Batsmen know better than to charge Saqlain Mushtaq. To do so is an offence against common sense, especially at The Oval. The way to handle this modern master is to stay in the safety of the crease and play it late. But three Leicestershire batsmen took leave of their senses and by the time the last of the them was recovering his reason in the dressing room, Surrey were on the brink of victory and only the weather could stop them. So it did.
Leicestershire were still 175 behind Surrey with two wickets standing when the deluge began at 4.05pm. Their supporters will now know that they will need to play much, much better to avoid relegation. At least they only have to play Saqlain twice. Surrey will rue the loss of 12 points, but they are not very likely to prevent them retaining the Championship.
Virender Sehwag, Leicestershire's costly import from India, was Saqlain's first victim. The charge of irrationality must be mitigated by his remarkable skill. Of the few batsmen who do not make you blush a little when they take two steps down the wicket to Saqlain, Sehwag is certainly one. He had clouted Saqlain a couple of times over mid-on and it looked a sound bet that he would score a hundred on his Championship debut.
He was on 32 out of the team total of 32 when play began 90 minutes late. The first and third balls he received from Azhar Mahmood went high over mid-off and along the ground off the back foot to extra-cover; both for four. When Leicestershire's 50 came up, Sehwag had scored 45. He had played one of his signature shots, cross-wristed, all along the ground to the mid-wicket boundary. His own 50 took 52 balls.
He and Darren Maddy had just completed their hundred partnership when Sehwag did the deed, missed and was lbw to give Saqlain his first wicket. There were fewer than 100 spectators and their patience deserved something special. Sehwag, who is not a subtle player, scored 81 in 84 balls and there were 15 violent fours. He is something special.
Maddy and Brad Hodge – one of the anonymous Australians hired by the counties as legitimate overseas players – prospered. Maddy, whose record as an all-rounder is no less persuasive than Anthony McGrath's, was 40 when the blood rushed to his head, and he was bowled by Saqlain.
Paul Nixon managed to stay in the crease but was caught by Adam Hollioake prodding forward. Then Hodge got the bug. When he went down the pitch and edged the ball gently to short leg Saqlain had taken 3 for 6 in 23 balls. Immediately after tea, Phillip DeFreitas prodded to Hollioake. Make that 4 for 7 in 30 balls and 5 for 46 in the innings – a match-winning performance, poor lad.