As farewell gifts go Azhar Mahmood's is not looking too bad. In what is his final championship match for Surrey the Test all-rounder and stand-in overseas player for fellow Pakistani Saqlain Mushtaq has picked up all five Lancashire second innings wickets to fall and in so doing has kept his temporary county in this match.
And while Surrey may be sorry to see Azhar depart – he has claimed 16 championship wickets to date as well as hitting an unbeaten 64 to help them overcome the reigning champions Yorkshire at Headingley – the news is not all bad because Saqlain revealed that he expects to rejoin his county colleagues in time for the Somerset match later this month.
And were the counties allowed to have two overseas players on their books the Oval authorities would be sorely tempted to sign both Pakistanis.
At one stage the title pretenders, who had got their campaign off to a flying start with maximum points from their opening two matches, looked in real and serious danger of slipping to a very premature defeat. But first Alex Tudor with the bat, then Azhar with the ball dragged them back into the fray. Tudor's first half century of the season ensured firstly that they avoided the follow-on, then that the first innings deficit was limited to a more modest 104 runs.
Then it was the turn of Azhar. The Lancashire batsmen had endured a tight opening spell from Tudor and Martin Bicknell by the time the 27-year-old Pakistani entered the attack and he put the ball there or thereabouts from the start. His 10th ball ended Alec Swann's interest in proceedings, a thin edge being well taken low down by Alec Stewart.
Swann's partner Mark Chilton fell lbw to a good length ball that looked to have beaten him for pace, while the veteran David Byas completed a spell of 3 for 9 in 25 balls for Azhar when he chased a wide delivery away from his body and was furious to see Stewart, with an athletic dive to his left, take a fine catch.
Andrew Flintoff, could not repeat his first innings broadside and lost his middle stump to a high speed yorker and when Azhar tempted Graham Lloyd to nibble at one and give him five wickets in the innings, it also created a modest landmark for Stewart, whose catch took his tally in the game to date to eight – the best by any wicketkeeper in the 202 matches between these two counties. There is life in the old dog yet and Test opportunities still to be taken.
With England thwarted in their pursuit of youth behind the stumps – Essex's James Foster is out for a month after suffering a broken arm last week – and experience in the attack – Darren Gough has still not recovered from his knee injury – the houses of Tudor and Stewart could well feature when the squad for the first Npower test against Sri Lanka, which begins at Lord's next Thursday, is announced tomorrow.