Nottinghamshire 534 for 9 declared (Mullaney 192, Evison 109*, James 63, Finn 3-84) and 14 for 0 beat Sussex 375 (Clark 100, Orr 68, Haines 59, Patterson-White 5-84) and 172 (Hutton 3-39, James 3-49, Patterson-White 3-54) by ten wickets
By the time this match ended, competitors in the Brighton Marathon, which had caused multiple road closures on Sunday morning, were probably soaking in a hot bath. The County Championship, cricket’s version of such an event, has barely left the stadium before heading down holloways and trails, most of which have yet to be properly explored. And yes, there will be an irritating month-long pause in August. Any conclusions about a team’s prospects, therefore, are bound to be only marginally less provisional than they were on Thursday morning.
But on the evidence presented in this match at Hove it is plain that Nottinghamshire’s status as favourites to win the Second Division is thoroughly justified. Talk about promotion places is riskier. We do not yet know whether the ECB’s propeller-heads will propose six divisions of three, Owzthat dice or relocating the whole thing to Balochistan in November. Astonishingly, the first-class season has begun without the counties knowing what is truly at stake
Nevertheless, let us recall that halfway through the second afternoon of this game, when Nottinghamshire were 52 for 4 in reply to Sussex’s 375 some members of the home side will have toyed with the notion that they might win the match. Fair enough, of course, but three sessions later they were faced with the brute recognition that all they could do was save it. For young cricketers – and in the case of this under-strength Sussex team that meant everyone bar Steven Finn
– such a realisation was probably hard, but Finn may have reminded them that it was also part of chosen trade.
Nottinghamshire’s players are abundantly skilled in that trade and they revealed as much in achieving a victory that was completed half an hour after tea. Beginning the day 130 runs in arrears with nine wickets in hand, Sussex already knew that they would have to bat most of the three sessions in order to scrape a draw. They were also aware that a shoulder injury would prevent Dan Ibrahim
batting. Nottinghamshire, therefore, needed to take eight wickets on a true pitch and would have to cope without Luke Fletcher
, who had a tight hamstring.
For nearly an hour all went well for Sussex. Then they suffered two self-inflicted reverses. Having batted sensibly for 79 minutes the nightwatchman, Jamie Atkins, hooked a Brett Hutton
bouncer straight to long leg, where Calvin Harrison, the tall substitute fielder, took a two-handed catch above his head. Atkins could be consoled that he had done his job, but no such kindness was available to Tom Alsop, who made six runs in 16 minutes before chasing a very wide one from Lyndon James
and nicking a catch to Tom Moores. All the same, a lunch score of 89 for 3 was probably reasonably acceptable to the Sussex coaches; it was only in the first hour of the afternoon’s play that the innings all but disintegrated and the match was decided.
Steven Mullaney’s captaincy and the response of his players were outstanding during this period. Fletcher’s injury meant that Mullaney had to use Hutton, his other new-ball bowler, relatively sparingly and with a precise plan in mind. Immediately after lunch, though, Hutton was called into the attack for a fierce five-over spell from the Cromwell Road End and enjoyed instant success when Oli Carter’s insipid forward defensive to a straight ball left Mark Saggers with one of the easier decisions he will make all season.
Ali Orr, though, was a trickier opponent. Having decided that the Sussex opener was more likely to be caught in front of the wicket than in the slips, Mullaney had put four fielders in short positions on either side of the pitch before lunch. Now he went the full monty and placed the entire quartet on the leg side with two more behind them on the boundary.
These shock and Orr tactics gained their reward. Hutton worked the opener over with a series of short balls, the whole enterprise was spiced with liberal chirp and Orr eventually prodded a sharp catch straight to Ben Slater at short leg. He had batted 219 minutes for his 45 and 440 minutes for 113 runs in the match. Such statistics will have been noticed by Grant Flower, Sussex’s new batting coach.
Nottinghamshire’s bowlers now pursued victory without relent. Tom Clark came down the wicket to Liam Patterson-White
and nicked a catch to Mullaney via Moores’s gloves; Delray Rawlins tried to pull a ball from James but only diverted it onto his stumps; Archie Lenham batted pleasantly but matches are rarely saved by neat little 18s. And yes, it had long been plain that Sussex would miss Ibrahim more than Nottinghamshire would miss Fletcher. As so often in their great years, the side from Trent Bridge was finding a way to win a game.
Sussex’s tail battled away gamely but Patterson-White took the last two wickets courtesy of lbw decisions either side of tea. He thereby returned match figures of 8 for 138 from 76.1 overs and certainly deserves a hot bath, too. Haseeb Hameed’s three boundaries off Clark and Slater’s push for two off Atkins were the last actions of a fine game, one from which Tom Haines and his players should have learned so much that it would take a morning seminar rather than a press conference to list them.
For on Saturday evening 33-year-old Finn had spoken about how much he was attracted by Sussex’s ‘project’ and you can be sure that whenever sportsmen talks about their club having a project, they are acknowledging that honours may take a few years in coming. That is to be expected at Hove. The average age of Haines’ team was 21.6. Defeat to Nottinghamshire does not invalidate in the slightest the strategy developed by Ian Salisbury
and heartily supported by the new chairman, Jon Filby, who is a cricket man in his very heart. It should not surprise anyone if Sussex take a couple of seasons or so to achieve their aims.