TOM Curran’s dramatic comeback hundred could not force victory for Surrey – but it left them with a narrow advantage in the fight for the LV County Championship title.

The 27-year-old all-rounder cracked 115, his maiden first-class century, against Northamptonshire yet a stalemate thwarted his side’s hopes of taking what might have been a decisive lead with just two rounds left.

Instead it sent Surrey into this week’s clash with Yorkshire at the Kia Oval, which is due to finish to Friday, with a comparatively slim advantage of eight points. They head to Manchester on Monday to play Lancashire at Emirates Old Trafford and will be keeping a keen eye on the fortunes of title rivals Hampshire’s fortunes against relegation-threatened pair Kent and Warwickshire.

It was Curran’s first four-day outing since April 2019, since when a combination of international calls, pandemic bubbles and injuries – most notably a stress fracture to the back, suffered last winter – have meant his only outings for Surrey have been playing T20 cricket.

But with his county weakened by England call-ups, including younger brother Sam, Curran returned to the first-class arena in spectacular style with the bat on a Northampton ground where his father Kevin enjoyed many happy times.

Playing their first Championship match for six weeks, Surrey’s hopes of a heavy victory to match their crushing win when the sides first met in May were quelled on the first day, Northants reaching 249-4 thanks to opener Emilio Gay’s elegant 145. Wrapping up the innings for 339, despite Rob Keogh’s 123, owed much to West Indian speedster Kemar Roach’s 5-90 from 20 overs.

Surrey’s reply was in difficulty at 80-4 but Hashim Amla’s commanding 133 – his 57th first-class century – led the recovery alongside Cameron Steel (48) and Jordan Clark (30). At 244-6 there was no guarantee of a first innings lead but Curran’s 115 – entering early on the third day and completing his century before lunch – played the major role in their stand of 144 in just 27 overs.

It pushed the visitors into a lead of 82 and Curran admitted: “It’s no secret that this place means a lot to me – it’s definitely special to get my first century here.”

But Surrey’s hopes of pushing on to victory, against a side beaten by Hampshire a week earlier, foundered against the staunch efforts of Ricardo Vasconcelos (79) and Saif Zaib (124). They added 127 for the sixth wicket to take advantage of a pitch which had always been batsman-friendly and became less receptive to bowlers as the match went on. There were three wickets apiece for Dan Worrall and leg-spinner Steel, Curran unable to strike in either innings as he delivered 22 economical ovvers, but by the time Northants were finally dismissed for 426, the match was dead. Surrey batted out the remaining time to finish at 48-1.

They took 16 points from the match and Rory Burns’s side will hope that their inability to claim an eighth victory from 12 matches – Hampshire have won nine but lost twice – does not cost them too dearly.