Surrey 153 for 4 (Pope 48*, Abbas 2-39) trail Hampshire 254 (Brown 95, Lawes 4-58) by 101 runs
If you're plugged into the internet, you have probably already come across this story told by Cameron Ponsonby on the latest edition of the Wisden Cricket Podcast. If not, here we go.
Last weekend, Manchester City were playing away to Southampton in the Premier League. As many teams do when preparing for a fixture at St Mary's, they stayed at the Hilton hotel adjoining the Ageas Bowl. A request was put in for their manager, Pep Guardiola, to take up residence in one of the plusher suites. Usually, that's no problem. But during this period when the football and cricket seasons overlap, there was. No can do, came the response - that's Mohammad Abbas
It's a hell of a story - County Championship over the Premier League? You love to see it - made all the better by confirmation from a couple of sources. One privately to ESPNcricinfo was accompanied by a fascinating question to wrestle with: which is more intimidating to play against, tiki-taka or the wobble seam? Surrey certainly had their hands full with the latter on Friday, as Abbas found the edges of Dom Sibley and then Rory Burns within 17 overs of a Friday punctuated by rain delays. The opening pair had resumed their stand on 37 before it was broken on 44.
Five minutes into the first rain delay at 11:30am, Keith Barker
offered his confirmation of the Abbas-Pep anecdote, commenting "This is 100% true" under the clip on Instagram. He then shared the post on his own feed with the words "True Story".
There is a lot to unpack from this, but let's focus on the guts of it. A man who overcame the Galacticos of Real Madrid and the establishment of Manchester United, a fervent advocate of Catalan independence from Spain no less, couldn't shift a bloke from their bed because he nibbles the ball both ways.
Rightly so, from Hampshire's point of view. Such loyalty to a seamer has already been repaid in spades, with 100 wickets at an average of 16.59 coming into this fixture. And a day after his side had stuttered to 254 in their first innings, his endeavour throughout 13 overs on day two made it look like a hundred more.
Just as it has not been just Abbas these last two years, it wasn't solely the currently erstwhile Pakistan international here. Indeed Hampshire's two highest wicket-takers last summer were Barker (52) and Kyle Abbott (58), and they were typically relentless with the ball.
Fresh from a valiant 58, Barker was unlucky not to bag what would have been a 500th career dismissal. A close-looking lbw appeal against Burns was turned down when the Surrey captain was on 26, before Ollie Pope
edged between James Vince (first slip) and Liam Dawson (second) with just 4 to his name.
Abbott would have to wait until five overs before bad light brought an end to play at 5:36pm - Jordan Clark trapped in front - while James Fuller nicked off Ryan Patel just as the left-hander was getting comfortable. However, Pope's continued presence on 48 not out compounds the early miss off Barker.
England's incumbent No.3 played to type. He jumped forward into the occasional defensive shot, then picked off runs at will, particularly early on. His third boundary took him to a sprightly 21 from 27 deliveries and was perhaps the shot of the match so far: a gorgeously caressed late cut that took Abbas for the third of the four boundaries conceded from his 21 overs so far.
Though he did slow down, the game seemed to move along quicker during his time at the crease, which is particularly useful when almost 47 overs were lost due to the weather. So far, 109 runs have been added while the 25-year-old has occupied one end, at a rate of just over 3.5 an over.
With Jamie Smith alongside him, they will aim to chip away the first-innings arrears of 101 that remain at a good enough pace when they return on Saturday. Smith, in particular, will be keen to show he is in step with the nu-wave England Test way of putting time back into matches by embracing positivity. Surrey certainly could do with that approach after last week's stalemate with Lancashire, though both Pope and Smith are capable of moving forward without rushing.
We are probably still too early in this match for anyone to be considering pressing the accelerator. And moreover, these are two bowling attacks that rarely, if ever, let batters get away from them. Even someone as proactive as Pope.
At 5:25pm, we got a snapshot of the main battle in the offing on day three. Abbas went wide of the crease, angled one in and nipped it away, squaring up Pope, who was on 39 at the time. The outside edge was narrowly missed, knowing glances were passed back and forth. Admiration sent one way, frustration the other.
Pope sauntered off, first to do some gardening and then, a few overs later, to the dressing room and home. A sound night's sleep awaits, this one at Abbas' expense. Not even Guardiola could manage that.
Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo