Vithushan Ehantharajah is a sportswriter for ESPNcricinfo, the Guardian, All Out Cricket and Yahoo Sport
Middlesex 26 for 2 trail Surrey 247 (Robson 57, Meaker 3-55) by 221 runs
A bank holiday crowd filed into the Kia Oval and sunned themselves for 93 overs. Many hit the stronger drinks before midday, safe in the knowledge that only a four-day working week stood before them. All bar a few perambulated during lunch or tea, taking in their historic surroundings. And typically, no one - Surrey or Middlesex fan - left happy.
The home fans, satisfied that Middlesex had been bowled out in just over a couple of sessions, were dismayed by losing both their openers by the close. Those who ventured from north London, spiritually if not geographically, felt their experienced batting card should have done a lot better in such favourable conditions.
Cricket isn't played on paper - how amusing would it be if it was? - but when the respective teams were revealed after Middlesex won the toss and elected to bat, it seemed that they held all the aces. The visitors welcomed back Toby-Roland Jones to their ranks after 14 wickets in three Tests for England that has all but assured him of a place in this winter's Ashes squad.
The opportunity to go straight into a game rather than simmer on the sidelines and carry the drinks as Chris Woakes played ahead of him is one he duly took. Two wickets in the dregs of the opening day - debutant Ryan Patel caught superbly by Sam Robson at bat-pad and Rory Burns edging a beauty that nipped away from the left-hander, through to John Simpson - may have tilted the game back to Middlesex. For most of the day, however, a depleted Surrey were on top.
Without Tom Curran, whose back is feeling the effects of 237 Championship overs in 11 innings this summer (not to mention his white ball lot), Aaron Finch, who injured his calf in Friday's T20 Blast quarter-final defeat to Birmingham Bears, and with Mark Stoneman away with England, Surrey were pushed to hand debuts to Patel and Ollie Pope. Yet, with four 19-year-olds in their XI, it was their maturity in the field that allowed them to dismiss Middlesex for 247, with the sun out and a pitch that allowed batsmen to play their shots.
Robson did just that. One of the many casualties in England's haphazard pursuit of an opening partner for Alastair Cook, Robson has been one of the few to return to county cricket and continue on, seemingly unscarred by the experience. Whether that is totally the case, only Robson can tell you, but his game has taken on a free-flowing quality that has not impinged on the resilience that saw him earn his debut call-up. Without wishing to sound churlish - he is much easier on the eye.
His third half-century of the season, from 107 balls with eight fours, felt like it would develop into his third century. By that point, Surrey had removed Nick Compton and Stevie Eskinazi during a morning session in which Gareth Batty cycled through six bowlers as both sides tried to get a measure of each other. Then, with Middlesex steady on 131 for 2, Stuart Meaker happened.
Bowling as quick as he has done this season, Meaker used the end of the 44th over sear one late into the shin Robson's off stump before bruising the top of it with his very next delivery, to Paul Stirling. The hat-trick ball, at the start of the 46th, was kept out by John Simpson, who then edged the final ball of the over through a recently vacated third slip.
That Meaker was able to concentrate on being the X-Factor bowler, when he might have been required to do some donkey work in the absence of Tom Curran, spoke volumes of those around him. Rikki Clarke's two wickets - Adam Voges trapped lbw for 40 and James Franklin caught in the cordon - came in frugal spells, eventually seeing him go at an economy rate of under two across 16 overs.
Patel's right-arm seam, usually a sideshow to his classy left-handed batting, only gave away 22 from 11 overs, while the even share of four wickets from 28 overs between offspinners Gareth Batty and Amar Virdi came for just 40 and 38 runs, respectively. Backed up by some solid fielding, such as Scott Borthwick taking two excellent catches at second slip, Surrey could well have called this day their own, even if the last three Middlesex wickets added 84 runs.
How things changed when boos scored the final over of the day, with Meaker and Borthwick refusing to run when edges flew past second slip and then through the keeper as Ollie Rayner got his favourite county surface to talk dirty to him. "That's four runs we could have had," raged a Surrey fan in the lower deck of the OCS stand. Surrey closed on 26 for 2, Meaker slightly bemused that the crowds who had early roared for him were now wailing against him for doing his job. It summed up an absorbing if slightly baffling day's play.
Middlesex vs Surrey
County DIV One
England Domestic Season