Karun Nair posted his second half century in as many appearances but a burst of three wickets in 25 balls gave leaders Surrey the impetus after they had initially been made to work hard by Northamptonshire on a rain-affected first day at The Kia Oval.

The visitors – without a win at the Oval since 1994 – need a miracle to avoid relegation in the LV Insurance County Championship but they had grafted to 106 for two in tough, gloomy conditions before Surrey, who started the penultimate round of matches with an 18 point lead over Essex, took four wickets when play resumed after a two-hour rain delay.

At stumps Northamptonshire had reached 171 for six from 63.4 overs with Indian batter Karun Nair undefeated on 51. 

Openers Emilo Gay, who made 145 when these sides met at Northampton a year ago, and Hassan Azad did well to negotiate testing opening spells by Kemar Roach and Dan Worrall for the first 11 overs when they accumulated only 33 runs, after being put in. Light was never good throughout the day with high winds and regular sprinkles of rain make batting difficult.

Roach gave way to Jordan Clark and with his fourth ball Clark made the breakthrough when Gay gloved a rising delivery down the leg side to give Ben Foakes his 50th catch in this season’s Championship. At the same time Clark became Surrey’s leading wicket-taker on 47.

Jamie Overton, meanwhile, had bowled only 17 balls after replacing Worrall at the Vauxhall End before walking off the field, feeling his hip. The big fast bowler soon returned to the field, however, and although he caught Luke Procter at second slip off Tom Lawes for eight to reduce Northamptonshire to 51 for two he also badly dropped Karun on 11 off the returning Worrall. 

Left-hander Azad and Karun, who made 78 in a losing cause against Warwickshire on his Northamptonshire debut last week, both left the ball well in helpful conditions for Surrey’s seam attack.

Only six overs were possible immediately after lunch, with Northamptonshire adding ten runs to their interval total before rain arrived. A lengthy delay followed which included an early tea, and Azad had battled in all for 151 balls for his 48 when he gloved a pull down the leg side to Foakes.

Surrey struck again with the total on 132 in a repeat of Procter’s dismissal when Lawes picked up his second wicket to remove Rob Keogh. 

The leaders now got on top. Overton pitched one up and Saif Zaib was caught behind for two and shortly before bad light forced the players off Lawes produced a superb yorker which uprooted Lewis McManus’s off stump for his third wicket to secure a second bonus point. 

The light improved to allow another ten balls and there was time for Karun to reach an unbeaten half-century from 109 balls with nine fours. Much depends on him and Justin Broad tomorrow if Northamptonshire are to post a competitive total.