Surrey 244 for 6 (Elgar 63, Foakes 57*) v Kent
The walls alongside the staircase inside the Oval pavilion are decorated with framed photographs of Surrey’s capped players. There, side-by-side a few yards from the Prince of Wales room on the second floor, hang pictures of two batsmen honoured in 2014, both with hair flicked back, both moustachioed, both now England players. And soon, perhaps, Test match opening partners.
Barring injury, Rory Burns must be a certainty to face Ireland later this month and Australia at the start of August. Jason Roy may well be there with him. Trevor Bayliss has confirmed that the selectors are thinking of rewarding his white-ball brilliance, saying: “Whether it’s at the top of the order or number three, there’s no secret in Test cricket we’ve been looking for a solid combination.”
Not long after the story broke, Burns was demonstrating his own value in some of the most challenging conditions for batting. Grey above, green below, the ball seaming and wobbling maliciously. A situation demanding judgement, saintly patience and soft hands. Roy can utilise a Powerplay, but how will he cope if it is like this at Edgbaston come day one of the Ashes, August 1?
Bayliss and national selector Ed Smith might reflect on the judgement of Michael di Venuto, the Surrey head coach, who thinks they would be mistaken to use Roy in that role when he bats in the lower middle order for the county. Roy would have liked capitalising on the foundation given by Burns and Dean Elgar here. But he might have struggled to lay it.
The scorecard tells only a partial story. Burns and Elgar were superb in the 70 minutes before lunch. When play began at noon the outlook had 150 or so all out written all over. Darren Stevens and Harry Podmore must have licked their lips in anticipation of edged catches and balls nipping back onto pads. Spinner Ollie Rayner might have wondered if he’d get a bowl.
Kent did not operate badly at all, but they missed opportunities in the field. By the time they did have Surrey three down conditions had eased greatly. Sam Curran and Ben Foakes profited; they should have stood Burns and Elgar rounds at the bar once bad light brought an absorbing day to a premature end some ten overs ahead of schedule.
Nothing quite matched the drama of the first two balls. Burns edged the first, from Podmore, to first slip where Sean Dickson dropped the catch. Cheekily, Surrey took the run. But Mark Stoneman opted not to play the next delivery which swung late into his pads and resulted in a leg-before decision. The idea that only five more wickets would fall in the next six hours seemed preposterous.
Both Stevens and Podmore, then Matt Milnes, maintained full lengths to give the ball every chance of deviating. Cuts and pulls were conspicuous by their absence. Podmore overstepped when he thought he had Elgar lbw on 8, and it was not until the 14th over that Surrey hit a first four, Burns forcing Grant Stewart through extra cover.
Stewart was to prove relatively expensive, but at least he was encouraging the drive. And although Elgar, in a new position at No. 3, forced clinically through mid-on, boundaries were few and far between across the truncated first session. With the sun emerging during the break it started to feel like a different game, as though Surrey had qualified for round two of a series.
Easier, but never actually easy. Stewart was increasingly impressive, quick and powerful with a low arm, and he undid Burns with a brute of a ball that bounced and went across the left-hander to the keeper. An inswinger from Podmore did for Scott Borthwick, but Dickson dropped a second chance when Elgar edged Stevens on 51.
Instead, it was Stewart who removed the South African, the ball perhaps keeping a touch low from a length that always leaves unresolved the question of whether to go forward or back. Elgar’s 63 in 206 minutes was worth three figures on another occasion, and for the next hour or so Curran was able to play strokes that would have brought a very quick demise had he tried them earlier.
Throwing his hands at the ball, he struck his first and third balls to the cover point boundary and soon forced Rayner straight for six. His battle with the spinner was closely contested, another six following while Rayner also turned one sharply past the bat. Adventure finally got the better of Curran when he top-edged an attempt to pull Milnes.
Foakes offered steady support, restraining some of his own strokeplay before completing a half-century from 115 balls. In the previous home game, against Warwickshire, he twice gifted his wicket when he looked a million dollars. By taking more care this time, he was giving his top-order colleagues the respect their endeavours deserved.