Sussex failed to press home their advantage as Middlesex took home a great comeback win on day three.
At the start of the morning, it was Sussex on top, but it was also clear that they were not in control; as it turned out, this would be a perfect metaphor for the match as a whole.
With The Blast starting this week, it seemed apt that both Delray Rawlins and Ben Brown wanted to get their eyes in – when they were hitting, they were hitting hard. With rain forecast tomorrow, it was clear than Sussex wanted this match done today.
It was that intensity that proved to be the downfall of Rawlings, however, as he miss-timed a defensive shot advancing down the pitch straight back to Tim Murtagh who took a great catch down to his left, and it was Murtagh again with the wicket of Tom Haines who snicked off soon after to John Simpson behind the stumps.
Suddenly, just as Sussex were starting to look in control, Middlesex had six wickets and Murtagh had five-fer. On a day when many were celebrating a certain 38 year-old English fast bowler, this 39 year-old Irish fast bowler was still producing magic.
Then, as if to prove that the Seaxes have some talented youth to complement the ever-green Murtagh, Martin Andersson banged in a shorter delivery and caught the glove of Ollie Robinson before nestling into the gloves of Simpson behind the stumps.
Seven wickets down, and with the lead only at 164, Middlesex really looked like they might be battling their way back into the game.
That lead snuck up to 187 before Anderson struck again, this time taking the key wicket of Brown and really exposing Sussex’s tail. Middlesex have had some great players put in key performances this year, but Andersson is really starting to look like the best of the lot. A great bit of business signing him onto a long term deal.
The Sussex tail didn’t have much wag left in it after Brown’s departure, meaning a combination of Miguel Cummins’ terrifying pace and bounce, Andersson’s laser-guided line and length, and a few impressive diving grabs behind the stumps from Simpson and Steve Eskinazi saw Sussex cleaned up for 102; a lead of 192. Game on.
Middlesex didn’t look like they wanted to hang about either with that rain right on the horizon, and in their two overs before lunch managed to smash 17 quick runs; 23 more overs like that and we would have been packing up before tea – you really got the sense that everyone is a bit excited for the return of ‘The Blast’.
Unfortunately (mainly for me who wanted to get out of the cold), the restart after lunch was much slower. The Sussex bowlers were persistent with the ball, bowling a probing line and length, but they couldn’t find a killer blow as Sam Robson and Max Holden battled on.
The most entertaining part of the first half hour turned out to be a rain delay that never came, as the players were sent off and then recalled two or three times before the umpires called for play to continue. In the press tent, we just felt sorry for the ground staff who ran the covers out only to be sent straight back.
Sussex were giving it everything in this session. Robinson, Mitchell Claydon, and Will Sheffield were all bending their backs in search of the breakthrough, but all they earned themselves for their efforts were a few no-balls for over-stepping and a talking to by the umpires after a close LWB appeal was turned down and they let their disappointment be known a bit too vocally (replays showing Robinson signalling for a review – maybe he thought he was still in the bubble).
One thing was clear though, Sussex, and Robinson in particular, were pumped.
Bowling hiseighthover in a row, Robinson banged the ball into the turf with as much ferocity and pace as he had in his first and a ball rising off just short of a length caught the glove of a bemused Holden, who really had not looked at all rushed until this point.
The Rig, as he is known to his teammates, then immediately took the wicket of the incoming Nick Gubbins. This incredible spell continued, as an over later Robson edged behind, transforming what had been a great start for Middlesex of 48-0 into 57-3, and turning the tide back in favour of the South-Coasters.
Cricket is never that simple, though, and with Robbie White Middlesex looked to have found a foothold in the game once again. His calm but attacking batting, coupled with Eskinazi’s resolute defence, meant that the chase dipped below 100 twenty minutes before tea when White dismissively pulled a short ball from the Sussex spinner Jack Carson all the way to the rope.
Those two were both still there when tea was called, which came early due to a brief spell of rain, taking five overs out of the game. After tea, they resumed the game plan and soon reached the 50 partnership with the runs required standing at 84.
Together, White and Eskinazi put on 73 before one of them fell; first to go was the former, White, out trapped in front off the bowling of Haines for 35. The skipper Eskinazi soon followed suit on 26, also trapped in front but this time off the bowling of Robinson. Theirs was a valiant stand, but now it was over.
So, as Simpson and young Andersson stood at the crease, both having done so much to set up this chase, their job was clear: put on a stand of 63 runs and win the game.
With dark clouds closing in, the scoreboard kept ticking over. Some of the runs were coming from great shot play (including a huge six to long-on from Simpson), some were flying off the edge (including a wild swipe through the slips from Simpson), some were flying off the pads, and some were flying off nothing at all; what they all had in common was that they all counted.
As the runs kept coming, you could almost feel the energy sapping out of the Sussex players. As a unit, they had fought so hard to win this match, but the inevitability of the result was now taking its toll on even them; the chat in the field had dried up and you felt that they were just going through the motions.
With 14 overs left in the day, the rain starting to fall and the light starting to fade, Simpson put them out of their misery with a great on-drive for four.
An ever enticing match finally brought to an end by an unbeaten partnership of 63 between Simpson and Andersson. Both, alongside Murtagh, played a huge role in setting up this chase and all three deserve a huge amount of credit for taking home the win.