Centuries from Ian Ward and Rikki Clarke earned Surrey a gritty draw after the reigning county champions had flirted with defeat as they followed on against Lancashire.
The crème de la crème of the Surrey upper order had soured events on the final day by failing to stay the course. Graham Thorpe fell to a pull in the deep for the second time in the match, Alistair Brown called for a run that was not there and the captain, Adam Hollioake, was done by a bit of extra bounce.
Ward and Clarke were left to rebuild and rescue the game for Surrey. While victory was never on, Surrey certainly needed the psychological lift of forcing the draw after what they had been through in the first three days. Thanks to the sixth-wicket pair, they got it.
Ward underlined his class as an opening bat by scoring his fifth hundred in seven innings, a run which embraces his final five visits to the crease at the end of last summer. It is sad that all five of his Test appearances against Pakistan and Australia two years ago saw him coming in well down the order at five, six and seven, hardly the ideal position from which to play to his strengths. But, should he continue in this rich vein of form, it would make him hard to ignore for the Test series against South Africa later on this summer, if not against Zimbabwe next month.
Ward's overall first-class average tops the benchmark 40 and, if given a chance at Test level in his natural position, he would be a good bet to match or better it. This, his fourth score of 150 or more, oozed class and set a fine example for Clarke at the other end, one which the 21-year-old dutifully followed throughout their 144-run stand, a Surrey record for the sixth wicket against Lancashire.
Even after Ward's unexpected departure, to a tame extra-cover drive when he was 10 runs off his career-best 168, Clarke carried on the good work and levelled the scores shortly after tea.
Clarke's potential looks infinite. This was his third hundred in 18 first-class innings and in all he has passed fifty on seven occasions. His patience and prudence were exemplary – his elders and betters could do worse than study a video of his 171-ball innings which contained one six and 19 fours.
It also contained an array of fine shots, but what shone through above all else was his absolute concentration – he remained utterly focussed throughout – and his remarkable temperament. Nothing flustered him and his unbroken 85-run partnership Alex Tudor was just too much for the Lancashire attack.
Warren Hegg and his men can take heart from this performance, though. When the India Test off-spinner, Harbhajan Singh, arrives, they will have a formidable attack. Moreover, an attack with attitude. James Anderson, Glenn Chapple, Andrew Flintoff and Kyle Hogg all stuck to their task on an unforgiving pitch that offered the bowlers nothing. They will be serious title contenders.
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