With the game developing almost as quickly as the clouds swept past overhead, Sussex and Somerset extended the gap between themselves and the Division One relegation spots on day one of their LV= County Championship clash at Hove.
Despite the loss of 18 overs due to rain, time was called with Sussex on 303-6, meaning they had added two points, and Somerset one point, to the eleven point lead both sides had enjoyed over eighth placed Hampshire at the beginning of the match. Hampshire had only managed a single batting bonus point in the opening day of their fixture against Yorkshire.
An enterprising seventh wicket partnership of 132 runs between Mike Yardy and Ashar Zaidi rescued Sussex from a precarious 171/6 after some loose shots and good catching saw wickets fall regularly earlier in the day. Only Ed Joyce had provided resistance for the home side.
It was something of surprise when Sussex chose to bat under leaden skies and in winds strong enough for the Met Office to issue a warning for the area. Aware that Somerset’s bowlers had only had a solitary day’s rest, after the best part of two days toil in the field during their previous match, perhaps Sussex captain Joyce felt potentially vital batting bonus points would come more easily than usual.
Sussex certainly looked to be positive early on, with runs coming at a reasonable rate, and any loose deliveries pounced upon by openers Joyce and Luke Wells. The latter looked particularly strong off the back foot, cutting, pulling and then driving Jamie Overton for four, with the Somerset opener too short with the new ball from the Cromwell Road End.
The introduction of Tim Groenewald into the attack in the eighth over brought Somerset an early breakthrough, however, as he found Wells’s outside edge and Marcus Trescothick grabbed a simple chance at second slip.
Next man in, Matt Machan, looked in sublime form as he raced to 21 off 20 balls, including two sumptuous straight drives, one off Groenewald and one off Jamie Overton, who had returned at the Sea End, replacing his twin brother Craig.
Machan’s positivity was ultimately his downfall, as he attempted to drive a good-length delivery from Jamie Overton through the covers only to spoon the ball to Craig Overton at cover. It was a particularly injudicious shot three overs before lunch and left Chris Nash with a tricky few balls to face as he and Joyce managed guided Sussex to 72-2 at the interval.
Peter Trego had Nash caught at second slip, again by Trescothick, for eleven in the fifth over after lunch and with the score on 88. Trego had been certain he’d had the Sussex number four caught earlier in the over, and his celebration when he did finally get his man made clear his opinion of the umpire’s “not out” decision to his first appeal.
Having made his way to 36 before the break with a mixture of solid defence and low-risk stroke making when the opportunity arose, Joyce built upon a solid foundation after lunch. He reached his third fifty of a difficult campaign off 87 balls in the 29th over, cutting a Groenewald long-hop for four.
Joyce continued to lose partners, with Luke Wright departing for 20 in the second over after another short rain delay, when Trescothick took his third slip catch this time off the medium-pace of Jim Allenby. The Irishman himself looked unruffled, as he made untroubled progress into the eighties. A second Championship century of the season looked there for the taking.
A hostile spell from Jamie Overton halted Joyce’s progress, however, and he was strangled down the legside for 83 off 143 balls with the last ball before tea, giving the bowler his second wicket and leaving Sussex in trouble at 162-5.
Things got worse for the home side early in the evening session, when Ben Brown guided a full-toss from slow left-armer Jack Leach to Craig Overton at cover via a leading edge. In the week of the announcement of the England Lions squad for their winter tour, this will not have been the performance that the in-form Sussex keeper wanted to put in. His Championship record this season prior to today, 950 runs at an average of 47.5, should be enough to book his place on the plane regardless.
Thereafter, it was down to Yardy and Zaidi to steady the listing Sussex ship. They went about their task in contrasting styles. Yardy in his final match at Hove was watchful but not afraid to sweep Leach, or to punish any width from the seamers with his trademark cut shot. Zaidi, by contrast, was aggressive from the start. Using his feet to the spinner, pulling, driving, clipping or just slashing the seamers, he raced to a half-century that included ten fours in 56 balls.
Yardy’s own fifty came in a more sedate, but by no means pedestrian, 77 balls. He brought up his personal landmark at the same time as his side’s second bonus point for reaching 250 – an apt coincidence given the former club captain’s selfless contributions for Sussex over the years.
With personal landmarks reached, Yardy battened down the hatches, whilst Zaidi continued to throw caution to the wind. The latter had raced to 90 by the close, a huge six over long-on off Allenby helping him on his way, and will be looking to complete his second century of the season tomorrow morning.
Yardy, unassuming as ever, was happy to leave the fireworks to his partner and reached the close unbeaten on 60. What a thing it would be if he could reach a 23rd first-class hundred in his final home game as a Sussex player tomorrow.