Sussex captain Ben Brown’s century thwarts hosts Yorkshire once again
IT is a sobering indictment of county cricket’s lopsided schedule that this is actually the penultimate County Championship match at Headingley this season and yet there are still four months of the campaign to go.
A fleeting return for devotees of four-day cricket in Leeds, therefore, and a palpably welcome one after 623 days of pandemic-enforced absence, with 2,056 turning out for the opening exchanges.
Although the world has changed appreciably since the last cries of “C’mon Yorkshire” were heard at this ground, the state of White Rose cricket is more or less the same, with the side still something of a work in progress – particularly in the batting but strengthened by the signings of Dawid Malan and Dominic Bess.
Malan was back for his first match of the season after missing the previous seven Championship fixtures due to what turned out to be a solitary outing at the Indian Premier League, along with the “personal reasons” that forced his withdrawal from last week’s Roses game, the England batsman one of three changes from that innings defeat at Old Trafford with Gary Ballance returning after a calf strain and David Willey at the expense of Duanne Olivier.
A stronger and more experienced Yorkshire team, then, but a challenging day nonetheless for the hosts, who reduced Sussex to 38-3 inside 23 overs after sending them into bat only for the visitors to rally to reach 267-5.
Ben Brown, the Sussex captain, improved a notable record against Yorkshire by top-scoring with 126 not out from 174 balls with 18 fours, his third hundred to go with two fifties against them in 13 first-class innings.
In tandem with Aaron Thomason, a stocky 23-year-old playing only his 15th first-class match, Brown added 107 for the fourth-wicket in 38 overs after Sussex fell to 68-4 just after lunch.
Thomason’s contribution to the partnership was 22, his innings of 40 from 181 balls in five minutes short of four hours perhaps as much a reflection of a sequence of six single-figure scores in his previous seven innings as the quality of the bowling.
That bowling was always of the whole-hearted variety and spearheaded by Jordan Thompson a player who invariably makes things happen and rises to the atmosphere generated by a crowd. Thompson took 3-42 from 19 overs, lifting him above his captain, Steve Patterson, to become the club’s leading wicket-taker this year with 23.
Beneath overcast skies with the floodlights on, Willey struck in the game’s fourth over, having Tom Haines caught at third slip by Harry Brook at around chin height.
Stiaan van Zyl twice drove Willey to the cover boundary with a lovely flourish and also flicked him for four off his pads, but the South African did not linger, Thompson charging in from the Emerald Stand end to find his outside edge as he started his day with a wicket maiden.
When Brook struck with his first ball after replacing Thompson, Ali Orr lofting him straight to fine-leg, Sussex looked likely to be heading into lunch with at least half of their team able to join the queue for food early.
But Thomason and Travis Head helped them to 63-3 at the break, Head falling to the eighth ball of the afternoon when Thompson had him caught behind pushing forward.
It was now that the stage belonged to Brown, who quickly transformed the feel of the day. No sooner had warm applause abated for Bess’s introduction than Brown took him for successive cover-driven fours in an opening over that cost 10 runs. There were 10 boundaries in Brown’s half-century, reached from 60 deliveries, with the captain strong on the cut and the drive.
Aged 32 and playing his 153rd first-class match, Brown is the second-oldest and second-most experienced member of the Sussex XI behind van Zyl.
In contrast to a Yorkshire team built mostly on experience and complemented by youngsters, Sussex are contrastingly green in composition; as well as fielding two first-class debutants in opener Orr and all-rounder Dan Ibrahim, seven of their number are aged 23 or under and have 63 first-class appearances between them.
At 16 years and 298 days, the Lancashire-born Ibrahim is also the second-youngest player in Sussex’s history behind all-rounder James Coles, who was 16 years and 157 days when he debuted last year.
The importance of Brown’s innings could therefore not be overstated, especially as Thomason failed to follow him to a big score, carelessly clipping Thompson to Malan at mid-wicket. Ibrahim showed admirable composure for one so young, contributing 37 to an unbroken alliance of 92.
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