.
Amla's triple-hundred at this ground against England in 2012 was record-breaking: no single day of cricket at The Oval has seen higher takings at the bar than the Saturday of that Test, when he batted through 98 overs to move from an overnight score of 47 to 183 not out. County Championship crowds tend not to be as thirsty, not least when forced to watch via a live stream, but the prospect of seeing him bat in the flesh later in the summer should bring a smile to the faces of Surrey's members.
Amla's greatest quality is his ability to dictate the pace of a day. He batted throughout this one, adding 156 to his overnight score, and played role of the becalmed senior partner in stands of 257 and 100 (unbroken) with Ollie Pope and Jamie Smith respectively; both men are at least 15 years his junior and when Amla made his first-class debut, Smith had not been born. He had managed only 78 runs in his first three games of the season, including a pair at Lord's last week, but this innings was a throwback to his heyday, as he punched through cover, steered through third man and whipped through midwicket with a roll of the wrists.
Amla was thwarted by birds more regularly than by Hampshire bowlers: a back-foot punch through the covers was stopped by a flock of pigeons grazing in the deep, and he backed away moments before a Liam Dawson ball that pegged back his off stump as one flew across his line of vision, resulting in a dead ball. Scott Currie, the 19-year-old seamer, induced a couple of false shots and had him dropped at wide slip on 184, but he will resume unbeaten on Saturday morning, barring an overnight declaration.
The result is that Surrey are in an impregnable position after two days and should force a first win of the season against Group Two's early leaders. Their only concern will be that this pitch has flattened out: Pope suggested that Amla "made it look better than it is" but Rory Burns had to drag himself off after bottom-edging a pull off Dawson onto his own stumps, realising he had missed the opportunity for a mammoth hundred. The heavy roller seems to have taken any spice out of the healthy grass covering, but a lead of 421 will allow Surrey to set attacking fields throughout Hampshire's second innings.
Given the dip in his international returns over the last nine months, it is easy to lose sight of Pope's freakish record in first-class cricket. At The Oval, he has scored 1373 runs in 17 innings at an average of 105.61. This was his fourth first-class innings against Hampshire at this ground and his second-lowest score, behind knocks of 145 in 2018 and 221 not out two years ago. Pope's physical appearance can make him look like a boy playing in a man's game, but his record is the other way round.
Pope was not quite at his best, playing three false shots against Ian Holland in the 90s and nicking through the gully on 78. He took an off-stump guard, and played his drives very late, occasionally finding himself in a rush and a tangle, as was the case in both of his dismissals against Middlesex last week. It did not stop him cashing in, but New Zealand and India's analysts may be taking notes for Test series later this summer.
"I've been out a few times playing some pretty average cover drives this year, nicking off to them, and that's how they were trying to get me off," Pope said. "Abbas and Holland try and challenge your pads and nip it around a little bit. I was trying to help myself leave those fifth-stump balls and if they wanted to go straight and bowl at the stumps, that's one of my strengths."
The standout feature of Pope's innings was his ability to rotate the strike. Amla is hardly the quickest man between the wickets, but Pope has a knack of finding gaps and weighting his shots to ensure that he can pick up ones and twos; he maintained a strike rate of 75.72, even though fewer than half of his runs came in boundaries. The biggest surprise of his innings came after tea, when he sliced Currie to wide gully; Hampshire's third wicket inside 110 overs ensured that their visit to South London was not pointless in the literal sense, at least.
After a top score of 34 in eight innings in India, Pope has reverted to type this summer and is clearly benefitting from home comforts. "We've played a lot of cricket in bubbles and in tough conditions and it's been nice just to get some consistent game-time with Surrey," he said. "I feel like I'm getting back to my best and getting my batting back to where it should be. It's about remembering what made you successful, and there are a few little technical adjustments as well; I want to get my movements right and hopefully go into that New Zealand series full of confidence."
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