Surrey 261 for 6 (Burns 107, Curran 71*, Procter 3-51) vs Northamptonshire
The clock is ticking. England’s first Test under new leadership – in the form of a managing director, a coach, a captain, support staff and possibly a selector – is four weeks away and their opponents New Zealand have already named their touring party. With a squad expected to be announced within the next two weeks, there are only a few days of cricket left for hopefuls to impress.
Burns’ innings was a grind, with 107 hard-fought runs spread across the best part of six hours. Asked to bat first by Northamptonshire on a green pitch – albeit one a long way across the square, with an unusually short boundary to one side – Burns played-and-missed several times early on as Ben Sanderson nibbled the ball around on a length but by the close, Surrey’s 261 for 6 put his innings into context.
They also had to make do without Ollie Pope, who was due to play but ran straight from the warm-ups to the dressing-room toilets and went home “unwell”, and Jamie Smith, who suffered a hamstring injury during his unbeaten double-hundred in Bristol last week, though Ben Foakes returned to the side after missing the Gloucestershire draw with a minor back complaint.
“Putting bums on seats, that probably wouldn’t have done it – but I was very happy with doing it,” Burns said of his innings. “That’s pretty vintage in terms of how I go about it [batting] and I thought the discipline I played with was up there. It’s something I pride myself on, so I’m pretty happy.
“They’ve put us in to bat for good reason and we’d have done the same thing and it’s offered something all day. Sometimes you’ve got to be disciplined and earn the right. Even with the older ball, it kept the bowlers interested. The pitch was slowish and the ball carried on doing things throughout the day, swinging for periods and it nipped around pretty consistently so it’s tough graft.”
Tough graft, in keeping with Burns’ season so far. Before this innings he had made only 119 runs, spread across six innings at an average of 23.8. His Surrey side are the Championship’s early leaders but his own form was clearly a source of frustration. When he reached three figures off 245 balls thanks to a thick edge through gully, his primary emotion was relief rather than joy.
Burns’ idiosyncratic technique has been a source of fascination for pundits and analysts throughout his Test career, scrutinised in minute detail. He appeared to cut down on his movements before release at the start of the season but they were more pronounced in this hundred, with his trademark lean towards midwicket – to align his dominant left eye with the ball – more obvious. He admitted that he had “been tinkering a little bit” at the start of the season but was reluctant to give much more away: “I don’t know. I got a hundred, so who cares?”
The answer is that England might – though it should be acknowledged that Northants’ attack is significantly different in style to the ones they will face across seven Tests this summer. Burns lost his place for the tour of the Caribbean last month and his route into the side is not obvious, not least after Alex Lees’ bright start to the season and with Key’s admiration for Zak Crawley well-known.
But Burns has a central contract, and while his Test average of 30.32 is not as high as he might like, it is the highest of any specialist batter to debut under Joe Root’s captaincy. Besides, timing matters. “Well, it’s nice to get a hundred,” Burns said when asked about his hopes for a recall. “That’s the thing, isn’t it?”
One of Burns’ charges may well come into contention for the first Test too, though it remains to be seen if Sam Curran is fit enough to be considered as a genuine allrounder after only 10 overs to date this season following the stress fracture which ruled him out of the winter. His unbeaten 71 was the day’s only fluent innings and included a towering straight six off Simon Kerrigan; he has the chance to put right the fact that he has never scored a professional hundred in the morning.
Northants have battled hard for three consecutive draws at the start of this season and their seamers plugged away, with Luke Procter’s nibbly medium pace proving particularly effective. He removed the in-form Ryan Patel early on, chipping to cover, then had two in two balls, going wide on the crease to bowl Hashim Amla then trapping Will Jacks lbw.
Their main concern was that Ricardo Vasconcelos – who has been tasked with captaining and opening the batting this season – went off feeling ill inside the first hour. “He started to feel nauseous after going out onto the field and he was sick in the dressing room when he came off,” John Sadler, their head coach, said. “Hopefully he will be okay after he’s had a night’s sleep and some more rest.”
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98