Surrey 88 for 1 (Sibley 35*) trail Kent 278 (Evison 77*, Lawes 3-41) by 190 runs
The oldest game in county cricket. The Brown Caps versus the Spitfires. Defending champions versus relegation candidates. Actual South London versus Claiming to be South London.
It’s been 314 years of this fixture between Surrey and Kent, and it has rarely lacked narrative. Even the first game back in 1709 had £50 on it. But even given the history and the contrasting presents of these two teams, the focus heading into this opening day at the Kia Oval was dominated by two cricketers in particular.
If you’re not up to speed with the situation, search “Foakes” and “Crawley” on Twitter and let the discourse wash over you and dissolve the meat off your bones. Essentially: Bairstow was always coming back in. Foakes had done a lot right. And a side who do things differently could have done things differently by promoting someone to open at the expense of an opening batter averaging 25.86 across 12 Tests under Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum.
Whatever your view on all this, the relief of actual cricket offered sanctuary. Foakes would have certainly regarded it as such. Had he kept his place with England, there’s a chance he would have opted to sit out to preserve his back ahead of the Ireland Test which begins on June 1. Instead, here he was, getting on with his life.
Crawley, similarly. This was a chance to focus on the stuff that actually matters. And when Surrey opted to bowl first upon winning the toss, here was the perfect opportunity to get to the middle and away from the noise. At the ground where his unbeaten 69 took England to a series-winning target of 130 against South Africa at the end of last summer, no less.
Your heart sinks a little to read that because it’s a little out of character, and very much the words of a man done with the condemnation. He went on to explain that hundreds, actually, aren’t all they are cut out to be. “I could play brilliantly for 20 and get a good ball,” he said. “You could play terribly for a hundred and everyone says ‘well batted’, when actually I played better for the 20.”
A shame, then, that he managed just 19, edging Jordan Clark to third slip an over after tucking Dan Worrall away for a couple of fours through square leg. The bat came down at an angle, offering the outside half when he could have perhaps left on length.
By that point Kent were 30 for 2. Worrall had pocketed Ben Compton with a perfect delivery from around the wicket that clipped the top of off after the left-hander did opt to leave. Clark was promoted to open the bowling alongside Worrall after Kemar Roach had to cut short his stint with Surrey to return home for family reasons.
There’s an argument to be made that Clark is one of the club’s best domestic signings. The extra bounce off a length to snare Crawley was replicated to get rid of Jack Leaning two balls after the lunch break for his 100th first-class wicket for Surrey.
Two overs from that end later, Clark bowled Jordan Cox, going wider on the crease and sneaking one through the right-hander’s defence. Up ticked the tally to 101 and down went the average under the 30 mark by a sliver (29.99).
And he really did happen. A remarkable unbeaten 77 dragged Kent to a hugely unlikely 278, picking up only their third batting point of the season to boot. Since making the move down to Canterbury from Nottinghamshire last summer, the softly-spoken 21-year-old has shown the kind of fight you’d usually associate with a much rowdier individual.
Stands of 74 with Wes Agar and 82 with Michael Hogan, for the eighth and tenth wicket respectively, began with the allrounder protecting the bowlers until they were comfortable enough to hold their own. Even while protecting them, Evison indulged in some outrageous shots, driving on the up, flicking over midwicket for six, and occasionally stepping out and blasting so straight down the ground that he threatened to punch a hole through the standing umpire. One of those, off his 77th delivery, took him to a second half-century of the season.
The first was a four-hour act of defiance against Warwickshire, ending with Evison being dismissed for 99 by Hasan Ali. Not only was it Kent’s last second-innings wicket, but it confirmed defeat deep into the final day. Nevertheless, this knock was desperately required and upheld his reputation as the fourth emergency service as far as Kent are concerned.
The addition of 160 for the last three wickets was especially frustrating for Surrey as it delayed tea to 4.39pm, before Lawes snared Hogan for Foakes’ third catch midway through the first over of the restart. With the momentum a little more Kent’s way, Hogan dismissed Surrey captain Rory Burns at the start of the eighth over.
That, however, was as good as it got for the visitors. Fresh from his official appointment as Test vice-captain, Ollie Pope strolled out and looked as comfortable as you’d expect on his favourite ground. Along with an engaging early evening workout from Dom Sibley, the pair ensured Surrey are 190 behind heading into Friday, with plenty of scope for a lead going into the second half of this match.
Arafat, born in Bangladesh with UK residency, was one of three graduates from the South Asian Cricket Academy (SACA) to make his first-class debut on Thursday, along with Zaman Akhter for Gloucestershire and Zain-ul-Hassan for Glamorgan. Formed ahead of the 2022 season, the work SACA have already done to correct the under-representation of British South Asians in the professional set-up is remarkable given its standing start.
Arafat is the seventh player to move from the scheme into a full-time deal, and he bowled tidily from the Vauxhall End after being brought on for the 12th over. Earlier in the day, the 26-year-old’s first run was cheered by the Kent dressing room, with applause eventually rippling around the ground.
His spell with the ball began with a maiden to Sibley which eased the nerves, bowling with decent pace. Given the calibre of Surrey’s XI, a maiden wicket will likely be a noteworthy one, and any incision he can provide will be vital if Kent are to push back on their more vaunted opponents.
Even for a fixture with as much history and a match with plenty of talking points, Arafat and his story were welcome additions.
Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo