The first day of the County Championship didn't disappoint and the game at hand is turning into a mouthwatering prospect. A late burst of four wickets gave Surrey the upper hand on a cloudy, bowler-friendly day at the Oval.
Rory Hamilton-Brown lost the first toss of the year as the opposition took the decision to insert Surrey's out of form batsmen. The bowlers didn't disappoint. The pitch had good bounce and carry but did not appear to have a great deal of grass on it. The real devils were caused by the overhead conditions as first Anyon and Naved, and then Amjad exploited the cloud cover to good effect.
It wasn't long before Surrey's makeshift opening pair were both back in the hutch, though it was something of a surprise that it was Jacques Rudolph who was first to depart, for a 12 ball duck. He was frustrated by tight, dangerous bowling before offering a catch to the slips. Chris Jordan followed soon after, playing on to Amjad.
The elder statesmen of the side, Ramprakash and de Bruyn then put on a recovery stand of 68 at a good pace before Ramprakash was out, LBW again, to Hatchett. De Bruyn followed ten overs later for an impressive 52 and Hamilton-Brown then fell for just 18.
At 124-5 Surrey were flirting with a first day disaster but Tom Maynard continued his good pre-season form, ably assisted by Rory Burns on debut they helped the side recover. At 205-5 Surrey were in a good position to counter-punch before a mini collapse saw four wickets fall for 29 runs. Batty, Meaker and Lewis all failed to support Tom Maynard and only Jade Dernbach, with an obdurate 5 from 18 balls hung about for any length of time. Even so, Maynard was left stranded for an excellent unbeaten 86 featuring 16 fours.
Despite the overhead conditions, 264 still felt a touch below par on what seemed a good surface. Jon Lewis made the perfect start to his Surrey career trapping the dangerous Ed Joyce LBW in his first over. Thereafter though he was a bit expensive as Meaker kept things tighter at the other end. Interestingly Meaker was awarded the new ball ahead of Jade Dernbach, an admirable show of confidence from his captain.
Luke Wells and Chris Nash recovered with a 60 run stand before Dernbach snuck one past an attempted drive to bowl Wells. Nash followed quickly offering a leading edge off Meaker to mid-off. Dernbach was back in the action not long after, dishing up a wide long hop to Goodwin before delivering a superb ball to knock back his off-peg.
Mike Yardy and Joe Gatting looked to be heading for the close of play before the former nibbled at a Chris Jordan delivery outside off stump, Rudolph took a good catch at second slip.
Sussex were 105-5 at the close with all of the experienced top order back in the dressing room. 159 runs in arrears with only the wicketkeeper Brown and the bowlers to come. With cloud forecast to roll across the Oval from mid-morning onwards there is a great opportunity to finish off the opposition quick-sharp to take a substantial first innings lead.
Today was a fine example of Surrey's resilience, when Wells and Nash threatened to build a good partnership Dernbach came up with a cracking ball to send him on his way. Sensing an opening, three more wickets then fell in ten overs. They must not let up tomorrow morning, Dernbach and Meaker in particular will be a tricky prospect and the conditions should suit Jon Lewis as well. Championship victories aren't easy to come by but tomorrow we have a great chance to set us on the way to our first of 2012.