A masterful Marcus Trescothick double-hundred and a belligerent century for Peter Trego gave cricket fans something to cheer about on the fourth and final day of this drawn LV County Championship fixture between Sussex and Somerset.
Otherwise, it was a day reserved for technocrats and conspiracists as the impact of bonus points accrued here and events at Southampton on both sides’ continued presence in Division One came into focus.
The day began with news filtering through of a contrived run chase in front of the Sky cameras at the Aegeas Bowl, with the previously unconsidered possibility of a Hampshire win against Yorkshire raising fears amongst home and away fans at Hove that both their sides would now be under even more pressure to win their final matches.
A fair few feathers ruffled, the ethics of such an arrangement were called into question and theories of varying degrees of credibility as to how and why it had came about circulated the ground.
On the pitch, play got underway under blue skies and with Somerset resuming on 114/2.
With a draw almost inevitable thanks to the time lost to rain earlier in the match, interest in proceedings hinged on a battle between bat and ball as both sides looked to take – and deny the opposition – as many bonus points as possible ahead of the final part of the Division One relegation fight next week.
Chris Jordan and Steve Magoffin kept things tight for Sussex early on as the Somerset batting pair of Trescothick and James Hildreth – resuming on overnight scores of 53 and 16 respectively – were forced to be watchful.
Barring a few play and misses, however, a featherbed of a wicket meant that chances were few and far between.
The closest Sussex came to a wicket in the morning session was a quarter chance offered by Hildreth when on 35 he failed to fully get on top of a rising Magoffin delivery, sending the ball flying past Chris Nash’s right at third slip. In reality, the ball was past Nash before he’d really had a chance to react, racing away to the third-man boundary for four.
Hildreth never looked totally fluent, but by picking up ones and two and the occasional boundary he reached fifty off 110 balls in the 24th over of the day.
By contrast, Trescothick was in imperious form. He played some crunching pulls and drives as he added flavour to those open-faced deflections to third man that make up his bread and butter.
It was with the sweetest of timing that he drove Lewis Hatchett to the cover boundary – taking the most neonatal of baby steps forward in the process – to bring up his hundred and with it Somerset’s first bonus point of their innings.
Reaching lunch on 239/2 with runs flowing unimpeded, Somerset’s march to maximum batting bonus points seemed inevitable.
A pacy spell from Jordan immediately after the resumption of play brought the England-man two wickets in consecutive overs and briefly lifted Sussex hopes of meaningfully increasing their own points haul.
The dismissal of Hildreth for 68 – ending a partnership of 174 – when he feathered a legside delivery into the gloves of a diving Ben Brown brought Sussex their first bowling bonus point of the match, and when Jim Allenby went for a third ball duck thrusting outside his off stump and nicking the ball to Nash at wide second slip, Somerset at 262-4 may have feared leaving the south coast with bounty unclaimed.
Somerset anxiety levels would have crept higher still when Peter Trego survived two impassioned LBW shouts off as he attempted to sweep the left-arm spin of Ashar Zaidi soon after arriving at the crease.
Ultimately, however, Trego and Trescothick – sounding like a firm of Cornish undertakers – laid to rest Sussex’s hopes of two further points and made sure the visitors reached the magic number of 400 without further losses.
The pair put on 176 chanceless runs together at nearly five an over during their 36.5 overs together as they batted through the remainder of the afternoon and into the evening session.
They were aided by some curious bowling choices, the part-time spin of Nash and Luke Wells surprisingly dominant for a side still technically in the hunt for points.
Perhaps Sussex captain, Ed Joyce, was resigned to the inevitable on such a flat-wicket and with two batsmen looking so untroubled, preferring to preserve his front-line bowlers for Sussex’s trip to Headingley next week.
Somerset’s 400 and fifth bonus point arrived seven overs after tea. Thereafter, there only remained the business of Trescothick’s sixth first-class double century and Trego’s fourteenth hundred to complete before the captains shook hands just before 4:20.
The second half of Trescothick’s innings was very similar to the first, forceful but always controlled. He ended on 210 not out, with 26 fours and one six to his name.
Trego hit the ball equally crisply, cutting with great power and lofting the ball straight for a a couple of sixes as he approached his personal landmark. This was reached in 128 balls, the last of which was the also the last of the match, as well as the last of Mike Yardy’s career at Hove, with the Sussex great receiving his third standing ovation of the match as he left this field for the final time.
The failure of Hampshire’s gamble to pay off put an end to any nascent controversy surrounding events at Southampton, and in all likelihood their hopes of remaining in the top flight next year.
Sussex and Somerset enter the final round of Championship matches 16 and 18 points ahead of Hampshire, having taken eleven and thirteen points respectively from this fixture.
With Worcestershire’s relegation confirmed after their loss to Durham, both sides will now feel reasonably confident of sixteen matches in the First Division next year.