Kumar Sangakkara gave another batting masterclass as he rattled off a Surrey record fifth consecutive Specsavers County Championship century in the top-of-the-Division One match at Chelmsford.
In the process of adding 177 not out to the recent sequence of 136, 105, 114 and 120, the Sri Lankan legend went past 1,000 runs in English cricket before the end of May across the Championship and Royal London One-Day Cup. He also took his red-ball average this summer to a Bradman-esque 109.86.
Only once did Sangakkara, who batted in a sweater despite the sweltering heat, look in the least discomforted and that in hitting the four with which he reached his fifty. He chopped the delivery from Neil Wagner over the slips where Alastair Cook got both hands to the ball, but it was no more than a valedictory wave as it raced to the boundary.
Sangakkara, who retires at the end of the season, put on 191 in 57 overs with Sam Curran to post a sixth-wicket record for Surrey against Essex. More importantly, in the context of the match, it rescued Surrey from the depths of 31 for five. Curran, who is not 19 until next Saturday, departed soon after tea for 90, but not before he had cleared the ropes on two occasions in an innings that showed great maturity.
Sangakkara had arrived in the middle with Surrey reduced to nine for two in the fourth over. By the close he had batted for 276 balls and revised his highest Championship total for Surrey.
Essex’s opening bowlers were almost unplayable in the first hour. Matt Quinn picked up three wickets in 13 balls before Jamie Porter joined the party with two as Surrey lost half their side by the 11th over. And that after stand-in captain Rory Burns had decided to bat in what eventually turned out to be ideal conditions.
Quinn struck with his third ball of the day, Mark Stoneman getting the thickest of thick edges to give Simon Harmer the catch at second slip.
Burns became Quinn’s 100th first-class victim when Dan Lawrence took a flying catch above his head in the gulley. Number 101 duly arrived in the next over as Scott Borthwick gave a routine edge to wicketkeeper James Foster, at which point Quinn had three for 12.
Porter was soon in on the act, his sheer pace arrowing through Dom Sibley’s defences. Porter’s second was not long in arriving, Ben Foakes dragging the ball on to his stumps.
Then Sangakkara, took over centre stage and changed the game completely. He showed great patience at the start and then cut loose. He welcomed back Porter for his second spell by swivelling in the crease and turning the ball firmly through midwicket. He later drove Wagner’s first ball after lunch straight for four before striking Porter through the covers to bring up the fifty partnership inside 20 overs.
Sangakkara’s eighth four brought up his own fifty from 84 balls, and he followed that by hammering Porter through mid-off for another boundary. When Harmer dropped one short he almost had his hand taken off as he tried to stop a lofted drive that also went for four.
He and Curran brought up the century stand in 32 overs, of which Curran contributed just 29. The landmark passed, Curran went into overdrive and deposited Ravi Bopara over midwicket for six amid a rampage during which Bopara’s four-over spell went for 33. Curran reached his two-paced fifty from 103 balls before lifting Harmer over long leg for a second maximum.
Sangakkara’s sixth century of the season in all competitions duly arrived when he drove Wagner straight past the bowler for his 13th boundary. At that stage he had batted for 174 balls.
DROP 😱— County Championship (@CountyChamp) May 26, 2017
Alastair Cook spills a catch off Sangakkara & the ball runs away to bring up his 5️⃣0️⃣ pic.twitter.com/lwgf5ELHW7
The partnership was finally broken shortly after tea when Curran’s eyes lit up as he bounced down the wicket, missed the ball from Harmer and turned to see Foster whipping off the bails. Curran departed six shy of his first-class career-best, having hit 12 fours and two sixes from 164 balls.
The elder Curran, Tom, followed soon after, caught at cover by Nick Browne off Bopara for 86 runs less than his brother. But the hard-hitting Stuart Meaker arrived to take the shine off the new-ball and help Sangakkara put on an unbroken stand of 95. A scampered single off Quinn took Sangakkara to a 247-ball 150 with 19 fours. The statistics just kept coming.
"We know the first hour here, regardless of the wicket, it always seems to do a little bit. That is what I’m told by the senior players, and so far it seems to be true. Full credit to Sanga, he batted fantastically well. 334 for seven makes it a 50-50 game going into Day Two."