Apart from Andrew Flintoff's comeback, the first two days here have left Lancashire feeling pretty forlorn. Standing in the middle of a field in the teeth of an Arctic gale is not fun at the best of times, without having to watch your opponents scoring runs as if it were mid-summer.
The joint favourites for the County Championship have it all to do to avoid launching their season with a defeat on the ground where last year's title slipped away. If the damage inflicted on Lancashire by Mark Ramprakash and Mark Butcher was not painful enough, when they left the scene along came Usman Afzaal to trump them both. The 30-year-old left-hander is making his Championship debut for Surrey, having moved to The Oval from Northamptonshire during the winter.
Given that he had a thin time against Second Division attacks last season, Surrey's interest might have seemed unlikely but their coach, Alan Butcher, clearly remembered that the last two centuries he made in the Championship, in 2006, were against Surrey. For his part, Afzaal hopes that playing in this company might raise his prospects of earning a belated second chance with England, who discarded him in 2002.
An unbeaten 134, then, was an impressive beginning. Confident from the outset, Afzaal despatched spinner Gary Keedy's first ball of the day into the crowd at midwicket and scarcely missed a scoring opportunity thereafter.
Moreover, he emerged from a testing examination by Flintoff unscathed. The paceman could not add to his single wicket but racked up 28 overs in bursts of five and six and on a batsman-friendly surface it was a reassuringly hostile return. Significantly, there was no sign of any weakness from his repaired ankle.
Oliver Newby, whose figures were particularly unkind, deservedly bagged Mark Ramprakash but was let down by another dropped catch when Glen Chapple lost a top edge from Butcher (on 89), who went on to reach 120.
James Benning fell to Keedy in an attempted sweep but his departure ushered in Ali Brown to join Afzaal in a partnership worth 160 when Mark Butcher called them in. Lancashire reached 63 for the loss of Iain Sutcliffe, a debut victim for Surrey's West Indian-born Kolpak fast bowler, Pedro Collins.Reuse content