Surrey 240 (Sibley 48, Porter 4-51) and 153 for 7 (Pope 47, Harmer 2-6) drew with Essex 314 (Westley 61, Critchley 60, Cook 51, Atkinson 6-68) and 198 (Browne 47, Clark 4-58)
There are drawn matches, and there are drawn matches. Stalemate was always the likeliest outcome to this game after only 6.4 overs were possible on day three but Surrey, the LV= Insurance Championship defending champions, were forced to man the barricades deep into the final hour at Chelmsford as Essex pushed for the three wickets they required to secure a statement win.
Talk around the circuit this season has been of playing more attacking cricket, in the mould of Ben Stokes’ England team, and Essex did their darnedest to conjure a result by donating all ten wickets in a session-and-a-bit of giddy thrashing. Set 273 in 54 overs, Surrey’s tilt was given impetus by Ollie Pope’s crisp 47 from 57 balls but, after Simon Harmer struck twice in his first three deliveries following a belated introduction, the visitors were forced to retrench.
Matters of succession in the County Championship are usually more Roy family than royal family, and Surrey will know that the candidates are queuing up to mount a hostile takeover this season. Essex had the better of this game, and would surely have won by a convincing margin but for time lost to the weather, while Warwickshire’s dramatic rissoling of Hampshire at the Ageas Bowl means that Rory Burns’ side have company at the top of Division One.
(As it happens, there was some Roy family involvement at Chelmsford – Shane Snater, Essex’s Zimbabwe-born Dutch allrounder, is a cousin of Surrey’s Jason Roy, although his dismissal of Pope provided evidence that he is a far more capable operator than Succession‘s hapless cousin Greg).
Needing to score at almost exactly five an over, Surrey were keen to show intent despite losing Dom Sibley to a low catch at second slip from the eighth ball of the innings. Harmer made his first significant intervention with a flying, one-handed grab to dismiss Burns on the brink of tea, but the presence of Pope – whose incendiary 122 from 102 balls propelled a chase of similar magnitude against Hampshire three weeks ago – kept followers of an Essex stripe on guard.
Few players were able to transcend a Chelmsford surface that offered something for bowlers throughout – there were only three half-centuries in the match, all in Essex’s first innings – but Pope has a knack for the sublime and more than enough “Bazball” pedigree to have Tom Westley nervously eyeing the required rate. A skip down the pitch to dispatch Doug Bracewell into the scaffolding holding up the temporary sightscreen for next week’s ODIs between Ireland and Bangladesh appeared to herald a cavalry charge, only for England’s No. 3 to miscue Snater to cover a few overs later.
At 73 for 3, Surrey needed exactly 200 from 33.5 overs. Will Jacks maintained the front by swatting his third ball for six but then chipped tamely to midwicket. Surrey sent out Shaun Abbott as a last roll of the dice – or throw of the bat – but he greeted Harmer, held back until the 29th over with Essex wary of the short boundary towards the pavilion, by skying the spinner’s first ball to long-on, and when Harmer won a decision against Ben Foakes in the same over, Surrey were 103 for 6 with more than 25 overs left to be bowled.
Only one more wicket went down, however, as Cameron Steel – who survived a loud lbw appeal against Harmer first ball and later saw Nick Browne put down a tough chance at short leg – set himself for an hour’s worth of blocking alongside Smith. Steel did eventually miss a full toss from Bracewell but Jordan Clark played sensibly to help ensure Surrey got over the line.
The fourth day began with Alastair Cook being dismissed from the second ball of the morning, though the fact he was bowled attempting to drive a Kemar Roach inswinger perhaps told of an adventurous mindset in the home dressing room. Browne and Westley shepherded the innings along, adding 38 in 15 overs before the latter fell to a catch at the wicket – and the arrival of Dan Lawrence changed the tenor of the afternoon.
Lawrence’s fifth ball was dispatched out of the ground over long-off, potentially causing trouble for anyone hosting a coronation garden party in Hayes Close, and his intentions were crystal as he thrashed his way to 28 from 24 balls before being bowled behind his legs from the next, exposing his stumps to attempt an extravagant flick. The third wicket had yielded 54 in 10 overs but Essex then seemed to get a little carried away with the bank holiday mood, conspiring to lose 8 for 82 either side of lunch in a flurry of ill-conceived shots.
“We talked around having 60-ish overs [to bowl at Surrey],” Essex’s head coach, Anthony McGrath, said. “We wanted to try and dangle a carrot so that they’d go for it, so there were opportunities – because we knew that if you just batted out it was going to be tough to bowl them out. It kind of went where we wanted to but we just ran out of time in the end.”