Dom Sibley lays Surrey foundations but champions may rue profligacy

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Surrey 358 for 6 (Sibley 100, Burns 75, Foakes 57, Smith 51) lead Somerset 285 by 73 runs

The first sunny Saturday at the Kia Oval rarely disappoints. This place may turn into the biggest beer garden in London when the Blast and Hundred are in town, but it’s the County Championship that gets first use of this joint for a more relaxing ease into the summer. And as close to 2000 whittled the hours away in the stands, Surrey’s push for a three-peat truly began.

They lead Somerset by 73 runs, thanks largely to Dom Sibley‘s first hundred at home since returning in 2023, with valuable contributions from skipper Rory Burns, Jamie Smith, and Ben Foakes. Was it perfect? Certainly not. They could and perhaps should have been more than 358 to the good in their first innings, with more than the four wickets left to play with on Sunday.

Somerset hustled throughout, Lewis Gregory shuffling his attack and tinkering with his field in a bid to squeeze as much juice as possible from the Kookaburra to make amends for their batting errors on day one. Bowlers will welcome the Dukes’ return next week like a long-lost friend. But while there were moments during an opening stand of 167 when the visiting attack would have been cursing the Australian ball in their possession, they gave their all.

Sibley’s 20th first-class century was two-paced and immaculate throughout. The straight drives in the 29 scored the night before were on show here, though a slight misjudgement when attempting the stroke almost brought about his end on 49. Luckily, Migael Pretorious’ away swinger had a little too much shape, clearly missing the edge of his bat, despite the vociferous appeals.

With the support of Burns, at ease after reaching a 94th fifty-plus score with an eighth boundary pulled gloriously in front of square, the opening pair were seemingly set to match Somerset’s 285 all by themselves. Even when Burns fell on 75, 118 away from parity, Surrey looked like they’d only be batting once.

That feels less certain now, though remains a possibility. Despite their control, Surrey ended up losing four batters for the addition of 99 runs. Though not quite mimicking Somerset’s capitulation from 196 for 1 to 216 for 8, the calibre of the four lost carried a similar frivolity.

England vice-captain Ollie Pope lazily hooked Kasey Aldridge to sub-fielder Alfie Ogborne at deep backward square leg. Sibley, like Tom Lammonby 24 hours early, was 100 and done, albeit in quirky fashion. An attempt to hit Lewis Goldsworthy’s left-arm spin to Vauxhall tube station resulted in an inside edge onto his boot, sending the ball spinning back on to the stumps.

A brief interlude from the back-and-forth came in the form of Smith, who took the match on an altogether different path. He was hell-bent on making up the 71 deficit that greeted his arrival to the crease all on his own. His third ball was a picture-perfect on drive; the sixth pulled through midwicket. The first of his two sixes – both off Gregory, both sent deep into the Peter May Stand, both Surrey’s firsts of the season – took him to a run-a-ball 30 in which all but four had come in boundaries.

At tea, Smith had 47, accompanied by Ben Foakes on 18, seemingly set for launch. Whatever international rivalry there may be for the Test wicketkeeping berth, collective defiance was the main priority. And when Smith momentarily drained the malice from his wrists to guide the second new ball down to third for four to go to 51 from 76, those watching in this corner of south London were primed for a spectacle.

A delivery later, Smith was walking back to the home dressing room, undone by a bit of nip and a lot less bounce from Craig Overton’s good length that sent off stump for a walk. When Dan Lawrence’s maiden knock for his new club lasted just 20 deliveries – struck in front of middle and leg by Aldridge – Somerset, trailing by six, were optimistic of limiting the hosts to a nominal first-innings lead.

That it might not come to pass does not diminish the way they grafted throughout the afternoon. Smith’s blitz against the old ball at the back end of the second session aside, Surrey’s scoring had been capped, evident in the breakdown of Sibley’s century. The first 50 came in 85 deliveries, the second needed 123.

The main suffocater was Shoaib Bashir. England’s new marathon man spinner picked up where he left off in India with a metronomic, almost trance-like passage from the Vauxhall End, notably during an unbroken 16-over spell. Just 31 runs were conceded in this passage – including five of the nine maidens he has so far – along with the dismissal of Burns, who edged a cut to wicketkeeper James Rew, seemingly done by a surprise bit of skid off the pitch. It was overdue given Burns’ life on 56 – dropped at deep square leg in the 31st over that would have made it 121 for 1 and handed Pretorious his maiden Somerset wicket.

Foakes’ resistance, alongside a more cavalier approach from Cameron Steel, put on 48 for the sixth wicket. Though a jumping swivel pull through midwicket took Foakes to a first half-century of the season, he was soon on his way when Gregory trapped him in front, attempting to shuffle across his stumps to work something into the leg side.

It was left to Steel to pick up Surrey’s third and final batting point. Just as he had done with a back-foot punch through cover-point for the second, he threaded a boundary – this time through cover – to take Surrey to 352, before knuckling down to the close.

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo

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