By Bruce Talbot

Mark Stoneman scored a chanceless unbeaten 181 to continue his impressive form for Surrey as they took the first-day honours against Essex in their Specsavers County Championship clash at Guildford.

The 29-year-old left-hander’s third century since he moved to the club from Durham last winter helped them reach 353 for five after they had been put in by Essex in the battle between two sides looking to put pressure on Division One leaders Hampshire.

Essex head coach, Chris Silverwood, gave credit to Stoneman, but paid tribute to his bowlers for their efforts on the opening day.

He said: “We stuck at it, that was the pleasing thing.

"We tried our hearts out right up until the last ball of the day.

“But credit where credit’s due, I thought Mark Stoneman played very well. Whatever we threw at him, he responded and it was a very good innings.

“I thought the ball did enough early on to justify bowling first. We found the edge a few times but when the ball gets past the infield it goes for four.

"Hopefully at some stage we can cash in ourselves when we bat."

Stoneman still has ambitions to play for England and is certainly the in-form opener in the country at the moment.

Former England captain Alastair Cook, who had the best view in the house at first slip, would have been impressed with the quality of Stoneman’s ball-striking, particularly square of the wicket and through the off side.

He did not offer a chance against an Essex attack depleted by the absence of seamer Matt Quinn for much of a rain-shortened day after he went off with back spasms.

Stoneman watched three partners depart at the other end before sharing a stand of 186 in 41 overs with Dominic Sibley, whose 69 was his third Championship half-century of the season, to alter the course of the day.

Jamie Porter had claimed two wickets with the new ball, including Kumar Sangakkara for just four, to help reduce Surrey to 89 for 3 after morning rain had delayed the start until 1.10pm.

Porter claimed his 150th first-class wicket when Rory Burns (14) swished outside off stump before picking up Sangakkara, who came into the game with 876 first-class runs already this season but aimed an expansive drive at Porter and fell for just four.

With Neil Wagner drawing Scott Borthwick (14) forward and finding the edge Essex would have been pleased with their early work.

But Stoneman was soon into his stride.

He collected leg-side sixes off Porter and off-spinner Simon Harmer, who bowled 17 overs either side of tea, and 15 boundaries in a 118-ball hundred which he reached shortly after tea.

His next 50 came off 55 deliveries and he passed his previous best for Surrey, 165 against Warwickshire in the opening game of the season, when he drove a ball from Ravi Bopara back past the bowler to the boundary.

Sibley was starting to plck up the pace, having reached 50 off 99 balls, when Essex captain Ryan ten Doeschate dragged Surrey back with two wickets in successive overs.

Sibley, who hit nine fours and two sixes, was caught behind off ten Doeschate’s sixth ball and in his next over he trapped former Essex team-mate Ben Foakes (4) leg before as Foakes played across the line.

But Sam Curran gave Stoneman excellent support and reached a 54-ball half-century with his tenth boundary in the last over of the day.

The pair have added 73 for the sixth wicket so far, Stoneman having so far faced 221 balls with 21 fours and two sixes.

Silverwood said Quinn's back problem would be monitiored ahead of the start of play on Saturday morning.

He added: “Matt Quinn had a bit of a back spasm and had to come off so we will have to be a bit careful with him and monitor him in the morning.”