Wells fights for failing Sussex
Nottinghamshire 88 for 1 trail Sussex 171 (Wells 54, Carter 3-41) by 83 runs
Mick Newell's assertion that the title might be won by any of the current top five might be a little generous towards Sussex, whose performance tended to support the alternative view that a finishing position in mid-table would represent a satisfactory season.
That is not to say they will not yet salvage something from this match but they have a good deal of work to do, having been dismissed without a batting point after deciding Nottinghamshire could bowl first. Had Alex Hales held the first of two catches he put down at first slip, they would have faced a still steeper climb - Luke Wells, who was the beneficiary of the let-off on 4 (and again on 18, thanks to the same fielder), went on to make 54.
Perhaps Twenty20 had something to do with it. It would be hard to imagine that the extraordinary excitement of their victory over Gloucestershire on Tuesday had entirely dissipated in the Sussex dressing room. Nottinghamshire, denied a place at T20 Finals Day by a last-over defeat to Hampshire on Wednesday, had the air of a team determined to get back to business as usual.
There was a good covering of grass on the pitch but Sussex were not put off, presumably expecting to prosper in strong sunshine as the day progressed. But the accuracy of Ben Phillips and Harry Gurney with the new ball put Chris Nash and Ed Joyce under pressure from the outset. The underrated Phillips and the improving Gurney, a brisk left-armer enjoying his first sustained experience of Championship cricket for three years, conceded only four runs between them in the opening seven overs.
Not unusually, it took the introduction of Andre Adams to turn pressure into wickets. His seventh delivery at the pavilion end nipped back into Joyce's pads and Nash was not long following him in, caught behind driving loosely at Phillips. Had Hales not dropped Wells for the first time, in the next over, spilling a routine chance off Adams, Sussex would have been 30 for 3.
It was not a good day for Hales, whose run of low scores with the bat continued later. Presented with perhaps an even easier chance, he let the left-handed Wells off again on 18, with Andy Carter the bowler cursing. There was some ironic applause among the Nottinghamshire crowd when Hales did manage to cling on to one, 15 overs later, as Phillips induced a thin edge from Murray Goodwin.
That partnership had added 48, but the repair work was undone quickly. Yardy was run out without facing as Wells attempted a single to Wessels at cover, the fielder's throw scoring a direct hit at the striker's end. Then Adam Voges took a spectacularly good catch at second slip, plucking the ball out of the air as he hurled himself to his right, to dismiss Luke Wright.
Some bold aggression from Ben Brown moved the score along rapidly for a while, but Wells fell soon after completing a 136-ball half-century, caught behind off a poor shot to a wide long-hop by Gurney, whereupon the Sussex innings fell away. The last five wickets fell for 41 runs as Carter ran through some ordinary tail-end batting.
The Sussex total felt a long way below par, an assessment only reinforced as Nottinghamshire closed on 88 for 1 from 23 overs, Wessels and Michael Lumb rarely looking uncomfortable. Wessels is enjoying a fine season, having established himself at the top of the batting order at Trent Bridge. He fell one short of a double hundred against these opponents at Hove in May and played some impressive shots in the final session. He and Lumb have added 55 so far.
Hales, by contrast, has not been able to maintain his form. He has been in sight of a century a couple of times but his average in the Championship is only 25.33 and he has been out 11 times in 18 innings for 14 runs or fewer.
Nottinghamshire will need those statistics to improve. Sussex may not offer a genuine threat to their title aspirations but Warwickshire and Somerset certainly do. England Lions call-ups mean they will have to make do without Samit Patel and James Taylor when they travel to Taunton next month and for the home match against Durham the following week.