Ricky Ponting’s penultimate first-class innings was, in truth, a bit of a struggle at The Oval on Monday. The man with more than 27,000 international runs for Australia was never fluent as he made 29, from 68 balls, but Surrey too found batting hard graft on a bone-dry surface that will surely turn more and more as the game progresses.
Surrey, choosing three spinners in their XI and with no hesitation about batting first on winning the toss, clearly have a strategy for a match they are desperate to win if they are to pull away from the lower reaches of the First Division, but for that plan to work they will surely need more second time around than the 198 all out they managed on a sun-soaked opening day.
Ponting, who entered at 42 for 2 in the 14th over, following the early loss of Arun Harinath and after Vikram Solanki had been beaten by an Andre Adams nip-backer, was soon driving Samit Patel’s left-arm spin back past him for an authoritative first boundary, but in a third-wicket partnership of 51 he was very much the support act as Rory Burns produced the day’s best batting with a stylish 57.
Burns, however, having driven particularly classily down the ground – one straight drive off Ajmal Shahzad, passing within inches of the bowler’s stumps, was a sumptuous stroke – fell on the cusp of lunch when he aimed to flick a rising ball from Harry Gurney, the left-arm paceman, off the line of his hip and was adjudged to have thin-edged it to the keeper.
Surrey slid to 105 for 4 when Ponting, who recently announced his retirement from first-class cricket if not from a lucrative global Twenty20 circuit, propped forward defensively to Patel and gave a straightforward catch to Riki Wessels at short leg off bat and pad.
Ponting still averages 81 in championship cricket for Surrey, after five innings and having hit a memorable 192 against Derbyshire on his debut six weeks ago, but in all competitions his last nine innings have brought just one score above fifty – a 52 against Sussex at Arundel.
After a first day in which honours went to a highly-disciplined Nottinghamshire side, who replied in the last hour with 50 without loss, and with wicketkeeper Steven Davies keeping Surrey just about afloat with a gritty 65 not out from No 6, the home team are likely to need a final first-class flourish of significant proportions from Ponting, the veteran of 168 Tests and 375 one-day internationals.
Batsman of the day
Keaton Jennings, who at the beginning of the season was playing for Durham’s second XI, put on a patient 93 in his third first-team appearance for the club in their match against Derbyshire, in an innings lasting 222 balls and including just eight boundaries.
But the day’s accolades must surely go to Warwickshire’s Varun Chopra, who carried his bat for the whole day for 141 runs, to form the cornerstone of his side’s 269 for 2 against First Division high-flyers Middlesex at Uxbridge. It was the Essex-born opener’s second ton of the season – coming in a sedate 291 balls – and his first for more than a month.
Bowler of the day
Steven Magoffin may not be anywhere near Australia’s Ashes squad, but England should be thankful the Sussex pace bowler will remain at county level throughout the series.
The former Queensland representative took his second four-wicket haul of the season against Somerset, all for 65 runs at a rate of a little more than three runs an over – taking his tally to 41 wickets for the season. He was aided in the Sussex attack by Chris Jordan, who caught two of Magoffin’s victims – and claimed two wickets of his own – as Sussex dispatched their opponents for 244 before tea on the first day.
Nick Compton made a strong case for inclusion in the squad for the opening Ashes Test, then was unequivocal in his disappointment when he found he was not included in the coach Andy Flower’s plans, claiming he had “not had a fair crack of the whip”. He had good reason to be upset, after scoring 81 runs for Somerset against the Australians then 79 for Worcestershire against the same side last week.
It would seem his focus has been affected a little, because on the first day of Somerset’s County Championship match with Sussex at Taunton, he lasted just five balls before being caught for a duck by Jordan. At least his opening partner Marcus Trescothick provided some salve by lasting just two balls for the same score.