Unbeaten fifties for Burns and Amla complete Surrey’s best day of the season to date
Surrey 131 for 1 (Burns 61*, Amla 59*) lead Hampshire 92 (Clark 6-21) by 39 runs
It remains to be seen whether the removal of the national selector’s job leads to a major overhaul in personnel in England’s Test team or merely incremental change, but Rory Burns would have noted last week’s news with some apprehension either way.
Through a combination of injury, becoming a father, and loss of form, Burns has appeared in only eight of England’s last fifteen Tests – averaging 24.00 – and they have won five of the seven that he missed: if Silverwood is looking for a fall guy to signal a clean break from the Ed Smith era, Burns is the obvious candidate out of the batters who toured India.
Burns will know that eyes have been on him at the start of the County Championship season, not least with Adam Lyth, Sam Robson and Haseeb Hameed among those piling up stack of April runs. His record in the first three rounds was unspectacular, with two single-figure scores, two unconverted fifties, and a middling score of 36, and circumstances appeared to be conspiring against him against Hampshire. He walked out to bat on the greenest Oval pitch in recent memory to face Mohammad Abbas and Kyle Abbott after the group leaders had been rolled for 92; it was hardly an obvious opportunity for him to fill his boots.
But Burns managed to score freely, reaching 61 at a decent lick in an unbroken stand of exactly 100 with Hashim Amla before bad light brought an early close. Abbas bowled too straight and Abbott too full as both conceded three boundaries to him, and he was characteristically ruthless off his pads, scoring 55 of his runs through the leg side. The idiosyncrasies in his technique remain, but his stubborn faith in his own method has served him well in the past.
If weighted averages and underlying data continue to be major influences on England selection in the future, Burns will be helped by this sort of innings, against an international-quality new-ball attack in a game that looks likely to be low-scoring. It remains plausible that it will be Zak Crawley opening the batting alongside Dom Sibley against New Zealand at Lord’s in June, with some combination of James Bracey, Ollie Pope, Dan Lawrence and Ben Foakes joining Joe Root in the middle order with Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler on IPL duty and Ben Stokes injured, but turning this innings into an eye-catching hundred would buy him some time.
This was an important knock for Amla too, on the back of a pair at Lord’s last week and a lean start to the year. While his considerable influence on the younger players in the dressing room is an obvious bonus, Surrey are employing him for his runs first and foremost. His trigger movement was particularly pronounced as he shifted across from outside leg stump upon the bowlers’ release, and he punched elegantly through the covers and rolled his wrists effortlessly when Hampshire’s change bowlers strayed onto his pads.
In truth, Surrey’s position of dominance owed as much to Jordan Clark as to their unbeaten overnight pair. Their early results meant that this pitch was always likely to offer something for the seamers, not least following the road prepared for their first home game against Leicestershire, and Burns’ decision to bowl first was vindicated within two hours of the toss.
Clark, a tattooed Cumbrian, was a late developer in red-ball cricket – he made his first-class debut aged 24 – and is one of the few members of this Surrey side who has not played international cricket and is unlikely to do so in the future. His method here was straightforward, nagging away on a good length and taking advantage of the seam movement on offer from a green pitch to rip the heart out of Hampshire by flattening their middle order and then polishing off the tail after lunch.
Clark joined from Lancashire towards the end of the 2018 season as cover for the Currans and as a long-term replacement for Rikki Clarke, his partner in crime today, and was signed with Friday-night sell-outs and death-overs sixes in mind, rather than nibbly April green-tops. But he looked like a seamer tailor-made for these conditions: all six of his wickets were caught in the cordon, as Surrey atoned for five drops in Middlesex’s first innings last week, and his figures – 6 for 21 from 10.3 overs – were the best of his career.
There was little sign of what was to come when Clark came into the attack with Hampshire gritting it out at 37 for 1 after 14 overs. Jamie Overton had left the field after struggling with the landing area wide on the crease at the end of his third over, and while Kemar Roach had induced an outside edge to get rid of Joe Weatherley, it was by no means obvious that a collapse was imminent.
But after Clarke removed Tom Alsop, angling one across him from a length to draw a nick, all hell broke loose. From 44 for 2, Hampshire lost four wickets for no runs: Sam Northeast and James Vince fell in the space of four balls, both flirting at length balls in the off-stump channel, while Ian Holland was trapped lbw by a full outswinger and Liam Dawson edged to second slip. Three for Clark – two caught by Clarke – and one for Clarke himself; what better combination to give Hampshire a shoeing?
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98