Having secured his place in cricket history last month with his hundredth first-class hundred, Mark Ramprakash may yet finish this season a disappointed man. Surrey are in deep relegation trouble and despite a masterful century from him yesterday at Canterbury they look unlikely to secure the win they desperately need. Almost unrelenting rain on the first two days ensured there was little prospect of that.
Nonetheless, Ramprakash's innings at the St Lawrence Ground was one to savour. While the other Surrey batsmen scrapped and fumbled, the 39-year-old was immediately at home, driving and pulling a whole-hearted Kent attack almost at will to bring up his 50th Surrey century in 143 balls.
The weather had dictated affairs before Ramprakash took centre stage. Just 20 minutes of play had been possible in the morning before a bank of black cloud swept across the ground, bringing with it first drizzle – which drove the players from the field – and then a more substantial downpour. Happily for Kent, there had been time for Robbie Joseph to take the wicket of Scott Newman (0) with his fifth delivery of the day after the Surrey batsman shouldered arms to one that came back off the seam.
Play resumed at 1.30pm but the two-and-a-half hour break appeared to have upset the Kent attack's concentration. In his first over, Joseph was cut for four by Ramprakash and then conceded three more by veering down the leg side before Amjad Khan, bowling from the Nackington Road End, was punished when the same batsman flicked him off his legs for four.
Where Ramprakash was quickly fluent, Murtagh was consistently hesitant. He took 34 balls to get off the mark and when he did it was with an edge that dropped short of Darren Stevens at second slip. Joseph should have removed Ramprakash, then on 31, when he edged to first slip: James Tredwell, however, failed to hold the ball. It was to prove a crucial error.
Murtagh, who contributed just nine runs out of a partnership of 62, was out soon after when he was caught by Geraint Jones off the bowling of Yasir Arafat. Ramprakash, unruffled, sped past fifty. There were some remarkable strokes but the most memorable came when Arafat veered a few inches down leg and was nonchalantly flick-pulled for six over the admittedly rather short boundary in front of the Colin Blythe memorial. Jonathan Batty, by contrast, stuck around for 51 balls but scored just 13 before he was caught in the deep by Stevens after top-edging a ball from Khan.
Ramprakash just kept powering relentlessly on towards his century, which arrived via an uncharacteristic thin inside edge off Joseph. He was finally removed by Arafat for 127, caught, 98 runs after his costly blunder, by Tredwell at first slip. The same combination quickly accounted for James Benning (2), leaving Surrey on 220 for 5 at the close.
Meanwhile, Pakistan's Shoaib Akhtar is expected join Surrey today after sorting out his visa formalities and will replace the Australian Matthew Nicholson.