Surrey trail Northamptonshire by 154 runs going into the final day of their rain-affected County Championship match at Wantage Road, and should Surrey put the home side in trouble on Thursday, it will be Northamptonshire’s own fault.
A spell of three wickets in seven balls for Zafar Ansari and Gareth Batty reduced Northamptonshire to 309 all out, in a rare lower order collapse. The visitors - and pre-season favourites for promotion - replied with 155 for 3 by stumps.
Such a score looked highly unlikely when Northants resumed on 107 for 2. Over 164 overs had been lost during the first two days due to rain and before lunch, Alex Wakely’s team would have been anticipating maximum batting points. They would lose just the industrious Stephen Peters for 82 early on from the bowling of Tom Curran.
It was the 20 year-old’s maiden first-class appearance on the ground where his father Kevin played for eight seasons in Northamptonshire colours during the 1990’s. His skiddy approach - with some similarity in action to his hero - also removed Rob Keogh in the penultimate over before lunch to leave Northants on 219 for 4 at the interval.
Rob Newton had begun brightly - dismissing Curran down the ground effortlessly off the second ball of the day - he had ridden his luck on other occasions, driving over the slip cordon in one over and skying a hook in between fielders. Hs fifty - the third in the Championship - had come off 67 balls, but he fell five runs short of three figures, fifteen minutes after the interval.
When Adam Rossington and Josh Cobb added 50 for the sixth wicket, serenity was restored but carnage was soon to descend in the most unthreatening of circumstances after Cobb drove to Batty from Ansari’s left arm spin. David Willey was bowled the very next ball while Steven Crook fell at deep mid-wicket in the following over from Batty, without adding a run himself.
With Olly Stone dismissed cheaply too, Rossington could be forgiven for feeling bemused at the other end. He reached 50 off 69 balls and took out his frustrations with a huge blow for 6 down the ground off Ansari which almost took out the windows on the top tier of the Spencer Pavilion.
When Rossington chipped back to Ansari for 58, Northamptonshire had lost their last five wickets for 21 and their last seven for 96 - and could only blame themselves.
Ansari and Rory Burns showed how the placid pitch was really playing when they opened the Surrey innings and guided them to an uneventful 89 without loss. But Ansari’s edge produced an athletic catch from behind the stumps from Rossington off Mohammed Azharullah and two further wickets quickly followed.
Kumar Sangakkara showed his undoubted class to reach 28 not out by the close, but while Surrey’s run rate is approaching a promising 4 an over, the accumulation of bonus points seems likely to be the only meaningful activity with a draw all but certain.
Surrey head coach Graham Ford said, “I think it was a pretty good performance today. It wasn’t easy bowling conditions, it was extremely cold and it was tough for the spinners and we had a few difficulties with the ball getting wet from time to time. “
“You always want to be better off than you actually are. You’re always greedy and we’d have loved to have been none down. They’ve bowled fairly well and Burnsy was a little unlucky. Hopefully these two at the crease can put in a big partnership tomorrow.”
Northamptonshire batsman Rob Newton said, “If we can get our full bowling points and finish the game with eleven in all, this won’t be a game where we wonder when we wish we’d have played all four days. I think we can take eleven points against a big team like Surrey and move on. “