The challenge is to get Sussex promoted after five seasons languishing in the second tier. There’s money to play with – or there was until I smashed it on retired Sri Lankan Sanath Jayasuriya, who comes on board as our reserve overseas pro, out-in-the-cold former international Monty Panesar, on a one-year deal and, Scotland batsman George Munsey. The acquisitions have plunged me into the red.
First up are the layabout students of Oxford University and I really need to set a marker for my regime here.
Famously, Evelyn Waugh said in Brideshead Revisited that, “Oxford, in those days, was still a city of aquatint. In her spacious and quiet streets men walked and spoke as they had done in Newman’s day; her autumnal mists, her grey springtime, and the rare glory of her summer days… which gave our laughter its resonance, and carried it still, joyously, over the intervening clamour.”
But we’ve dragged them to Hove, so the best they can hope for is to be dive-bombed by seagulls while eating congealing fish and chips on the seafront. They could have had a pint in the majestic Sussex Cricketer’s pub, which stood at the gates to the ground in bucolic heaven. But some spanner has demolished it to build 37 flats, in a move I would definitely have nixed if this was the real world.
Losing the toss, the layabouts decide to bat. They start well, openers Alex Fortune and Phillip Christie getting decent scores of 38 from 85 and 30 from 52 respectively.
However, our professional pride kicks in and David Wiese leads the charge with 4 wickets for 34, ably supported by the other bowlers, including new recruit Ravi Bopara, who all take one each as the students lose wickets in clusters. They’re all out for 132.
After a luscious lunch, our own Philip – Salt this one – and Luke Wells go after the youngsters. Wells at two, hits hard and takes Oxford for 95 off 100 balls before getting caught by Jack Bond off the bowling of Carl March, a 17 year old number three batsman who concedes 49 runs from his six overs.
Our own number three, South African Stiaan van Zyl, supports the still blazing Salt (140* at close of play off 120 deliveries) and we declare on 279 for 1 off 50 overs, and invite the students to bat again at the start of Day Two.
In the second innings, Oxford again start well amassing 53-0. Fortune is then trapped lbw by the still fiery Wiese for 33 and he then takes March for a duck, to record a double wicket maiden.
A maiden from 23-year-old George Garton is followed by Wiese taking his third wicket, which is not too shabby. His figures currently read 3 for 6 off 3.
Garton then has Roy Nicolson, another 17-year-old, caught for a duck as the students wobble again at 60 for 4.
Part timer off spinner Travis Head is brought on to turn his arm over. Although I think this may not be tactical greatness, as he is milked for 8 runs, he lures the superbly named Robin Rafferty into a false stroke and gets a wicket.
Head is the sort of bowler around whom things happen – in this case getting smacked for 19 off 2. How and why this Australian international has bowled 775 overs in First Class cricket (21 in Test matches for God’s sake) – for the small matter of 3007 runs conceded – is beyond me.
After lunch on Day Two and still leading by 32, Wiese comes back on and fires one into Bond’s pads half way up middle stump. The handy youngster goes for 25 off 47 and we’re into the tail proper.
But we fail to turn the screw. Gaston has two decent LBW shouts turned down and Oxford go into the lead as the clock strikes 14:30. We will have to bat again which is, frankly, a touch impolite.
Finally, Ravi pops up and traps their number 10 Horace Wheatley for 5. At 21, the surely state educated Horace actually averages more in First Class cricket than their number three, and Oxford might want to look at that for the future.
Anyway, OMCCU are all out for 152, a lead of five.
Grumbling thus ensues from both Wells and Salt as they strap on their pads for 6 runs. Salt opens with a savage boundary and single, but can’t squeeze the last run. Wells makes no mistake and the pair finishes 5 and 4 not out respectively.
What have we learned?
What have we learned from this adventure? Not a lot. We’ve learned that our top order can destroy the bowling of some half decent teenagers. We have learned that international cricketers mainly in their thirties can rip through a, possibly still hung-over, university side and we have learned that Oxford University’s cricket have some fantastically named youngsters in their side.
Aside from that? I think it is fair to say that there may well be tougher challenges ahead.