While the England selectors were meeting to pick their squad to face Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates, Zafar Ansari yesterday chose a timely moment to underline his case for a call-up, missing out by just one run on what would have been a second century of the season as Surrey advanced their attempt to pip Lancashire to the Second Division title.
The 23-year-old all-rounder is a contender as both a third spinner and an opening batsman after enjoying a fine season in the Championship, in which he has scored 771 runs and taken 44 wickets.
In difficult conditions at Old Trafford against a Lancashire attack boosted by the inclusion of England’s James Anderson, Ansari survived a chance on 33 when he was put down at second slip off seamer Tom Bailey.
Otherwise, he played superbly in an anchor role after Anderson had dismissed Kumar Sangakkara for nine and was unlucky to be out on 99 when he confidently drove a ball from Steven Croft in fading light only for Anderson to demonstrate the quality of his fielding by taking a brilliant one-handed catch at extra cover, diving to his left.
Nonetheless, Surrey closed a truncated first day in a strong position at 262 for 4. Both are already promoted, but having edged ahead of Lancashire in the table in the last round, Surrey would be strong favourites to go up as champions with a win in Manchester.
In the four-way battle to stay in the First Division, Sussex are on top against Somerset, with both sides seeking the win that would ensure they avoid relegation. Mike Yardy, the 34-year-old former England all-rounder who is playing his last match at Hove before retiring, is unbeaten on 60 after he and fellow all-rounder Ashar Zaidi (90 not out) added 132 in an unbroken partnership as Sussex recovered from 171 for 6 to end the day with three batting points.
Worcestershire, who are bottom of the table and must beat Durham to have any chance of avoiding relegation, finished on 223 for 4 at Chester-le-Street after Tom Fell was run out for 83. Hampshire, one place above them, are similarly placed against champions Yorkshire at the Rose Bowl.
No play was possible between Warwickshire and Nottinghamshire at Edgbaston.
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