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Surrey 376 and 282 for 9 drew with Northamptonshire 492 (O'Brien 128, Wessels 109, White 66, Hall 59, van der Wath 50*, Herath 4-151)
Former England fast bowler Alex Tudor was the unlikely last-day batting hero as Surrey lost only six wickets in three sessions at The Oval to force an improbable draw against promotion-chasing Northamptonshire.
Surrey looked destined for a fifth straight championship defeat going into the fourth and final day as they teetered on 116 for 3, effectively 0 for 3 as the scores in the match were tied. Yet batting heroics from the usually aggressive Tudor, who remained at the crease for nigh on two hours to score an unbeaten 20, coupled with a brace of dropped chances by Northamptonshire, allowed Surrey to slip away with a draw and 10 points to Northamptonshire's tally of 12.
Needing a rearguard action to survive, Surrey made a dreadful start when they lost Sri Lankan batsman Arun Harinath to the sixth ball of the day from Lee Daggett, the most impressive paceman on show with figures of 3 for 39. For the second time in the match Harinath aimed an airy drive outside off to edge to the keeper and leave the hosts even deeper in trouble on 119 for 4.
Matt Spriegel enjoyed an early let-off when, with his score on 3, he edged a lifter from Daggett between slip and the keeper without Andrew Hall or Niall O'Brien laying a glove on it.
That proved a costly miss as Spriegel teamed up with Usman Afzaal (31) to add 52 in 23 precious overs for the fifth wicket as Northamptonshire's attack struggled to get much help from a sublime Oval pitch. Afzaal eventually went just before lunch when visiting skipper Nicky Boje turned one out of the foot-holds and back in to the left-hander to trap him lbw when playing back in defence.
After lunch Northamptonshire blundered again when Chris Schofield's cut shot slid through the hands of Hall at slip to hit the South African in the chest and fly to ground with Schofield on 27. But the stand came to an end when Daggett returned with the second new ball to remove Spriegel and Schofield in quick succession.
Having scored a backs-to-the-wall 50 from 130 balls Spriegel went lbw to a Daggett yorker that hit him full on the boot then Schofield (36) played late on another full ball that plucked out the left-hander's off stump.
After tea Monty Panesar chipped in with only his second wicket of the game when he snared Jade Dernbach (4) lbw, but no-one could dislodge Tudor and last-man James Anyon and, after 10 overs of trying, Northamptonshire shook hands on a draw with Tudor unbeaten after facing 102 balls.
Surrey's director of cricket Chris Adams said afterwards: "The energy and work-rate of the side this week has been fantastic. We knew we had a big challenge ahead of us this morning but they prepared as well as they could by facing plenty of left-arm spin in the nets. They then went out, battled hard and got their just rewards."
Tudor digs in to rescue Surrey
Former England fast bowler Alex Tudor was the unlikely last-day batting hero as Surrey lost only six wickets in three sessions
Northamptonshire's prospects brighter than Panesar's
These are not the best of times for Monty Panesar. At lunch the ECB announced their new batch of central contracts and Panesar's name was a notable omission. His career is now at a crossroads
O'Brien and Wessels dominate Surrey
This is Northamptonshire's game in hand on their two closest promotion rivals - Gloucestershire and Derbyshire - and after an opening day of hard toil they reaped the benefits with a strong effort at The Oval