Ollie Pope hit his 15th first-class century, a memorable 136, to keep Surrey’s LV= Insurance County Championship title chase on course after they had initially looked to be struggling against Yorkshire’s seamers having been put in at The Micky Stewart Oval.
Despite bad light ruling out the last 22.4 scheduled overs of the opening day, Surrey reached 292 for 6 by stumps with Jordan Clark unbeaten on 55, with a six and seven fours. It was quite a recovery after being 136 for 5 in mid-afternoon.
Pope hit two sixes and 16 fours in a brilliant 131-ball innings, and ten of his first-class hundreds have now come at the Oval, renamed for this match in honour of club legend Stewart’s 90th birthday. He also averages just under 90 on this ground.
Leading second-placed Hampshire by eight points going into the penultimate round of Division One championship games, Surrey certainly needed Pope’s vivid strokeplay against a Yorkshire seam attack in which Steven Patterson stood out with 4 for 52 from 18 overs and Ben Coad also demanded respect during 15 overs that brought him figures of 2 for 30.
Both Ben Mike, though, who conceded 86 runs from his 12.2 overs and Jordan Thompson, who finished with 0 for 54 from 12, were too guilty of inconsistent line and length – although that is not to take anything at all away from Pope, some of whose shot-making took the breath away and put the bowlers under constant pressure, and Clark.
Their sixth wicket stand of 142 in 27 overs shaped the day, and possibly the course of the match, after Patterson had taken two wickets in three balls to dismiss Ben Foakes and Cameron Steel and leave Surrey up against it.
Pope’s fifty came up in 57 balls, with seven fours, and England’s Test No 3 went from 90 to 100 with a remarkable flipped six over third man off Thompson and then a lashed reverse-sweep for four off Dom Bess.
He also uppercut Mike for six over third man, his last scoring shot and one which Clark had also played to similar effect in the medium-pacer’s previous over, before Patterson squeezed one between bat and pad and into leg stump as he aimed – not for the first time – to whip a straight ball through mid-wicket.
On a well-grassed surface, Surrey lost Rory Burns for 0 in the fifth over, edging a good ball angled across him from Coad to first slip.
Ryan Patel, joined by Hashim Amla, steadied the ship with a second wicket stand worth 49 and both playing with skill and resolve in tricky seam-friendly morning conditions.
Left-hander Patel, however, took three successive fours off Mike, the all-rounder signed from Leicestershire and making his Yorkshire debut, to go into the 30s. The first boundary was gloriously driven through extra cover but the next two were guided to the vacant third man ropes off a thickish edge in confirmation that batting was still not a straightforward exercise.
Amla, having battled to 14 from 53 balls, dabbed uncertainly at a ball pitching just outside off stump from the probing Patterson and edged to third slip but Pope signalled his aggressive intentions almost immediately by whipping his second ball, from Patterson, for four and then back-cutting Thompson for another boundary.
Later in that same over he skipped a pace or two down the pitch towards the bowler before flicking a ball from the line of off stump to the mid-wicket ropes. He then cut Thompson for another four and, clearly, was determined to take the attack to Yorkshire’s bowlers.
It was a surprise when Patel, on 41 with seven fours, tentatively edged Coad to first slip from what proved to be the last ball before lunch, leaving Surrey 82 for 3 at the interval. Patel, indeed, initially shaped to leave the ball, delivered from around the wicket, before fatally deciding to have a nibble.
Foakes made 19, helping Pope to add a further 54 for the fourth wicket, but Surrey then slipped to 136 for 5 as both Foakes and Steel fell in three balls to Patterson. Foakes nicked behind, playing defensively, and Steel departed for a duck after poking in ugly fashion at his second ball and steering a simple catch to Tom Kohler-Cadmore at first slip.