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 took the students of Oxford to the cleaners, but sterner tests await.
It is fair to say Durham should be a tougher test than the gentle efforts of those who have just left school.
Winning the toss, we choose to bat.
We start well, but Philip Salt goes after he chases one outside off stump and is pouched by home improvement fan Cameron Bancroft at second slip for 9 off the bowling of galloping crazy horse, Mark Wood.
I’ve been more impressed. I decide we will not die wondering. Upping the aggression does not help us, as first Luke Wells goes for 10 and then Stiaan van Zyl who was playing well, gets bowled by 33 year old Chris Rushworth for 21 off 46 balls.
My less than impressed face is now heading distinctly in the double teapot direction.
I send in Travis Head and Ravi Bopara to the wicket together. We really need the international pair to get us out of the soup at 44-3.
Surprisingly, they do. Head plays with unusual caution and, at lunch, we are stabilised a little at 87-3.
Not suggesting that the team helped themselves to a big lunch or anything but, almost immediately, Head lets his countryman Bancroft snaffle him and we are back in trouble.
Wicket keeper Ben Brown comes in and manages to flop back a tame caught and bowled for 11, before David Wiese – who I am beginning to suspect will play the role of put upon work horse in this team – scores a responsible 18 from 42 while Ravi steadies the ship with a half century.
Olly Robinson comes in and I tell him to be defensive. Second ball he hits a 4, then snatches a single. As Ravi returns the favour of the quick single, he allows Ben Raine to bowl him. The sound of me twatting a bin filled with energy drinks drifts towards the coast.
Bopara does what I ask of him and cranks up the aggression. His 78 off 128 balls is – by a long stretch – the best performance of the innings and a caught and bowled to Wood is fair enough.
Monty effing Panasar – as I fear he may well end up being known – on the other hand, lasts two balls before Wood has his second wicket of an ongoing maiden. 193-9
I head towards the pavilion. Firstly yes, to beat the players to tea but also to get to the bar as Stuart Meaker (lovely man, honest pro – no one’s ideal flashin blade saviour) trundles out to bat.
George Garton does well to frustrate Durham after tea and scores a helpful 10 from 52 balls, before spooning one to Alex Lees off Matt Salisbury. Meaker protects the average with a tasty 0*.
We are all out for 199 and I am more devastated than ever that they have knocked down the pub at the end of the ground.
We are tidy but unthreatening. Bancroft and Lees look untroubled and still manage to labour to 77-0.
Close of Play
Day two is cloudy. With any luck it will boom round corners.
There are some soft lbw appeals. There are a few plays and misses.
But, generally, there are no highlights. My coaching points bound leather notebook lies dormant on my lap, as we are demoralised by tiny cut after tiny cut.
Lees is first to his half century – 52 from 110 – then his mate Bancroft gets to 51 from 109.
At 108-0 we are in trouble. It may only be the weather that can save us now.
Monty finally gets a breakthrough luring Bancroft into a false stroke, and having him caught by Salt at short leg for 59.
With 30 minutes left in the morning session, I discreetly slip the hip flask away.
Meaker, with the sort of theatre that really cheers me up, pisses all over Lees’ chips by trapping him lbw for 99 just five minutes short of lunch.
Rumours of slightly slurred ungentlemanly celebrations emanating from the dressing room are never proved.
180-2 at lunch. The forecast rain is not coming yet. “Rain you mother!” I scream from the balcony.
I toy with taking Meaker off – his 5 overs have come at under 3 runs – but I decide to ask for one more. He rewards me by bowling Simpsons’ character soundalike Ned Eckersley for 12. At the end of the over, I applaud him down to third man and get a sub fielder on so he can have a rub down.
We induce a mini-collapse, Meaker and Monty reducing them from 193-3 to 227-7, which in turn induces a dance from the coach which might be a celebration or might be a rain dance. Who knows?
Of course, we take the new ball and they immediately rocket to 257, and at 281-7 Crazy Horse Wood is playing like Brian bloody Lara. We reach tea, our bowlers labouring.
Then it comes. At 16:00, rain stops play. Rain, blessed English county rain. Get some of that up ya. The rain clears after an hour and a half.
Garton welcomes them back to the field by trapping Wood in front. Good. Giddy off. You were becoming an irritant with your 33.
From the balcony cries of “Go on! Trot off!” are heard. Allegedly.
It only takes a couple of overs before Durham are all out for 321.Their lead of 122 is going to be a big task, and our openers are left with a tricky 8 overs to navigate before the close of play.
You know this already, don’t you? They do not do so. Of course they don’t. Salt hits 8 off 12 before lashing one to first slip in the sort of batting display that has me screaming into a kit bag. My, those are some pretty big shots for a 23 year old who might be about to find out what unemployment feels like. 36-1.
Close of Play
Day 3 opens to rain. More blessed Brighton and Hove, municipal, sea front-lashing rain. We sit in the changing rooms, playing cards, reading the papers.
After lunch, I am betrayed by the fickle English weather and we are quickly in the proverbial up to our necks.
Head comes and goes for quacker, van Zyl hangs around for 19 from 48 but at 72-4 – and still 50 runs behind their first innings – I’m back doing rain dances. And toying with more drinking on the job.
It is then that Bopara decides to go full Ravi.
Just as he begins to look settled, he survives an lbw appeal out of nowhere, and then about turns and spoons one over the top only to be caught by tubster funster Salisbury off Wood for 16.
Wiese – a player rapidly entering the teacher’s pet phase of my management- guides Brown along and at tea, they are both on 25, from 34 and 42 respectively.
This pair have pushed us into the lead (admittedly of one) as the rain comes down again. There’s a glimmer of hope. Admittedly, the glimmer is of rain lashing off awnings but I’ll take what I can get after this display.
When play resumes, both men get their half centuries and we up the aggression as we head towards close of play.
Wiese – who admittedly has survived being dropped off a caught and bowled, twice – finally goes for 66 off 86, which may be the knock needed to see us to a draw. I’m not an emotional man but I consider kissing the handy all-rounder. I settle or a handshake.
As day 3 draws to a close, we lead by 78. Robinson (he of the kamikaze batting from the first innings) is still there with Brown, not out on 54 over night.
Close of Play:
Wood, of course, clean rips his middle stump out second ball of day 4. There goes the draw. 200-7
Garton and Brown go well together but, when Garton falls for 14, the lead of 133 looks very chaseable for our northerner visitors.
Brown, in what looks like a career saving hit, scores 103 from 125 and the lead of 163 is secured. He falls lbw to Raine straight afterward but no one can do anything but applaud. If we get out of this game with anything, it’ll be down to the keeper – and Wiese’s heroics.
The Monty and Meaker double act doesn’t last long – Monty’s Chinese cut 4 not withstanding- and Meaker is bowled by Raine for 0. 290 all out, Durham need 169 to win.
It does not go well under cloudless skies. That bellend Bancroft and Lees are patient and our bowlers innocuous.
By tea, the away team are 147-0 and Gaston has taken the sort of beating that usually sees you in court.
They have 22 runs to get in two and a half hours. It’s fair to say I’m heading back towards the bar again.
They take 15 minutes to seal their 10-wicket win.
Our three bonus points are what might be called “scant consolation”.