Saif Zaib’s first century of the season for Northamptonshire frustrated Surrey’s title ambitions as their LV= Insurance County Championship clash petered out into a draw on day four at Wantage Road.
The 24-year-old left-hander, restored to Championship duties for the first time since May, struck 124 in a 204-minute vigil. Zaib was supported by Ricardo Vasconcelos’ 79 and 30 from Lizaad Williams, the latter helping to add a priceless 71 for the eighth wicket before the hosts were bowled out for 426, Dan Worrall taking three for 69.
Facing a nominal target of 345 in 39 overs, Surrey understandably declined to take up the chase, closing on 48 for 1.
Surrey return to the top of the table with the draw, though their lead over Hampshire is a slender eight points with two matches left. Northamptonshire’s reward is the knowledge they are all-but guaranteed top division cricket in 2023 with this result
Buckinghamshire-born Zaib’s only championship half-century this season, a 65, came in the opening match against Gloucestershire in April, but thereafter a string of low scores saw him left out a month later.
A list-A century against Essex in the Royal London Cup suggested a return to form and he underlined that here with tough runs against a Surrey side with seven wins in the campaign.
The hosts were in a precarious position at the start of play with a lead of only 127, just five wickets intact and a new ball on the horizon.
Zaib 19 not out overnight and Vasconcelos, who resumed on 51 were busy from the start, running hard to maximise the overs against the old ball. The would-be centurion took successive fours off Gus Atkinson in the ninth over of the day and by the time Surrey got the new cherry in their hand, the 100 partnership had been raised and Northamptonshire were almost 200 to the good.
Vasconcelos, who’d clubbed a Cameron Steel full toss to the mid-wicket fence, helped carry the stand to 127 before getting stuck on the crease and falling lbw to Worrall, unquestionably the pick of the visitors’ attack.
Worrall struck again to end James Sales’ vibrant cameo 20 minutes before lunch with the lead 234, but Zaib found another ally in the shape of Williams. The South African quick edged his first ball just short of first slip but thereafter looked untroubled, proving an excellent foil for Zaib, who emerged with more aggression on the resumption.
A sumptuous boundary took him into the 90s and not long afterwards an on-drive off Atkinson brought the three runs needed to reach his century from 186 balls with eight fours.
Williams finally fell lbw to Kemar Roach after which Zaib opened his shoulders, hitting Ryan Patel for successive sixes before falling to a catch at long-leg attempting a third.
When Surrey batted a second time there was misery for former England opener Rory Burns who was run out for a single by Sales’ direct hit from point, but there were no further alarms before handshakes were exchanged at 4:30pm.
Northamptonshire all-rounder Saif Zaib said: “It’s a very valuable extra eight points and I thought we fought very hard.
“It was tough coming into the day today. To come across one of the best sides in the country and come out with these points shows the depth and the fight that we have. We went with a game-plan to just try and bat and take time out of the game.
“It was important to take my chance back in the side. I’ve struggled a little bit with Championship cricket. So it was nice to contribute in the way that I did and hopefully I can make a big impact in the last two games.
“Surrey are arguably the best side in the country with some of the best bowlers, so this will be very special to me.”
Surrey coach Gareth Batty said: “We’ll take the 16 points after such a long break.
“We are back at the top eight points clear. Those are our eight points and we have got to make it very difficult for anyone to lessen that gap.
“We knew the surface was going to be good here, a flat tough wicket.
“We were a bit rusty to start with but as the four days unfolded we were back in the old routine of where we were four or five weeks ago.”
Watch the Day Four highlights here