Surrey v Yorkshire (day one): Former Yorkshire star Aaron Finch offers brief, yet timely reminder of talent at rain-hit Oval
MUCH of the interest going into the game had focused on Yorkshire's overseas batsman Kane Williamson.
The New Zealand captain is sitting out the match due to what the club described as “mental fatigue”.
Much of the interest on a rain-hit opening day, however, focused on Yorkshire’s ex-overseas batsman Aaron Finch.
The former Australia T20 captain, who played for the White Rose last year, and also in 2014, scored an unbeaten 34 out of Surrey’s total of 95-2.
Finch, the hard-hitting 29-year-old right-hander, represented Yorkshire 24 times across all formats.
He averaged 29 overall and managed one hundred – an innings of 110 against Warwickshire in the County Championship
Ironically, Finch also scored 110 against Warwickshire in the County Championship in his debut innings for Surrey earlier this month.
He is with the South London club for five weeks as a replacement for former Sri Lanka batsman Kumar Sangakkara, who is playing for Jamaica Tallwahs in the Caribbean Premier League.
As proved by his cameo yesterday, Finch is in pretty good form at present; indeed, he followed his century against Warwickshire with scores of 31 against Gloucestershire and 51 against Somerset in the NatWest T20 Blast.
It was primarily because of his T20 expertise, of course, that Yorkshire went knocking on his door in the first place; he was formerly the world’s top-ranked batsman in the game’s shortest form, but he has now slipped to second behind India’s Virat Kohli.
For Yorkshire, Finch often looked more dangerous in the Championship than he did in T20, and he has designs on representing Australia at Test level, a format in which David Warner has proved it is possible to adapt skills more traditionally suited to the one-day arena.
Not that Finch, like Warner, is particularly inclined to change his style of play in first-class cricket; betraying no sign of nerves, he struck his first ball in Surrey colours for six in the match against Warwickshire, and few innings by the short, strong and savage stroke-player are without incident. So it proved yesterday in an exceptionally frustrating start to this match.
Despite a weather forecast that was fine for much of the day, 63 overs were lost to rain, some of it so heavy that you half wondered whether the month was January as opposed to July.
Finch, in fact, provided pretty much the only excitement of note, striking seven boundaries in a 31-ball innings at odds with an otherwise snail-like scoring rate.
When Finch arrived at the crease, Surrey were 36-2 in the 24th over, after which they rattled along to hit 59 in 9.5 overs.
It had all started fairly well for Yorkshire’s bowlers despite the lack of encouragement in the surface after Surrey won the toss.
The visitors, who were also missing pace bowler Jack Brooks after a recurrence of a thigh injury, struck in the eighth over when Rory Burns was trapped on the crease by David Willey, who was fit to bowl despite recent difficulties with sore shins.
Willey brings a different dimension to the Yorkshire attack in the absence of fellow left-armer Ryan Sidebottom (ankle).
Steve Patterson, indeed, is practically the only Yorkshire pace man this summer who has managed to stay injury-free, and he took the second wicket when he had Dominic Sibley brilliantly caught one-handed by wicketkeeper Andrew Hodd, diving to his left, after the batsman played a genuine leg-glance.
In muggy conditions, Finch walked purposefully to the crease and he began confidently with two straight-driven fours off Patterson.
The Australian upped the tempo with typical gusto and timed the ball sweetly, guiding Surrey to 82-2 at lunch in the company of Zafar Ansari – in the process, passing 3,000 runs at first-class level.
Ansari, the 24-year-old left-hander, who could have made his debut for England in the Test series against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates last autumn but for a broken thumb, played second fiddle to Finch.
He began the afternoon session with a brace of boundaries off spinner Azeem Rafiq, who also conceded a boundary to Finch in the only over possible after the lunch break. That over went for 13 runs and no sooner had it ended than heavy rain descended on the ground. It relented sufficiently to permit a 3.20pm inspection, which was immediately followed by another shower.
A second inspection at 4pm was cancelled due to further rain before umpires Neil Bainton and Martin Saggers eventually called a halt an hour later.
It is already effectively a three-day game, a game which Yorkshire ideally need to win as they look to get their title bid back on track after defeat last week against Middlesex.