Surrey 445 for 5 (Amla 124, Geddes 124, Smith 55, Curran 53*) vs Kent

At lunch and teatime in County Championship matches the ground authorities at The Kia Oval allow spectators to stroll on the outfield at the Pavilion End. Many of those granted that pleasant privilege on the Sunday chose to gather as close to the square as possible and gaze at the wicket on which this match is being played. And one would not be flabbergasted to discover that one question was common to their discussions. Why did Jack Leaning put ’em in?

One saw their point. When the average score conceded by your bowlers in the first innings of County Championship matches during a season is 540 it takes a plucky skipper to let your opponents have first knock. Now Kent’s stand-in captain does not lack courage, but as 39-year-old Hashim Amla passed 19,000 first-class career runs and 20-year-old Ben Geddes passed 190 one wondered why he had inserted Surrey on a bright June morning at The Oval, where the green tinge in the pitch hardly seemed to justify such bravery. What, we wondered, had Leaning seen? Was it, perhaps, apprehension in his batters’ eyes?

That theory is thin. Four of Kent’s batters came into this game averaging over 48 in County Championship matches and it surely made more sense to try and bat for nearly two days in the hope of putting scoreboard pressure on the Division One leaders. Better at any rate than conceding the very thick end of 450 runs and allowing Amla to collect the 29th first-class hundred of his career while Geddes picked up his second century, albeit his first in the Championship.

The cover-drive off Joe Denly that took the Epsom youngster to his century was the highlight of this lovely Sunday for the majority of those at The Oval. Most of the Surrey batter’s 15 boundary fours had come through the leg side – three sweeps in the space of five dreadful balls from the otherwise relatively accurate George Linde were particularly productive – and there were also couple of pulled sixes over the short leg-side boundary off Jaz Singh. But he reached his landmark, just as Amla had, with the shot that has always epitomised classical perfection.

The pair’s 213-run stand for the third wicket built a platform for further aggression late in the day – Sam Curran levied six off-side boundaries in seven balls from Matt Milnes – but by that stage Amla and Geddes had both been dismissed for 124. The significant difference was that whereas Amla had taken only 125 balls to reach his century, Geddes had needed 77 more, although at the time he was neatly caught at second slip by Jordan Cox off Milnes, he was knocking Kent’s bowlers around with the assurance Amla had shown before he clipped Daniel Bell-Drummond to Cox at midwicket two overs after tea. And in the final half-hour of the day confidence gave way to contempt as Curran reached his fifty off 26 balls with nine fours and a six while Jamie Smith, who had hitherto hardly been a slowcoach, contributed just two runs to their fifth-wicket partnership.

The final blow of the evening, however, was struck by Toby Pettman, Kent’s short-term loan signing from Nottinghamshire, who bowled Smith three balls before the close, just at the point when the Surrey batter was looking forward to a shower and a beer. That was the medium-fast bowler’s second wicket of the day and it was fitting reward for a seamer who had always turned up for work even when Amla was in his considerable pomp. Despite his obvious joy, however, Pettman will know that it had been Surrey’s day. You didn’t need an understanding of pre-Socratic philosophy, something the Oxford classicist probably possesses, to realise that. Marcus Aurelius, however, was probably helpful.

It was easy to pity Kent’s bowlers. No one enjoys being hit all round The Oval and no professional wants to perform below their best, as one or two members of Leaning’s attack certainly did. Easy, too, to feel sorry for the county’s travelling-not-that-far supporters, whose sanguine hopes for the season were probably founded on at least two of Darren Stevens, Matt Quinn, Harry Podmore and Nathan Gilchrist being fit (all were injured for this game). But the people who might attract the most sympathy are Surrey’s openers, both of whom were washing up in the kitchen while everyone else was enjoying the party.

As it happened, Rory Burns and Ryan Patel had set the tone by taking 51 runs off the first nine overs of the morning but a mere 19 balls later both were gone and Leaning’s decision momentarily masqueraded as a masterstroke. The illusion was fleeting. Having made 40, Patel nicked a good ball from Milnes to Ollie Robinson and five balls later Burns was brilliantly caught down the leg side by the diving keeper for 24 when adroitly glancing Pettman.

But Amla and Geddes quickly re-established Surrey’s dominance and by lunch Kent’s attack was leaking runs at over four-and-a-half runs an over. It was more than a portent and the spectators in the distant stands of this huge cricket ground settled down for more fun. They were not disappointed. One way or another, cricket is on Benzedrine at the moment. Jack Leaning, on the other hand, may need a couple of tranquilisers tonight.

Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications