Warwickshire 89 for 1 (Rhodes 51) trail Surrey 194 (Stoneman 33, Foakes 30, Lester 4-41) by 105 runs
The use of so many out-grounds in this World Cup season has been a source of delight to county followers. York, tick. Welbeck, tick. Newport, double-tick, once each for the venues in Wales and the Isle of Wight. Then the older familiars: Guildford and Cheltenham among them, with the mighty Scarborough to follow next week. Not always bucolic, not always aesthetic. Come to think of it, quite hellish if it rains.
Thus the alternative appeal of headquarter grounds with their familiar creature comforts: things like double-tier stands and bucket seats. Shelter. Perhaps Surrey members had this in mind when they persuaded the club to bring forward the return to the Oval by 24 hours after more than seven weeks away. The difference between 52 and 53 days since their previous appearance sounds minimal, but the Sunday start allowed many more to be here than could have managed on a Monday.
Absence does make hearts grow fonder, after all. But it has done nothing for Surrey’s prospects. The reigning champions are in difficulties next to bottom of the first division, re-assured merely by the dismal form of Nottinghamshire, the one side below them. They may yet be grateful that only a single county will suffer relegation this season, at least if first-day skirmishes against the side immediately above them are reliable evidence.
Warwickshire arrived without what may be their entire first-choice bowling attack: Chris Woakes to England duty, Ryan Sidebottom, Henry Brookes, Liam Norwell and Olly Stone to injury. They do have a potent spin weapon in Jeetan Patel, as Surrey know full well having collapsed to him in the contest at Edgbaston last month, when the New Zealander took 12 for 89 from 62 overs across both innings. It made sense for Surrey to conjure a greentop encouraging seam.
The plan has misfired for several reasons. Firstly, Patel was happy to back his pace bowlers rather than make the best of his own skills by looking to bowl out Surrey cheaply in the fourth innings. Secondly, Oliver Hannon-Dalby at least came into the game in strong form with nine wickets against Yorkshire last week. Thirdly, a cloudy haze encouraged movement through the air as well as off the surface. And most important of all, Surrey lacked the collective discipline to dig in and build.
Hannon-Dalby was the best of the bowlers while Craig Miles took three wickets among some looser deliveries. But the most eye-catching spell came after lunch from Toby Lester, the left-armer signed on loan for a month from Lancashire to help Warwickshire out of their temporary difficulties. Those who did manage to get themselves in undid the hard work, not least the England pair of Mark Stoneman and Ben Foakes. The total of 194 left Surrey without a bonus point.
Their own bowlers hence enjoyed little margin for error after the early tea. Instead, Sam Curran, recovered from hamstring trouble, and Morne Morkel supplied too many four-balls early on. Will Rhodes enjoyed peppering the short boundary on the Archbishop Tenison School side of the ground while Dominic Sibley, on his first Championship return to the Oval since leaving Surrey, forced Curran for two boundaries in his first over before settling primarily on defence. Few county openers do that better.
And there was real tragedy among the runs. The kit of pigeons familiar on the outfield became one less when Rhodes square cut Curran, the shot powerful enough to ricochet off the pecking bird and over the ropes as its last piece of grain seed was being ingested. There was to be no ceremony, just a few sympathetic “aahs” from the stands as a member of the groundstaff scooped the motionless specimen onto a shovel, effectively confirming that it had ceased to be. Children could only cover their faces.
If they had not anticipated trouble at the start, Surrey soon walked into it. Rory Burns, their most obdurate batsman, succumbed as early as the third over to a fine ball from Hannon-Dalby that swung across him late and found a thin edge. Scott Borthwick took 35 balls over his one run to emphasise the difficulties and Stoneman, having played carefully, drove loosely to second slip where Liam Banks, a substitute fielder, took a sharp overhead catch.
Lester had strayed leg side at times in his first spell, but demonstrated more consistency in his second. Dean Elgar, some way from his best but refusing to give in, fell leg-before to one that did not swing and Curran followed immediately, strangled down the leg side. Among all this, Foakes had oozed quality, driving Miles to make the two sides of the ‘V’ and clipping him twice into the leg side for a quartet of fours in five balls.
The attempt to cut Hannon-Dalby was an aberration, as Foakes well knew when Rob Yates held on at backward point. The lower order did what they could, but wickets never felt far away. A brilliant outswinger hit Rikki Clarke’s off stump, and when Jordan Clark threw his hands at a wide one to become Lester’s fourth victim the innings was beyond repair. After a long wait it all made for an unhappy homecoming.