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Northampton, September 12 - 15, 2022, County Championship Division One
339 & 426
(T:345) 421 & 48/1

Match drawn


Tom Curran blasts maiden hundred to boost Surrey's Championship charge

First red-ball appearance since early 2019 brings game-changing 85-ball ton

David Hopps
David Hopps
Tom Curran scored his maiden first-class hundred  •  Getty Images

Tom Curran scored his maiden first-class hundred  •  Getty Images

Northamptonshire 339 and 209 for 5 (Procter 55, Vasconcelos 51*) lead Surrey 421 (Amla 133, Curran 115) by 127 runs
Tom Curran had begun to feel like a cricketer who might become a limited-overs specialist more by circumstance than design. Injuries have plagued him in recent years and he had not played a Championship game for Surrey since before Covid-19 announced its baleful presence on the world. A hundred before lunch in his first four-day match for 41 months was quite a way to put that right.
Since an early-season match against Essex in 2019, he has played 84 T20 and 17 List A matches for seven different teams. An itinerant cricketer, much in demand, but with an England career that has recently lost impetus and a Championship career that felt as if it belonged to different times.
Such misgivings were banished, hopefully for many years to come, by a remarkable return: a maiden first-class hundred in 85 balls which became more audacious which each passing over and which energised Surrey's Championship challenge.
With each shot, he appeared to be pouring out his frustration on a period where he has suffered prolonged absences, firstly from a side strain and then from a stress fracture of his back which caused him to leave Sydney Sixers early last December midway through the Big Bash. He has sat in England bubbles, but not played international cricket in over a year.
Curran came to the crease at 244 for 6 after four overs of the third morning. Surrey still trailed by 95 and Hashim Amla had just completed a dedicated hundred which appeared to be all that stood between Northamptonshire and a useful first-innings lead. Shortly before lunch, the Wantage Road crowd rose as one to give Curran a heartfelt standing ovation for a century of great gusto that changed the complexion of the game and may have changed the destination of the Championship. Somewhere, a dog barked in excitement; his Championship dog days were over.
"I haven't played a lot of Championship cricket in the past few years and I wanted to come in and be more positive," Curran said. "The red ball tends to do a little bit more than I've been facing in the past few weeks, but there is not much in the wicket for the bowlers and I knew if I put some pressure back on them it would make it tough. It's no secret that Northampton means a lot to me so it was extra special to get my first hundred here."
Northampton is a special place for the Curran family. Tom's father, Kevin, was a great servant of the county, and Tom is the only one of the three brothers not to have been born in the town. But his hundred perhaps dispelled some sadness, too, because this week Ben Curran, the brother who never quite managed a Championship hundred, was released by Northants and may have to accept that his county career is over at 26.
Surrey would be under considerable pressure from Hampshire if they fail to win here. They are level on points going into the final day, and will stretch that lead to eight points if they draw, 16 if they win, with two matches remaining. With Northamptonshire holding a precarious lead of 127, with five wickets remaining, Surrey probably need wickets before a second new ball that is still 15 overs away.
The career of the two most celebrated Curran brothers advanced in harmony once more. In late June, Sam had also made his maiden Championship hundred, against Kent at Kia Oval, a run-strewn match in which four Surrey batters passed 100 in the same innings. Tom joined him by flat-batting the offspinner Rob Keogh through mid-on at a time when he felt he could do no wrong. His last 30 runs had come in a torrent, including a hold-the-pose straight drive against James Sales to bring up the hundred stand, Amla by then a virtual spectator, and a six against Keogh that flew wide of the coffee shack at long-on, purveyor of the best coffee on the ground.
There were times during his withering assault when Northants did not bowl well at him, particularly the South African quick, Lizaad Williams, the only player with international experience. Spin made but a brief appearance. He had a couple of fortunate top-edged pulls that flew over the keeper's head, one of which took him to his half-century. But for a player whose previous first-class best was only 60, he dismissed the ball with abandon.
Amla fell eight balls after Curran reached his century, lbw as he tried to work Keogh to leg. Keogh took three of the last four wickets to return 4 for 41, and bowled well enough to deserve some late adornment of his figures. One more bold shot over mid-off from Curran would have beaten his father's career-best score, but this time Williams had his measure and Luke Procter held an excellent running catch.
Intriguingly, the two not out batters who will lead Northants' resistance on the final morning are Ricardo Vasconcelos and Saif Zaib, two players who have dropped down the order in search of form. Vasconcelos, 51 not out, at the close, passed 50 for only the third time in a season where he was burdened with the captaincy unexpectedly at the start and has never recovered.
Surrey's quicks began aggressively against the new ball, and removed both openers by tea. But Northants will particularly regret losing two wickets in the final session to full tosses - Josh Cobb diverting one from legspinner Cameron Steel to short midwicket and Procter's half-century ending when he missed a full ball from Gus Atkinson.

David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps