In a bleak season, some beacons of hope shine for Surrey. Two left-handers, both Surrey-born, combined to set a partnership record with a century apiece at The Oval yesterday to give their side at least a chance of easing their relegation fears with a win over their nearest neighbours.
Surrey were 88 behind on first innings after being bowled out for 144 but 21-year-old Rory Burns and partner Arun Harinath overturned the deficit with a stand of 217 that eclipsed a second-wicket record for matches against Middlesex that had stood at 184 since 1927. It ended when Harinath, at last converting a half-century to a first-class hundred after eight failed attempts, was brilliantly caught by Chris Rogers, reacting at second slip to a chance missed by wicketkeeper Adam Rossington.
Burns, with his second century in only his eighth first-class match and his first in the Championship, impressed with the maturity of his shot selection in a five-hour 121 that ended when he was beaten by a ball from Toby Roland-Jones that trapped him in front.
However, the dismissal of Burns was followed by a rapid collapse as Roland-Jones came up with a fine new-ball spell that gave the seamer five wickets in an innings for the second match in a row. Wicketkeeper Steven Davies arrested the slide but Surrey were all out for 341 to leave Middlesex needing 254 to win.
Lancashire and Worcestershire represent the threat to Surrey's survival but it may be difficult for either to emerge with a win after more rain at New Road.
In Division Two, second-placed Hampshire will hope to take advantage if Yorkshire, who are third, and leaders Derbyshire fail to force a result at Headingley, but Kent's promotion hopes are receding after a washout at Bristol.
A first century of the summer from the former England batsman Owais Shah and a career-best 185 from 23-year-old Tom Westley gave Essex the upper hand at Colchester in another match seemingly destined to be drawn.