Sussex231 for 9 (Rawlins 56*, Wiese 56, Carse 4-42) trail Durham 384 (Bancroft 158, Eckersley 118, Jordan 4-58) by 153 runs
Early on the second morning of this game Stiaan van Zyl dived to stop a ball on the fine leg boundary. He failed but managed to cake himself in mud, a legacy of Monday night’s heavy rain. Van Zyl’s embarrassment greatly amused Ben Brown and Chris Jordan but they would have chuckled less freely had they been told it was a portent of Sussex’s day. Or rather, of much of their day.
Sussex supporters will tell you that one of the frustrations of following the county has been its occasional tendency to lose matches when simple victory beckons and win them when undertakers are parked outside the ground. They do not quite mean what they say. Sussex’s inconsistency also gives their supporters a frisson of excitement. That emotion was felt by some on the second evening of this game when the batting of Delray Rawlins took a day Durham had dominated and gave his own county’s supporters something to cheer after a grim couple of sessions.
Had it not been for Rawlins’ unbeaten 56 and his eighth-wicket partnership of 109 with David Wiese, the day’s honours would have been claimed by Brydon Carse, whose four wickets were a just reward for 14 accurate overs. Perhaps they still should be; after all, Sussex have not yet saved the follow-on and the visitors are in the ascendant. But after watching Rawlins strike the ball clean and long through a perfect Hove evening Sussex supporters may have gazed into the gull-strewn sky and not known whether to curse or bless their loyalty.
When Rawlins joined Wiese twenty minutes after tea Sussex were 110 for 7 and 284 runs in arrears. Gradually the 21-year-old adjusted to his task and began to hit the ball with more assurance. His second four, an on-drive off Ben Raine, was as sweet as anything we saw. Two balls later he stroked Raine easily for six in the same direction and followed that in the next over with a straight drive off James Weighell. Rawlins was beginning to enjoy himself and Wiese, too, batted with greater certainty, sweeping Liam Trevaskis for six and reaching his own fifty before falling leg before when attempting a reverse sweep. Aaron Thomason became Carse’s fourth victim a couple of overs later but by then Rawlins had reached his fifty off 88 balls with a huge six over long-on.
It was intriguing as Rawlins was applauded to recall Sussex’s travails earlier in the day. The morning’s cricket, for example was divided into two very unequal parts. In the first Cameron Bancroft and Ned Eckersley extended their overnight partnership to 282, a sixth-wicket record for Durham in first-class cricket; in the second Durham lost their last five wickets for 12 runs in 32 balls, three of the wickets falling to the left-arm spin of Rawlins, a bowler who had never previously taken more than one wicket in a first-team game.
Bancroft and Eckersley batted competently but needed to do little more. Thomason seemed to require more evidence Bancroft can play the pull shot; the evidence was duly provided and the ball smacked into the advertising hoarding. The session continued in similar fashion for nearly two hours. The collapse began when Eckersley, having registered his maiden century for Durham, drove too early at a ball from Luke Wells and was caught and bowled for 118. Two balls later Bancroft was lbw for 158 when sweeping a full toss from Rawlins. One wonders why long partnerships are so often the prelude to both partners getting out in quick succession. Is it a form of trivial bereavement, the second batsman being unable to carry on without his long-time colleague? Simple destabilisation is probably a better explanation. Either way, it never seemed to unsettle Bradman.
Such thoughts did not trouble Rawlins. He carried on giving it a tweak and had picked up two more wickets and a career-best 3 for 19 before Will Beer wrapped up an untidy session on the stroke of tiffin. All the same, 384 seemed a decent score and an even better one when Sussex were 3 for 2 twenty minutes into the afternoon session.
Their favourites’ rapid decline did not surprise the regulars in the Sharks stand. One declared he had never seen anything like it. (He probably had.) Another that: “We’ll be batting again by tea.”(They weren’t.) But Sussex, whose top-order batting is flaky at the moment, were five down at tea, two of their early wickets having been taken by Chris Rushworth, who struck with the fourth ball of the innings when Wells’ weak defensive push only edged a catch to Alex Lees at first slip. Will Beer, whose place as opener indicates a willingness to help rather than unsuspected competence, was then leg before to a full length ball from Carse, and Harry Finch was then trapped in front by one from Rushworth which nipped back down the hill.
Subsequent recoveries beguiled supporters in the Spen Cama Pavilion but ultimately deceived them. Laurie Evans made 20 before being caught down the leg side off Weighell. Van Zyl batted carefully for 34 but played down the wrong line to Gareth Harte’s fourth ball of the day. That wicket fell a few minutes before tea; two balls after the resumption Brown made to whip Carse through midwicket but only gave a catch off the leading edge to Rushworth at mid-on. By now Wiese was at the crease and four overs later he was joined by Rawlins. Sussex supporters could have given up the day as a bad job but instead they opted to stay where they were and watch this young lad Rawlins for a while.