There was a sombre start to the season at The Oval as Surrey and Sussex held a two-minute silence for Ben Hollioake and Umer Rashid.

In the past two months both counties have lost an all-round talent apparently on the verge of greater things, Surrey and England's Hollioake killed in a car crash in Australia and Rashid drowned during Sussex's pre-season trip to Grenada.

Each side had much to prove on the pitch as the Frizzell County Championship got under way. The hosts are out to show they are capable of regaining their title this season and the Division Two champions need to make it plain they are ready to make their presence felt in the top flight.

Yet those considerations were at the back of the mind as players and officials took to the field shortly before the scheduled start of play.

A simple tribute in the Surrey scorecard referred to "two young men so cruelly taken from us in the prime of their lives" - and at 10.52am their colleagues gathered to remember them.

The players wore black armbands as they lined up on the outfield.

The teams were joined by precious few onlookers at a sparsely populated Oval which betrayed no signs that anything out of the ordinary was taking place but which was hushed, probably like never before.

The day had dawned with an appropriate shroud of mist and low cloud in central London, but as start of play neared the skies brightened.

The first to get their chance would be Sussex's new-ball attack and Surrey's captain Mark Butcher and his opening partner Ian Ward, after the hosts won the toss and chose to bat.

It was Sussex - and in particular James Kirtley - who took the early initiative with two wickets as Surrey reached 57 for two after an hour's play.

Openers Mark Butcher and Ian Ward departed to apologetic shots which appeared for all the world to be the work of distracted batsmen.

Kirtley was not complaining, though. The Sussex pace bowler needed - perhaps more than anyone else on the field - a good start to the season as he continues his rehabilitation after his action was called into question last autumn, remodelled during the winter and seriously tested for the first time today.

Butcher and Ward settled to put on 26 without loss, the former numbering a cover-driven four among two boundaries in one Jason Lewry over.

Ward went lbw to a ball which kept a little low and swung back in to the left-hander.

A similar delivery, a little further up, did for Butcher in Kirtley's next over.

But Stewart (55no) and Ramprakash (48no) righted the ship expertly in an unbroken stand of 101 on the way to a lunchtime score of 134 for two.

The pitch looked good for batting, but cloudy conditions ensured swing was the favoured option for the pace bowlers.