It would take a bold man to predict the outcome of this key fixture, and one blessed with wisdom and perception to estimate how the groundsman Pete Marron's latest pitch would behave.
At first glance, it appeared similar to the wicket two strips away upon which Lancashire and Middlesex had apparently been prepared to bat into infinity - 1,500 runs for 22 wickets in four days. So when Adam Hollioake won the toss, and Ian Ward and Jon Batty came in to bat, one newspapermen turned to the Surrey scorer, Keith Booth, to say: "I may as well come back tomorrow afternoon. They will still be there."
Peter Martin, usually the most frugal of Lancashire's bowlers, was taken for 39 runs in seven overs and a huge Surrey total, Oval-style, seemed certain. But two incidents had cast the first doubt. After Ward had taken nine off Martin's first over, one ball suddenly lifted. The next time it happened Ward was caught behind and departed, looking mystified.
Yet for another 28 overs on this cool day of high cloud, Surrey were all serene again as Graham Thorpe, treading his crease with considerable elegance, moved smoothly to a half-century, his seventh of the season. His departure to a ball that the persevering Glen Chapple managed to bring back sharply, was the surprise of the day.
By then Lancashire had introduced their spinners, first Carl Hooper, then Gary Keedy, and it was the left-armer, from the Stretford End, who almost immediately changed the course of the game and offered a few clues as to its ending. Rikki Clarke was missed by a somnolent mid-off when on nine, before losing patience and being stumped for 11. Five runs and nine overs later Ali Brown and Hollioake had also departed, and at 148 for 5 the champions were in trouble.
But Batty, who hails from Chesterfield, has a vein of Peak granite in his batting. He moved phlegmatically through the loss of five partners, reached his half-century just before lunch and his 100 just after tea, as he and the aggressive Azhar Mahmood restored the balance with a stand of 113 in 27 overs.
Lancashire's third spinner, Chris Schofield, had appeared in better shape than on his last viewing, before Azhar, deceived in flight, was caught behind, cutting, off Keedy. The Hercule Poirot moment had arrived. Marron's planning was clear: this pitch was intended to turn and Warren Hegg, bravely some might think, was backing his three twirlers against Saqlain and Ian Salisbury.
Neither seam nor spin ruffled Batty, 152 not out when bad light intervened. Showing the resilience that made them champions, Surrey, without ever seeming in control, nevertheless occupied the commanding heights at the close. As for Batty, the Surrey coach Keith Medlycott claimed: "Jon should be in the mix when it comes to picking Alec Stewart's successor. Six centuries in a season and three-quarters is a strong enough qualification."Reuse content