After the Ashes and the talk of batter’s inability to bat long periods and make big scores seems to cause a reaction among county groundsmen who have produced some of the flattest pitches in recent memory. Nowhere perhaps typifies this better than the 1st Central County Ground at Hove where last week batters made hay with 1125 runs and only 23 wickets fell over four days against Durham. As the visitors comfortably held on the draw losing only three wickets in 113 3rd innings overs. In the longer term, this will be an excellent education for young cricketers about the art of patience, and development of red ball skills, but bowlers may be asking for the scales to be levelled up somewhat.
Sussex have had a mixed start to 2022 under new captain Tom Haines, who has not let his own performances drop with 447 runs at 63.86 so far. The batting has largely stepped up this season and the likes of Ali Orr and Tom Clark have grown with positive influences like Cheteshwar Pujara and Mohammed Rizwan in the dressing room. Pujara in particular is having a stellar season with 531 runs at 132.75 with two double centuries so far, and Rizwan looks like he is also getting into form with 79 runs against Durham.
It is in the bowling department that Sussex has struggled so far this season, largely due to injuries which have decimated their bowling stocks to the extent that they need to call upon Aaron Beard and Mason Crane on loan from Essex and Hampshire respectively. While both have performed creditably so far, it is telling that Tom Haines leads the bowling averages with five wickets at 30.80, and Henry Crocombe is their leading wicket taker with just seven scalps to his name. It looks likely that they will be without England seamer Ollie Robinson with a shoulder injury that should also keep him out of Royal London One Day Cup action as well. They are also missing Jack Carson, Jofra Archer, Fynn Hudson-Prentice, George Garton and Dan Ibrahim for the foreseeable future too.
In contrast, the Londoners have had a positive start to Division Two with a thumping 10 wicket win over Leicestershire at Lords in three days. While the batting order is yet to fire as a unit, discarded England opener Mark Stoneman is having an excellent season so far with 237 runs at 59.25, however the rest of the order is yet to put significant volumes of runs on the table, and so they will be looking forward to their visit to the flatter pastures of Hove.
The bowling unit, in particular the seam attack have been excellent so far, with Toby Roland-Jones fit and firing again with 15 wickets at 20.60, Tom Helm with 14 at 12.28, and overseas star Shaheen Shah Afridi with 10 at 21.60 in his two matches. These three plus Ethan Bamber, Martin Andersson, and leggie Luke Hollman mean that the Londoners have a formidable bowling line up available to them.
Expect Middlesex to edge this with their superior bowling line up, but this should go into day four and be a competitive game of championship cricket.
Cheteshwar Pujara has been immense for Sussex this season, and his runs and experience are invaluable for a young side. Alongside captain Tom Haines, they have a productive top four and they will need to be at their best against a high-quality attack. Mason Crane also looks to be getting into some rhythm as well, and may be required to get through some overs for the hosts.
For Middlesex, Shaheen Shah Afridi has brought a point of difference to their attack with his left arm angle, pace, and star quality. He has got the big wickets as shown by getting Marnus Labuschagne twice in the game against Glamorgan, and the wickets of Hassan Azad and Colin Ackermann twice against Leicestershire last time out. He is proving an astute signing and worth every penny. Afridi and Toby Roland-Jones must be up there as one of the best new ball attacks on the circuit at the moment.
Sussex – TBC
Middlesex – TBC
Weather and Conditions
It will not be particularly tropical at Hove over the four days, but the rain should stay away while remaining overcast. Temperatures should stay around the high teens for most of the game so it may not be the weather for multiple jumpers but pleasant enough.
Expect the track to play as true as it has so far this season and bat to dominate ball once again, but as Nottinghamshire demonstrated at Hove in round one, it is possible to force a result here with a disciplined and high-quality attack.
Date: 5th – 8th May 2022
Ground: 1st Central County Ground at Hove
Odds (Sky Bet): Sussex 5/4; Middlesex 4/7