Sussex bounced back from consecutive Championship defeats by dominating the first day against Surrey at Horsham. It being festival season, the weather was duly dour as dark clouds scudded overhead throughout and brought a premature end to play shortly after tea. Yet in the 63.2 overs possible, the home side lifted the mood by dismissing Surrey for 124 before easing towards parity on the back of Luke Wells’ unbeaten 33.
Given the kind of big-brand hype that led the Jubilee jamboree all weekend, there was a refreshing understatedness about festivities at Horsham. It is a club that pre-dates even the MCC but there was nothing old-fashioned about the pace of play as 12 wickets fell.
It may all be a touch futile for Sussex if the forecasts prove correct but it was a heartening performance from a team that needed a boost. In their last game at Lord’s, Sussex lost much of the match on the first morning, shipping 5 wickets for 66 before lunch. Here, against another neighbourhood rival, roles were reversed.
Steve Magoffin, in what could be his last game of the season for Sussex if Queensland have their way, and James Anyon took four wickets each as Surrey were unable to overcome the testing conditions.
In a team packed with impulsive young players, Surrey had recalled 42-year-old Mark Ramprakash and stuck him in as opener. It was asking a lot at this stage, though Ramprakash will rue his luck having been left out of the side during the brief spell of sunshine the English summer has delivered.
He struggled against Magoffin in particular and it was sadly inevitable when he feathered a good ball behind for 8. It was the sixth time this season he’s fallen in single figures. Meanwhile Sussex’s struggling veteran, Murray Goodwin, was dropped for the first time in his 11-year career at the club. Both are county giants who deserve to leave the game on a high, but neither may get the chance.
At least Ramprakash can claim to have been got out. His opening partner, Jason Roy, gifted his wicket before him, toe-ending a golf-swing to mid-on for 11. Zander de Bruyn and Rory Hamilton-Brown fell in successive deliveries to James Anyon and when Steven Davies was smartly snaffled by a diving Wells at second slip Surrey had lost three wickets in seven balls.
Maynard responded with the kind of gung-ho zeal that has characterised his season, clumping three boundaries and running positively, but fell just before he could really inflict damage, edging a good Anyon delivery to slip for 17.
Though Anyon and Magoffin had equal success, Magoffin was the better of the two. He may lack Anyon’s pace but compensates with consistent bounce and hostile accuracy. With Naved Arif, Anyon and backup Amjad Khan all profligate operators, Magoffin miserliness would be missed.
At 52 for 6, Surrey looked in danger of subsiding below 100 but the tail rallied through Gareth Batty, John Lewis and Murali Kartik. They added 69 between them, Batty top-scoring with 32, before Sussex mopped things up after lunch. It may be that among the glittering shot-makers, Surrey might need to buy some grit from somewhere.
Though 124 looked grim, the ball had done enough to give Surrey’s strong pack of pacemen plenty reason for hope. Throughout the season Surrey have fought back from adversity. Despite Ed Joyce swishing outside off to fall cheaply, however, the visitors couldn’t make significant inroads this time.
Instead Wells, returning to the side after being dropped for Luke Wright’s return, calmly – and at times elegantly – dented the edge off Surrey’s attack. He left well when he needed to and drove crisply when invited, and together Chris Nash shared a 69-run stand for the second wicket. Despite the drizzle that stalked the day, Surrey’s bowlers couldn’t extract much and it was a shock when Nash donated his wicket to Kartik, swinging against the spin to end caught at point for 38. Perhaps he felt a touch chilly.
If he had just waited another four balls, though, he could have returned to the pavilion with his wicket intact. The rain set in once more and that was it for the day.