Leicestershire 215 for 3 (Evans 100*, Azad 55) vs Surrey
Sam Evans gritted out the entirety of an overcast first day at The Oval to compile his first Leicestershire hundred, blunting Surrey's short-ball barrage amid regular stoppages for light rain and bad light.
After winning the toss and choosing to bat on a flat pitch, Leicestershire fought hard throughout. They had no intentions of dominating Surrey, instead digging in for long periods and flicking the seamers off their pads when they strayed too straight, or cutting them away when they dropped short.
Evans added 130 for the first wicket with Hassan Azad, his opening partner for two seasons at Loughborough MCCU and regularly in the club's second team, and their determined stand was broken only by a miscued hook shot, which saw Azad caught on the long-leg boundary. Jordan Clark struck twice in an elongated final session, having Harry Dearden caught behind down the leg side for his 100th first-class wicket and trapping Colin Ackermann lbw, but Evans pressed on and reached his ton 15 minutes before the close, pinching a single to point off Amar Virdi to loud celebrations from his team-mates in the stands.
Evans is Leicester born and bred, and has had to wait his turn for a chance in the county's first team. After a handful of appearances while still studying for his geography degree, Evans started the abbreviated 2020 summer running the drinks, as Leicestershire brought Ben Slater in on loan for the first two games of the Bob Willis Trophy. Slater was recalled by Nottinghamshire, giving Evans an opportunity, but after his 85 against Durham, a couple of low scores in the final two games meant he was not guaranteed a spot at the start of this season.
After scores of 3 and 8 against Hampshire in the season opener, this was Evans' final chance to stake his claim for retention in the side ahead of Marcus Harris' debut, which is pencilled in for the fixture against Somerset next week. It was not a chanceless innings - he was dropped at slip by Rory Burns on 42, took a glancing blow on the helmet from a Jamie Overton bouncer on 90 and survived a tight run-out chance in the final half-hour - but he scored heavily through cover-point, punching compactly off the back foot as Surrey targeted him with short stuff.
It was not always easy on the eye: Evans scored a solitary single in the 'V' down the ground, instead racking up nine boundaries between cover-point and third man and three more off his pads. Crucially, he was stubborn. The majority of Leicestershire's batsmen - including the lower order - made starts in at least one innings in their heavy defeat last week, but Lewis Hill's second-innings 65 was their highest score of the match. In batting for the whole day, Evans has laid the foundation on which they can build a substantial total tomorrow.
"He's got exceptional hands and we've always known his ability," Azad said. "He loves batting. He's a great guy to bat with because he's so relaxed, and he's a Leicester boy, through and through. He'll be over the moon and I'm sure this is the first of many for him.
"I think we're quite different: Sam likes getting on the front foot and playing through the covers whereas I score more on the leg side and on the back foot. We know Marcus Harris' quality, and we know that there's competition for places. There's always pressure, and that's a good thing, but it does mean this game probably has a little bit more on it for opening batsmen."
While he will be disappointed to have been dismissed taking on the short ball, this was a significant innings for Azad, too. Following a breakout 2019 summer, in which he pipped Marnus Labuschagne to top spot in the Division Two run charts, Azad struggled for rhythm in the Bob Willis Trophy, managing only 144 runs in his eight innings. Where his patience had once seemed to be his greatest virtue, it instead seemed as though it was holding him back as he soaked up balls without managing to press on.
Azad is a naturally reserved man who would not have enjoyed the limelight last week when controversially dismissed by Lewis McManus' stumping-that-wasn't. He survived a probing new-ball examination from Kemar Roach, playing the first of his six Championship matches for the club, and tried to avoid getting bogged down by Virdi, using his feet and playing a deft paddle-scoop for four.
For Surrey, this was another long day in the dirt after a confidence-denting defeat in Bristol last week. The early evidence is that this is an excellent batting pitch, and their top five have nearly 50,000 first-class career runs between them, but a home fixture against a Division Two county is the sort of game they will feel that they should be winning if they are to finish in the top two of the group.