Clark’s three for 45 spearheaded an impressive collective display by Surrey’s five-pronged seam attack as Northants slid to 154 for eight, and the prospect of following on, after Gus Atkinson and Jamie Overton’s 124-run ninth wicket stand had boosted the home team’s first innings total to 401.
Atkinson’s career-best 66 not out and Overton’s equally robust 59, with both knocks chock-full of quality strokes, rapidly took the game away from Northants after they had begun the second day promisingly with two quick wickets when Surrey resumed on 261 for six.
It was a display that head coach John Sadler believes has come about as a result of ‘cumulative fatigue’ among his bowlers.
Northants came into this game off the back of more than two days in the field in the draw at Essex, bowling 225 overs straight, and after winning the toss and bowling at the Kia Oval, it meant they bowled another 96 on day one against Surrey.
“That hour when Atkinson and Overton built their stand really changed the game,” said Sadler.
"I think the cumulative fatigue from the last month did kick in.
“We took two early wickets this morning and we were so close to bowling them out for 300 but that’s first division cricket.
"Surrey have shown why they are up at the top of the table but Luke Procter (who is 61 not out) has batted brilliantly for us again.”
The day had started pretty well for the County, but things soon went awry.
Sam Curran added only two runs to his overnight 71 before he nibbled at Tom Taylor, operating from around the wicket, and was held at first slip by Ricardo Vasconcelos – the Northants captain happily better again after spending most of day one off the field feeling ill.
And then Clark edged a Ben Sanderson leg-cutter to keeper Lewis McManus to go for two, leaving Surrey 271 for eight.
That, however, was as good as it got for Northamptonshire as Atkinson and Overton counter-attacked brilliantly in what became a record ninth wicket partnership for Surrey against the County.
Overton, on 24, should have been stumped by McManus when he advanced at Simon Kerrigan’s left-arm spin and missed – the ball flying away for four byes – and Northants’ sense of deflation grew when Overton proceeded to swing Kerrigan for three big sixes over the short boundary as he sprinted to his half-century.
Atkinson, too, soon completed his own excellent maiden first-class fifty, hitting 12 fours overall in a 98-ball effort which underlined his all-rounder claims.
A couple of back foot shots through the covers were high class and the 24-year-old also showed how well he can drive and pull.
Overton’s powerful innings ended, unexpectedly, with an edged forward defensive push at Rob Keogh’s off spin and No 11 Dan Worrall, after clubbing his first ball over extra cover for six, was then caught from the next as Surrey’s innings ended on the stroke of lunch.
Worrall, the Australian paceman signed in the winter after four seasons at Gloucestershire, then produced a magnificent eight-over new ball burst in which he was decidedly unfortunate only to take the scalp of the out-of-sorts Vasconcelos, dropped to three in the order, who edged behind on 14.
But by then Clark had already sent back both openers, jagging one into Will Young’s pads to have the New Zealand Test batsman leg-before for two and then seeing Emilio Gay clip straight to Curran at square leg on 12.
Vasconcelos’s dismissal left Northants staggering at 28 for three and by tea they were 87 for five after Colin de Grandhomme had Keogh caught behind for 16, poking weakly at one that left him, and Jamie Overton’s pace accounted for Saif Zaib, also edging to keeper Ben Foakes on two.
Luke Procter was the one top-order player to find a way to survive against the Surrey seamers, although he too would have gone on 29 if De Grandhomme had clung on to a relatively straightforward chance at second slip off Atkinson’s fast-medium.
McManus tamely chipped Clark to extra cover on 23 and Procter, after reaching a 120-ball fifty with seven fours, battled gamely to finish the day on a brave unbeaten 61.
De Grandhomme returned to have Taylor taken low down at second slip for two, edging an away-swinger, while Matt Kelly stayed awhile for 17 until he edged Worrall to Foakes from what proved to be the final ball of the day.