Rory Burns stakes England claim with impressive half-century in challenging conditions

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Rory Burns of Surrey plays a shot during Day Two of the LV= Insurance County Championship match between Somerset and Surrey at The Cooper Associates County Ground on May 14, 2021 in Taunton, England. - GETTY IMAGES
Rory Burns of Surrey plays a shot during Day Two of the LV= Insurance County Championship match between Somerset and Surrey at The Cooper Associates County Ground on May 14, 2021 in Taunton, England. - GETTY IMAGES

It was a strong case for reinstatement. Rory Burns made no more than 55, but it was the way he scored them - sturdily, in very demanding conditions, and rhythmically, like an international opening batsman - which suggested he is ready to resume as England’s number one.

Burns was dropped after only four Test innings in India, in one of which he copped an unplayable first-baller from Ravi Ashwin. Burns was unlucky in his dismissal here too: a standard defensive shot hit the ball down into his crease, whereupon it bounced up and brushed the off bail.

Difficult conditions brought out the best in Burns. A verdant pitch, sent in by Somerset, floodlights on soon after the 2pm start, as much playing and missing as playing and hitting in the first half-hour: Burns, in short, fancied the scrap.

Burns is a pragmatist whereas his opening partner and the former England opener Mark Stoneman is a perfectionist. Unruffled by playing and missing early on, Burns put Surrey in charge by driving the change-bowlers Marchant de Lange and Tom Abell so they only had four overs each, in addition to putting away everything on his legs.

Without Craig Overton to lead their attack, Somerset were not the force they have otherwise been in this year’s championship, missing his speed, movement and accuracy. Overton, while taking his 32 wickets this season, has conceded just over two runs an over. Even though the ball was jagging around, and Josh Davey was tight, Surrey whizzed along at more than three.

Tom Banton, who has played 15 white-ball games for England, kept wicket for the first time in a championship match, while Steve Davies had a minor operation. A keeper who is taller than his neighbouring slips always looks odd but Somerset have had another tall one in Rob Turner, whose height did not stop him being one of the best in England.

Banton had a skyer to catch, and did so safely enough, when Ollie Pope went to pull a ball not quite short enough. Frenetic by the end in India, Pope is still being eager, very eager, this season: his 516 runs have come off 673 balls, by far the fastest rate among leading run-scorers.

The floodlights which had to be turned on in the first hour stayed on until the close. Electricity would be saved if the ball was the colour it is traditionally supposed to be: red. Nothing in the laws specifies the colour of a cricket ball, but umpires and captains have to agree before the game on the balls being used, and unanimity might be lacking if the home team produces balls that are purple or green.

Like so many modern balls, the one in this game is nearer nut-brown than red. Bowlers habitually choose the darkest ball they can get, in the belief that it will swing more. Thus they become darker and darker, when a red dye - proper red, like a bus or pillar-box - would be more visible, to the benefit of all.