Cricket: Surrey shine amid the showers

Surrey 124-0 v Gloucestershire
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FIRST-CLASS cricket at The Oval spluttered reluctantly into something resembling life for another season yesterday after more than half a day's play was lost to a combination of torrential downpours, thunder and lightning, hail storms and April showers.

Given the inordinately early start to this summer's proceedings, the inclement weather might have been interpreted as an almighty sign of disapproval. As it was, when the game finally got going in earnest after the players had taken an early tea, a biting gale kept Gloucestershire hands firmly in pockets and prompted an all too infrequent appearance by the heavy bails - painted black for some reason.

The visitors were in the field by choice, Mark Alleyne perhaps fearing for the batsmen's concentration on a day of inevitable interruption. But Mark Butcher, who will captain Surrey while Adam Hollioake remains on World Cup duty, and his opening partner, Ian Ward, made light of the awkward circumstances and if it turns out fine today Alleyne might be kicking himself with some feeling by tonight.

Butcher played fluently from the start. A couple of dubious decisions to leave balls that went perilously close to his off stump and a near run-out after a misunderstanding with Ward were the only blemishes in a half century of sweetly timed strokes.

Ward, in his second spell at Surrey and preferred to the more experienced Darren Bicknell, was more circumspect to begin with but grew in confidence, bringing up both the 50 and the 100 partnership with beautifully executed cover drives off Jon Lewis.

There was precious little encouragement for Gloucestershire's bowlers and Ian Harvey's spell of medium pace suggested that Courtney Walsh will indeed be badly missed as their overseas player. The Victorian all-rounder at least has another string to his bow, although he might have to wait a while longer to use it.

n Dean Headley made the most of gloomy conditions to give Kent an early breakthrough against Middlesex at Lords in the Championship yesterday on a day reduced to 10.1 overs by bad weather. Headley removed Mike Roseberry for six as the home side struggled to 16 for 1 at the close. Justin Langer was unbeaten on 10 and Mark Ramprakash had yet to score.