Everyone worked overtime at The Oval yesterday. Surrey's fast men; Sussex's middle order, and Taylor Woodrow.
At times construction work on the new stand at the Vauxhall End seemed to be moving faster than Sussex's total. The few orange-jacketed workmen who stayed on after they knocked off at 12.30pm could be forgiven if they nodded off.
The cricket was often dour, but there was plenty at stake, and Sussex finally came out well ahead on points, principally because of a timely captain's hundred from Chris Adams and a cheerful, wagging tail which gave them a first-innings lead of 141.
This was the Young Pretenders against the New Contenders, the latter anxious to prove - first to themselves - that the climax to last season, when Sussex won their first Championship after Surrey suddenly imploded, was not form for the long-term in the County Championship.
A couple of subplots spiced up the performance. Ian Ward, who must have hoped to succeed as captain of Surrey before he decamped to Sussex, was looking for a significant hundred. Jon Batty, Surrey's brand new wicketkeeper-batsman-captain, was in charge for the first time. Both were anxious to make a mark.
Ward did, although it was not as long or as deep as he would have wished. He was 44 when play began, and scored steadily against a tight line and a swinging ball while doing nothing rash, although two fours from Tim Murtagh's first over had a salutory impact on the scoring rate. Ward was dropped by Ian Salisbury at third slip on 74, but he was as astonished as anyone in the scattered crowd when he played back to Murtagh, missed, and was lbw for 82. He banged his bat on the turf and walked slowly back to the pavilion. Surrey's members applauded generously, though he was so cross he might not have noticed.
Adams, who has recovered from an operation on his elbow which delayed his season's start, stayed put. It was not one of his flashy innings. He played as if he knew that, without a big score from him, Sussex could be in trouble. There was no shortage of boundaries - his hundred came up with his 17th four - but the impressive thing was accumulation rather than style. He was lbw to Murtagh the ball after reaching three figures, but Sussex were in the lead by then. He had done the job. No overtime, though.
Batty proved to be an agile wicket-keeper when the ball was swinging violently early on a bright, breezy morning. His bowling changes seemed to happen at the right time and the fielders were in the right place.
As captain, Batty seemed to be relying heavily on Adam Hollioake, his immediate predecessor, who chatted to the bowlers between overs as if nothing had changed. When Hollioake was in the slips, he and Batty talked incessantly. When Hollioake moved to point, Batty walked across to consult. Batty was being sensible, to be sure, but whether he was inspiring confidence is another matter.
Though it is too early to pass judgement, when Surrey began to wilt he could not energise them. It was a bad day at the office for the new skipper.
Tim Ambrose, who shared a century partnership with Adams, is another of the Australians who aspire to be England's wicketkeeper, though he has still to qualify for the role. Before that, however, he must also establish himself as Sussex's number one keeper instead of another 22-year-old named Matt Prior (who was born in Johannesburg but is a Sussex native from his teens). Yesterday, it was Ambrose by a head, scoring 56 to Prior's 36, but both gave precious support to Adams.
And when all three were gone, Robin Martin-Jenkins struck the ball hard and cleanly all round the ground; two sixes, which disappeared into the building site, plus three fours helped him to 31 in 34 balls. Martin-Jenkins had bowled well too, taking 4 for 59 in Surrey's innings. He went to the legendary Australian paceman Dennis Lillee for coaching in the winter; it seems to have helped. Watch out for him this season.
The building site is all diggers and dumpers and mounds of earth. The first concrete foundations of a long, sweeping new stand are in place, but Taylor Woodrow have only four months in which to complete stage one in time for the West Indies Test on 19 August. Lots of overtime to come and, when there is less at stake, brighter cricket too.Reuse content