Sussex v Yorkshire: Death knell sounds on coast for Yorkshire’s anniversary hopes

Liam PlunkettLiam Plunkett
Liam Plunkett
PERHAPS because of its proximity to the English Channel, just a few hundreds yards from the entrance to the ground, there seems something very final about cricket at Hove.

You feel that you have come to the end of the road, a point beyond which there is no return.

It seemed an apposite metaphor for Yorkshire’s title hopes, which surely died a death on the south coast on Saturday.

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A draw against Sussex, combined with a nine-wicket win for leaders Durham at Derbyshire, had the air of a conclusive turn of events.

Publicly, Yorkshire will say that there are still two games to go, games in which it is not entirely out of the question that they can overturn a 27.5-point gap to the top.

They have still to play Middlesex at home and Surrey away, while Durham entertain Nottinghamshire and travel to Sussex.

But that gap is sufficiently wide for Yorkshire privately to fear the worst.

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They have put up one heck of a fight in their 150th year but, barring a miracle, they are going to come second.

And yet if anyone seemed likely to win their match on Saturday, it was Yorkshire not Durham.

Whereas Durham went into the final day of their game on 257-4 in their first innings, replying to 298, Yorkshire had Sussex at 48-2 in their second innings, a lead of 14, and with their own fixture appreciably more advanced.

But after Yorkshire came to an arrangement with Sussex to chase 300 in the last two sessions, a contrivance brought about by the gift of 285 runs to the home side during the morning, they were 81-2 when rain and bad light stole the final session.

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Durham, for their part, progressed to 325 in their first innings and then dismissed Derbyshire for a paltry 63, leaving them to chase just 37 for victory.

And so the decisive twist would appear to have taken place, although cricket, as we know, is a funny old game.

There was nothing funny, however, about events at Hove on Saturday morning.

Indeed, it was just about the worst cricket you could possibly see as Yorkshire’s part-time bowlers purposefully served up half volleys and full tosses to enable Sussex to set up the target – cricket nevertheless conducted with the best of intentions.

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Beneath skies that were murky and battleship grey, conditions seemed perfect for seam bowling, or so you would have thought.

But instead of trying to prise out wickets through conventional means, or risk bad light forcing them to bowl their spinners 
on a pitch that was still excellent for batting, Yorkshire instead turned to Andrew Gale, Phil Jaques, Gary Ballance and Adam Lyth to show why batting, rather than bowling, is most definitely their forte.

Those 285 runs arrived in just 32.5 overs, Chris Nash and Rory Hamilton-Brown scoring the simplest centuries of their careers as they peppered the boundaries with gay abandon.

Nash, 21 overnight, had gone to a 75-ball century within 35 minutes, finishing unbeaten on 167 from 137 balls with 26 fours and three sixes.

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Hamilton-Brown progressed to his hundred from 69 deliveries and was undefeated on 126 from 83 balls with 17 fours and three sixes when the declaration came 10 minutes before the scheduled lunch interval.

When the nonsense was over and the serious stuff started, Yorkshire displayed their aggressive intentions by promoting Liam Plunkett to open the innings with Lyth.

Plunkett cracked a fierce pull shot to the boundary off Lewis Hatchett before perishing for 11 when he clipped the same bowler firmly to mid-wicket.

After a brief rain delay midway through the session, which shaved six overs off the day’s allocation, Jaques was second to fall when he went lbw to left-arm spinner Ashar Zaidi.

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Earlier, Jaques had claimed his maiden wicket in first-class cricket when he took the only Sussex wicket to go on day four, Ed Joyce holing out to Jack Brooks at mid-off, a dismissal Jaques celebrated in a manner that seemed half-embarrassment, half-ecstasy.

Yorkshire’s target was certainly challenging but, with the pitch playing well and their strokeplay positive, there was every reason to suppose they would have run it very close indeed had the weather played ball.

Lyth followed his first innings 93 with another fine performance, finishing unbeaten on 40 from 58 balls with four fours, while Kane Williamson had come to the crease looking in the mood to reprise his own first innings display, when he scored 80.

However, after the teams took an early tea, umpires Mark Benson and Steve O’Shaughnessy rightly decided that conditions were not going to get better, resulting in the inevitable handshakes on the pavilion balcony.

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For Yorkshire, the long journey home afforded time for reflection.

They are going to need something very special from here.

For their part, Durham went 27.5 points clear at the top after England’s Graham Onions and Chris Rushworth inspired them to a stunning nine-wicket victory at Derbyshire.

For more than three days there had been little between the Division One leaders and a Derbyshire side needing victory to help them avoid relegation, but Onions and Rushworth exploited encouraging swing bowling conditions on day four as the hosts were all out for a paltry 63 in 29.1 overs.

Onions produced a spell of 5-4 in 41 balls and Rushworth claimed 3-31 to leave Durham’s batsmen with a victory target of 37, which they reached in 7.5 overs for the loss of just one wicket to go clear at the top of the table following Yorkshire’s draw.

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A much less uplifting outcome had seemed in prospect earlier in the day when seamer Tony Palladino’s season-best 6-90 limited Durham to a meagre lead of 27 and made a draw appear virtually inevitable.

Instead, with Somerset beating Surrey, Derbyshire’s hopes of staying up were all but extinguished and they certainly looked well short of elite status as they failed to produce the application and technique to resist bowling of quality and purpose.

The ball swung lavishly at times and occasionally kept low but Derbyshire contributed to their embarrassment with some woeful strokes and leaden footwork.

Usman Arshad polished off the remnants with 2-2 in 13 balls after Onions and Rushworth had swept away flimsy foundations.