Sussex 375 and 29 for 1 trail Nottinghamshire 534 for 9 dec (Mullaney 192, Evison 109*) by 130 runs
Spring is nature’s con-artist and every cricketer knows it. Two weeks ago in The Parks she was summer with its thin frocks and picnics; two days ago in Hove she was winter with thick scarves and steaming tea. This morning, though, there was no disguising the season or the pleasure derived from it. “Good morning, Paul,” said Sam, the tall, rubicund, limitlessly cheerful steward, who is so much a part of this ground that one might believe his ancestors were here when Duleep almost took the county to the title in 1932. That was the season in which Sussex cricketers became Alan Ross’s first gods, though the 10-year-old Ross little guessed they would also be his last. It was not much different for the folk who watched Tom Clark make his maiden hundred on Friday morning. Among them were his parents.
Sussex supporters, though, were concerned, even as they queued to get into the ground today. The first half of this match had gone wonderfully well but surely at some point Nottinghamshire, the divisional favourites, would slip themselves and demand a reckoning.
Left to weather 15 overs, the home openers batted capably until Tom Haines pulled Lyndon James straight to Liam Patterson-White at midwicket. And the last day’s play will be affected by injury. Danial Ibrahim has damaged his shoulder and will take no further part in the match and Luke Fletcher bowled only one over this evening before leaving the field with a tight hamstring. “Whatevs” as the kids say. The pitch looks true and flat but Sussex folk are surely set for a few hours that will trample on their nerves.
But, in truth, the worries of home supporters had been deepened as soon as the 17th ball of the morning, when Delray Rawlins dropped Mullaney on 86, a low chance at cover off Steven Finn and one he should have taken; anxiety was then eased a shade when Rawlins made amends by having Tom Moores caught at slip by Tom Alsop for 43 two overs before the new ball was due. But that latter change only sharpened the visitors’ appetite for quick runs. Patterson-White heaved Henry Crocombe over the short boundary for two sixes and had also hit five fours in his 45-ball 44 before he was leg before to a full-length ball from Clark just before lunch.
Throughout the session Crocombe and Jamie Atkins were receiving advice and encouragement from Finn at mid-off but nothing could prevent Mullaney reaching a fine century or Nottinghamshire scoring 118 runs in the session’s 29 overs. (It should be noted, though, that if Kevin Pietersen had his way, lads like Crocombe and Atkins would probably not have the chance to learn their trade. And there are players like them in all 18 counties. When people talk about “reforming English domestic cricket” their plans often entail denying opportunities and messing with young people’s lives.)
Perhaps supporters of both counties and none were wise to stroll to the esplanade at lunchtime. For the light was resplendent across Brighton and Hove this afternoon. The sun shone on the tall, squashed terraces in Russell Square and the high-ceilinged apartments in Portland Place with their Greek salads and double-walled cafetières. More obviously, it shone on the many blues of the endlessly glittering sea and on the bathers who braved the Channel. “That blue is all in a rush / With richness,” wrote Gerard Manley Hopkins, and so it was again. Mysteriously, some folk sought refuge in the subterranean style of Hove Place, where the locals drank Harvey’s Sussex Best and the visitors sampled the cheeses.
The cricket after lunch was nothing like so nourishing for Haines and his players. Fifty minutes after the resumption Nottinghamshire gained a first-innings lead and by then the spinners were on. Mullaney lifted Rawlins over mid-on to go to 150 and then over the long-on boundary to give his side their fifth batting point. It was ruthless stuff and all the more so because there was little obvious striving about it. Twenty-four hours previously Nottinghamshire had been 52 for 4 yet by this third mid-afternoon Sussex did not look like taking a wicket. Both Mullaney and Evison, his eighth-wicket partner, made career-best scores, and for the skipper this meant overhauling the 179 he made against Warwickshire three years ago. The contrasting ages and experience of the teams were suddenly stark.
Three balls after tea Mullaney finally miscued a pull and was caught by Crocombe off Atkins for 192. He had batted five minutes over seven hours and one suddenly noticed that Nottinghamshire’s captain is 35 years old. Will he get another opportunity to score a double-century? Then Archie Lenham came to field below the press-box. He looked about 12 but was actually 22 months old when Mullaney made his championship debut for Lancashire in 2006.
Our attention switched to Evison, who was suddenly addicted to smacking Rawlins for boundaries, either down the ground or into the Sharks stand at extra-cover. But he brought up his maiden first-class hundred in what is his seventh first-class match with a cut to the backward square boundary off Atkins who, along with Rawlins, had reached his own century shortly before. Crocombe joined them a few overs later and Mullaney declared. We resettled ourselves for what would surely be the tensest cricket of the day…
And now the players have left the field and each side knows what it must do tomorrow. Brighton’s ubiquitous restaurants are preparing for their Saturday trade. The April evening settles down with smells of fries in passageways. But in Portland Place and Burlington Street a quiet evening in may be preferable; perhaps an act or two of Alcina on Radio Three. The newly washed morning, so recent, so distant, beguiles the memory. “Spring is here and they can’t stop you enjoying it,” wrote George Orwell in 1946. “The earth is still going round the sun, and neither the dictators nor the bureaucrats, deeply as they disapprove of the process, are able to prevent it.”
Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications