Northamptonshire 249 for 4 (Gay 145, Keogh 75*) vs Surrey
Gay was also a player on their radar until he signed a contract extension at Northamptonshire and they opted instead for Dom Sibley’s return to south London. They recognised in Gay not just an opening batter of considerable promise but also a potential role model for budding cricketers of Afro-Caribbean heritage. Any player who can enthuse and inspire marginalised groups deserves to be championed. And this was an innings to impress all who saw it.
It is just that, with a Championship at stake, Surrey saw rather more of him than they would have liked: 189 balls worth, during which time he struck a career-best 145 to leave Northants comfortably placed at 249 for 4 from 67.2 overs on a rain-affected day that would have left Surrey’s seamers hoping for a better outcome.
Hampshire – and more to the point, one of the most bloody-minded, uncompromising sides in Hampshire’s history – hold an eight-point advantage at the top of the table and, if Surrey do not force victory here, the two sides will enter the last two matches of the season with little between them.
The ACE programme fronted by Ebony Rainford-Brent, a former Surrey and England cricketer, began in South London and has now won charitable status, financial backing from the ECB, and has been expanded into six English cities. It seeks to bring more diversity into the game at a time when, as Rainford-Brent has said, “the elite and access to wealth dominate our game”.
It is a surprise that Surrey did not resort to a battery of short stuff earlier. Gay took a few blows at Kia Oval earlier in the season apparently, and Gus Atkinson, who may well be quicker than he looks, struck him on the helmet with a devilish bouncer, on 138, which came in increasingly murky light and which left him with no escape route.
Gay’s response was to pull and hook, as a player of his upright style must, but he soon succumbed. The ball after a change of helmet, he failed to make contact as he pulled at another Atkinson short ball. Atkinson removed him in his next over as light drizzle began to fall: this time contact was made, but not emphatically and Tom Curran collected a simple catch in from the rope at deep square leg. He left to a standing ovation. Play abruptly ended for the day. Arguably, a ball too late.
Gay’s final throes also told of weariness – he was dropped on 126 when he nearly deposited a waist-high full toss from the legspinner Cameron Steel into the hands of Hashim Amla, diving to his right at mid-off.
But the lasting impression was overwhelmingly of a 22-year-old of considerable potential. This was his third first-class hundred – his first two both came at Canterbury – and there was much to admire: rasping cuts and square drives, particularly against Dan Worrall, wristy flicks through midwicket, and some elegant off-drives whenever Kemar Roach overpitched.
For all his last-ball dismissal, he was satisfied enough. It was an opportunity to show what I am capable of and going toe-to-toe with the best bowlers in the country,” he said. “I have shown in the last two games that I like the pressure and I like coming up against the top teams.”
It was a day of regret in Northampton in so many ways. Before play, the national anthem was played and there was a minute’s silence in memory of Queen Elizabeth II. During a rain break, there was a period of applause in remembrance of Northamptonshire coach Luke Swann, a Northamptonshire junior coach, who has died at 39; the players wore black armbands.
There were departures, too. Midway through the day, it was announced that Ben Curran (the least celebrated of the Curran trio), Nathan Buck, Brandon Glover and Charlie Thurston will leave the county at the end of the season. Northants are expected to recruit Ollie Sale from Somerset.
Luke Procter, who has had an excellent season and who has adopted Shivnarine Chanderpaul’s crablike stance during his promotion to No.3, fell at gully off the shoulder of the bat and Worrall added Josh Cobb, a belligerent sort for a promotion to No.4, and who managed only a single before he jabbed a full outswinger to first slip.
Poor seasons for the likes of Ricardo Vasconcelos and Saif Zaib have given Northants’ batting order a curious look, but they began 29 points above the relegation places and must be highly satisfied with that. Gay’s delightful day deepened that satisfaction.
David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps