The challenge is to get Sussex promoted after five seasons languishing in the second tier. There was money to play with but my acquisitions have plunged us into the red. Last time out we got destroyed by Durham. The scale of the challenge is becoming apparent.
After being, well, thrashed by Durham, we need to gear up for a trip to the Midlands. Stuart Meaker manages to trip over his clown feet and finds himself out for three matches.
I look around the squad. George Munsey comes in. I’ve spunked a bunch of cash on him, I need more spine in my batting lineup and the little Scotsman looks to fit the bill. He goes to 5 with Ben Brown dropping to 7.
George Garton feels my wrath for his eunuch-like display, and can sit in the stands while Mitchell Claydon and his 299 first class wickets sashays back into the team. Giving him the finger for all I care.
We lose the toss. We are given the ball, a pat on the arse and told to field. Time to shine Mitchey- time to shine.
It does not take that long to realise why dropping Garton is not a great idea – I really only have 4 front line spinners.
Worcs take us to 30-0 before I am forced to bring on Monty. Nothing thing says “tactical selection masterstroke” like your spinner turning his arm over at 11:34 on Day 1.
Shockingly, it works and Jake Libby is caught by Phillip Salt off the former international.
Claydon repays my faith by getting Tom Fell caught and bowled, and then David Wiese snaffles Hamish Rutherford. At lunch they are 125-3 and, I suspect, we are, again, behind the eight ball.
I am already becoming enraged with this team’s ability to bowl tightly and then offer up a rank full toss every over to release the pressure.
The second session goes much like the first. Worcestershire are patient, waiting for the inevitable bad ball, and grind us down.
By 14:25, our bowlers have put down at least 10 overs each. They are on 184-3 and we are looking at a long couple of days.
Out of nowhere, Wiese traps Riki Wessels for 73 and we rally, reducing them to 210-5.
In another tactical flash of genius, I bring on dibbly dobbler Ravi Bopara to see if his brand of right arm filth can get us a wicket. The former Essex finest does us proud, getting Simi Singh to snick on and Brown takes the catch. Out for 71, we now have them on the ropes for only 252-6
The fourth ball after tea, Ed Barnard chips one to mid off. We drop it. Which is… typical.
Claydon who, up till now has bowled like a drain, then mirrors his colleague and gets irritant Wayne Parnell for 21. It’s still not really enough. Barnard brings up Worcs’ 300 with a slapped away four off some Monty filth.
We take the new ball. It brings some false strokes but also four byes, as the ball nips off the surface at pace and races away to the boundary. My branded baseball cap brim is sandwiched between my teeth in irritation.
I am even less pleased when Joe Leach, a 29-year-old bowler, with an average of 25.47 who bats 9, scores 56 off 72. At least Claydon gets him eventually.
Although, considering he’s about to bring up a century of his own, old Mitchell might just be accused of somewhat buying his wickets. 398-8
We end day one with the score a startling 410-8. The home side has played some magnificent four-day cricket and we are in trouble.
I put the squad in an ice bath and leave the ground to go for a walk. I consider kicking any person who looks like they might be cricket fans as I pass. I also consider not allowing the team out of the ice bath and hoping they die.
Olly Robinson and Wiese take the ball for the opening. Half an hour into the new day, Wiese begins bowling like a whirling dervish. Eventually he removes Barnard lbw for 103 off 169. Mr Barnard, who claims to be a number 9 but is batting 7, and has an average of 28.40.
It is not lost on me that, at the moment, the buffet-like nature of our bowling is making some very average players look world class.
Worcestershire only lead by the small matter of 426 runs. Time for the newly reinforced batting line up to step up. Confident am I?
I am not.
It actually doesn’t start too badly. Salt and Luke Wells appear to have learnt from last time’s debacle and we gambol to 28-0.
As they get settled, I nudge their aggression up one notch. Salt goes mental. He slaps Barnard around like he’s chastising him. 4-0-x-4-0-4-0 is his over.
There are some false strokes, a run out appeal but no concerns really as we stroll towards lunch. Then Salt decides he’s more interested in squeezing a substantial nap in the afternoon and spoons a caught and bowled back to Patrick Brown for 44 last ball before lunch. I contemplate murder.
At lunch, I sit alone and chew furiously. Stiaan van Zyl, our 32-year-old South African is the next hope. We could probably do with him adding to his 27 first class hundreds here if we have any chance.
The session starts well. Wells notches his 50 from 88 balls with a well taken single and the big Saffa races to 16 from 20.
117-1. We’ve been worse.
Wells pulls one for a brutal boundary, then is trapped by 22-year old Josh Tongue for 56.
Van Zyl is playing well, but Travis Head is fishing outside off and is only saved by the umpire turning down a passionate appeal for caught behind.
Naturally, therefore, it’s van Zyl who goes next getting his cross batted defence wrong and caught off Singh’s non-turning filth for 47.
Time for Scotland’s saviour, Munsey, to repay my faith in him.
He does not. He strides across the line and gets the dead man’s finger with a pathetic lbw for 2. 182 for two has become 193 for 4.
At tea we are 200-4. Not dead yet but still 226 behind their first innings. But we still have Ravi and Head who, if not a great cricket partnership, do sound like they might have put out some half decent early 90s reggae.
Tongue bowls to Head (insert joke here) and the Aussie brings up his half century from 90 balls. I move his aggression up. He’s bowled next ball off Singh. Apparently, I am not a fast learner.
Just when I think Bopara and Brown will be the steadying influence we need, Ravi lets one through the gate and is bowled. His 23 is some way short of his average of 44. Too many of our players aren’t living up to their careers here.
Brown goes – predictably – to Brown lbw for 30. It was so plum you could have put it on a fucking cake.
With the light fading and conditions getting trickier, Worcs are into the tail still 150 runs ahead with us on 276-7. We are in trouble.
I pull Mitchell Claydon aside. Caution. Defense. Dead bat. These are the watchwords. He nods.
He does not appear to be for hearing my talk of conservative prudence. He nonchalantly slaps Brown for six off his first ball. It’s funny. Now. It almost certainly soon won’t be.
With 17 minutes left, the host side take the new ball. Oh goody.
The ball creates all sorts of issues for our wagging tail but they do survive to take us to close of play at 301-7. Only the small matter of 125 runs behind.
Not to worry – we’ve still got Monty waiting in the hutch.
We are in this game. Still. Just.
Wiese does have a first class double century to his name and even Claydon has hit four 50s across his career. It’s not hopeless. Honest.
Wiese, of course, immediately repays my faith by slapping one to second slip off Brown for 38 off 60. 330-8.
Claydon survives an lbw shout, which looked lucky, and then coughs up his wicket at the end of this maiden over caught by Brown off Tongue for 22. Which just sounds wrong.
Robinson is holding his end up and takes 5 off the over, which, sadly, brings Monty to the wicket. One ball, one shitty cross-batted whatever-the-hell-that-was and he’s caught and out.
And so are we. 347 all out to be exact. 79 runs behind at 11.36 on day 3.
The draw is still on – maybe – the win is already doing vocal exercises with the fat lady.
On the bright side, I tell the boys, this could be tricky for the home side. Do they bat long, pile up the runs and then rely on skittling us? Or do they dangle a chase-able target and hope we can’t bat time? (Frankly, on current form, I’d fancy a flutter on that myself).
I sling the new ball to Robinson and Claydon.
After eight overs they’re 27-0 and the lead is back over 100. So I bring on Wiese and Monty.
They start milking old Panesar like a fulsome cow and take him for 18 off 3 overs.
More of the same follows. Eventually, Claydon traps Libby for 51 as Worcs go to 99 for 1, 178 runs ahead.
Monty purchases a wicket and then Wiese drops a dolly off his own bowling. If you’re going to drop one, it might as well be to your own disadvantage I suppose.
I bring on Ravi. He, at least, has got the message and tries to play some chin music. He gets slotted for his troubles, but at least he’s trying.
First ball after tea Robinson gets Wessels and Worcs go from 3-187 to 5-187, which at least means I’m less inclined to make the team run back to Sussex as I leave on the coach without the little turds.
Ben Cox gets his 50 and, frankly, I might be in the changing room making inappropriate references to his name.
Monty who, lets be honest, has given us neither control nor really held an end up here, gets him next two balls later as Wiese takes another good catch and the Coxsman is gone for 54.
I switch Robinson’s length so that he’s really jamming it up them. Just because I’m a petty, petty man. Barnard is gone next ball flapping at a bouncer. Caught by Browny for 34.
Parnell comes in, hits a 4 and then I see he likes short, aggressive stuff. A Yorker and my lovely Robinson is now ready to make hay.
With 21 minutes left of the day, Worcs declare. We have a day to chase down 397. If we survive this session. I think – I *think* scoreboard pressure might tell.
I sling Robinson in as a nightwatchman because I’m a very cowardly man. I’m hoping his 4-66 in the second innings has inspired him.
It doesn’t inspire huge confidence in me when he survives a shout for caught behind, and then a not too bad lbw shout.
But he survives to the end of the day. 7-0. Only 391 more runs to go.
Salt appears to want to chase it down on his own as he begins by hitting 26 off 21 balls.
Robbo gets caught lb for 12 but I’ve no complaints as Wells strolls to the wicket. We’re 40-1 and, potentially, could bat all day. Of course he goes for duck after three balls.
I tell them to express themselves. I’m close to beyond caring.
But then …
Salt plays fabulously for 74 from 52 before being bowled by Leach. 123-3
Head and van Syl go berserk. Just … berserk.
The South African brings up his 100 with a 6 and then Head follows a couple of balls later for his own from 101 balls.
Before tea, they’ve reduced the deficit to only 77 and we are 321-3.
Worcs have spread the field and gone defensive. I’m almost feeling sorry for them. At tea, we are 391-3 and need 7 to win.
Van Syl goes for 136 but it still only takes us 4 minutes to score the necessary and, in a game where we deserved nothing for three days, we’ve raced away to win by 6 wickets.
The first thing I do is ensure is retract my threat to leave them all to walk back to the south. The second thing I do is sit at the front of the coach as we leave the Midlands, mouthing “Cricket. Bloody hell,” over and over while staring out the window with a thousand yard stare.
What a game!