Luke Wells withstood gale-force winds and all Surrey had to offer on his way to 127 that set up a sizeable first-innings lead for Sussex at Horsham. In the six overs of play possible on day two the home side lost four wickets, yet Surrey needed the best part of 93 more overs to prise out the final four as Sussex wrestled firm control of the match.
The leaden skies and swirling winds made for grim conditions that were at odds with the cheery efficiency of Sussex’s innings. It was led by Wells, whose 277-ball 127 spanned three days, and supported stoutly by the tail. For a batting side that has struggled of late, 87 for 6 to 351 all out was some come back.
The recovery pivoted on Wells’s second hundred of the season. That first also came against Surrey, but in defeat in the opening match of the summer. Since then his form tailed off badly and he was dropped when Luke Wright returned. His recall for this game came in place of Murray Goodwin. It’s a sizeable role to fill but with his fifth first-class century, he looked perfectly capable of doing so.
Wells is everything Surrey’s youthful batsmen are not and while he may not stir the Twenty20 scouts any time soon, he gives off an air of permanence Surrey’s top-order could never establish. He is still willowy but his height and calm demeanour will draw regular comparisons to Alastair Cook.
Despite his lengthy stay at the crease it’s difficult to recall him even playing and missing. There was one chance, though, when on 88 he edged Kartik to slip but Gareth Batty couldn’t hold on and that was as close as Surrey got until he was finally dismissed.
Meaker, so destructive amid showers on day two, strained and was pacey throughout but couldn’t find regular a length between pitch-up yorkers and pound-down short balls. Jade Dernbach was off-colour and irritable, yelling at himself on more than one occasion. Hamilton-Brown looked the part – chest puffed out as always – but couldn’t find a combination to nullify Wells and the Sussex tail. The pitch was no help, lacking both pace and the seam movement of the opening two days. But he didn’t try himself or Zander de Bruyn at any stage.
After Wells fell, edging an expansive drive to slip to give Kartik a fourth wicket, Surrey’s thoughts would have turned to batting. Instead they were subjected to an unexpected, but wholly delightful, 80-wicket stand for the last wicket. The sun even came out and together, James Anyon and Monty Panesar finally brought some festival lightness to the game. Anyon slugged the ball sweetly for his highest first-class score – an unbeaten 64 – while Panesar attracted cheers from everyone, including Kartik after one six down the ground, with boundary-filled 31. It was not the first time this season Surrey have burst through the opposition’s top order only to struggle with the tail.
A tough, all-day spell in the field was hardly the preparation Mark Ramprakash needed in his attempt to regain form. He struggled manfully – making 3 from 24 balls – but at least remained intact. Jason Roy was fluent, as he always is, but on 35 received a lifter from Steve Magoffin that he could only fend off to point.
Panesar, sufficiently buoyed by his fun with bat in hand, threatened with turn, bounce and fielders around the bat during his three overs before the close. With the forecast promising for Saturday Sussex have every chance of forcing a result.