Kumar Sangakkara fell 16 runs short of a record sixth consecutive Championship century when he patted the ball anticlimactically back to Essex’s part-time spinner Tom Westley.
The scene had been set for the Sri Lankan to equal not only the Championship best, but clock up his onehundredth hundred across all forms of the game.
The crowd at Chelmsford were stunned into silence as the master batsman started the long trudge back to the pavilion before bursting into a heartfelt and sympathetic round of applause. He now has 876 runs in red-ball cricket this season at an average of just over 109.5.
Surrey stand-in captain Rory Burns said: “We are disappointed he didn’t get six, but everyone else is more disappointed. He’s not the sort of man who plays for those accolades. Two wonderful innings again. It was almost Don Sangakkara. The way he played was magnificent, and got us into the game.
“There have been a few great players [I have played with], but Sanga is probably the best. I don’t think I can do him justice with words. He doesn’t need a grubby left-hander who bats at the top [to heap praise on him]. He’s a bit purer than I am. It’s magnificent what he’s done in the game, and how he carries himself.
There had been a doubt at one stage whether Sangakkara would even get the chance to the challenge the record. He was stranded on 79 not out when the umpires took the players off for bad light. They did not return for 75 minutes with light meters having been checked regularly.
When the captains shook hands at 4.51pm, Surrey were 246 runs ahead in their second innings with one wicket still to fall.
The draw maintained Essex’s one-point advantage over Surrey at the top of the Specsavers County Championship. The two teams meet again at Guildford at the end of next week in what could be one of the season’s pivotal matches.
It looked at one point as if Jamie Porter was going to set up Essex’s third win of the season when he claimed five wickets in 27 balls to post his first nine-wicket match haul. He finished with five for 71 in the second innings.
Porter is in a rich vein of form: he posted best List A figures (four for 40) two weeks ago, career-best first-class figures (five for 24) against Hampshire last week and now best match figures (nine for 160). But while Porter was particularly destructive, Harmer had been the epitome of tight bowling, at least before Sangakkara’s entrance. He had just dismissed Rory Burns for 50, caught and bowled low down to his right, and had figures of one for 11 from 10 overs before Sangakkara took a liking to his off-spin.
Essex’s Jamie Porter said: “I feel like I’ve bowled pretty much the same as I have all season, I just didn’t get the same rewards in the first three games. But in the last two games it has clicked and all gone my way."
"It was one of those spells where wickets weren’t really in my mind, I was just thinking, ‘Run in, hit a good length and make them play as many balls as possible, then who knows what will happen’. Obviously I got a couple and my tail was up and I thought, ‘We’re in here!"
Harmer’s second ball to the Sri Lankan was swept for four, and was followed by two sumptuous cuts for four and three more in the next two overs. Sangakkara, when 25, survived a serious lbw appeal by Harmer to the final ball he faced before lunch. Umpire Jeremy Lloyds’s finger stayed resolutely by his side.
Burns and Scott Borthwick pieced together a second-wicket partnership of 63 in 26 overs with the stand-in Surrey captain reaching his half-century from 107 balls with a quick single into the on-side. But Borthwick’s departure in the stroke of lunch precipitated the clatter of wickets, all to Porter. A tickle down leg-side accounted for Borthwick, and first ball after the break Dom Sibley prodded forward and provided Foster with a tumbling catch to his right. So, 151 for two had suddenly become 151 for four.
It was 159 for five in Porter’s next over when Ben Foakes failed to check his drive and chipped a tame catch to Ravi Bopara at midwicket. Two runs later and Sam Curran was on his way, lbw to Porter’s slower ball. At that stage Porter had four wickets at a personal cost of three runs.
His fifth wicket wasn’t long in coming, either, as Tom Curran was taken one-handed, diving low to his right by Foster. But, as he did in the first innings with 49 at No10, Stuart Meaker came in and built a key partnership with Sangakkara that stopped Essex’s momentum in its tracks.
When Porter was replaced at the Hayes Close End by Neil Wagner, he had taken five for 71 from 18 overs. Wagner replaced Porter at the Hayes Close End, but was nowhere near as accurate and went for three successive boundaries to Sangakarra, who reached a 72-ball half-century in the process.
Sangakkara resumed his onslaught against Harmer deep into the afternoon, hitting the spinner for two scorching drives through the off-side to move effortlessly into the seventies. But when Meaker ducked into a short-pitch delivery from Wagner that thudded into his jaw, the umpires decided the light was too bad to continue. When they returned, Wagner completed the over judiciously off a 10-yard run-up. However, even then he bowled one ball into the bowlers’ footmarks and it ballooned over Foster’s head to the boundary.
Meaker went to the ninth ball after the resumption, bowled around his legs by Harmer for 24. Two wickets were left, Sangakkara was on 80 and Essex had Westley on at the other end. But it was Westley who ended the fairytale.