Sussex second after grafting win on tough pitch
Sussex 287 (Yardy 89, Joyce 68, Roland-Jones 6-66) and 98 for 2 beat Middlesex 170 (Khan 5-25) and 211 (Rogers 48, Khan 3-39) by eight wickets
An eight-wicket margin makes it look like plain-sailing by the sea for Sussex. But while a fourth victory in six Championship matches - this one achieved with a day and almost a session to spare - could not have been much more emphatic, the hosts had to grit their teeth at times, and take their share of painful blows, on a re-laid pitch that made batting extremely tough at times.
The bottom line is that Sussex, having looked relegation material a couple of months ago, are now up to second in the Division One table, 11 points behind leaders Warwickshire having played one game more than the title favourites.
With two matches against Somerset and another in Durham to come, the champions of 2003, '06 and '07 are not only handily placed but also full of confidence thanks to this mid to late season purple patch. It is to be hoped, though, that the pitch prepared for Sussex's last home Championship fixture, staring on September 4, will produce consistent, rather than occasionally erratic, bounce while retaining the pace that makes cricket so exciting.
Here, the odd ball reared disconcertingly from the first morning and it would be a surprise if umpires Trevor Jesty and Steve Gale did not make mention of that fact in their end of match report to Lord's. It must be pointed out, though, that Sussex, with the faster and taller bowlers, made better use of a surface that was undeniably pacey.
"They outplayed us so there are no real sour grapes from us," said Middlesex captain Chris Rogers. "It didn't help losing the toss because I thought the wicket was quite fresh on day one but they bowled particularly well on it.
"There were balls that had your name on them. At times there was just nothing you could do with some of the deliveries and then it becomes a little bit of a lottery. But you still give credit to them - they outplayed us."
Mark Robinson, Sussex's coach, agreed that the pitch was just right for his side's impressive pace attack of Jimmy Anyon, Amjad Khan and Steve Magoffin. "It probably wasn't as good a wicket, consistency-wise, as the last one here [when Worcestershire were beaten by an innings] but they are re-laid so should get better from that point of view. But pace is what you want because it makes for exciting cricket. The wicket has probably got two batsmen out in the entire game."
Sussex were pushing hard for victory from the moment they dismissed Middlesex for 170 on the first day. Even taking into account that batting was never a relaxed occupation, Middlesex were up against it from then on and resumed their second innings this morning still 25 runs in arrears with eight wickets remaining.
They lost one of those, nightwatchman Toby Ronald-Jones, before moving ahead. And when four more fell, inside 18 overs, it looked as though the Hove faithful would be celebrating victory before tea, rather than just after it.
Much of the damage was done by Khan. The fast bowler, who played his only Test for England more than three years ago and is now in his second season with Sussex after moving from Kent, had taken only 14 wickets in his five previous matches this summer. On Sunday, though, he added three scalps to five first innings victims to finish with match figures of 8 for 64.
Anyon, who seems to be bowling quicker and quicker this year, was the biggest handful when charging down the hill. But Khan had batsmen hopping as well, hitting John Simpson on the helmet with a rapid bouncer just before dismissing Middlesex's keeper.
Neil Dexter battled hard for 90 minutes to frustrate the hosts but then Anyon popped up to scythe through the tail with three wickets for eight runs in 12 balls to make the outcome a formality.
Dexter was the second of those victims, taken down the leg-side to give keeper Ben Brown his sixth catch of the innings - equalling a Sussex record held by, among others, Rupert Webb, who was guest of honour at Hove while celebrating his 90th birthday.
Formality? Well, Sussex lost eight wickets in scoring the 94 runs they required to beat Durham at Arundel three weeks ago so home fans were taking nothing for granted.
They saw Chris Nash edge low to slip and watched open-mouthed when Ed Joyce, having taken a couple of blows to the body while facing Roland-Jones, was spectacularly caught and bowled, off a full blooded straight drive, by the diving Ollie Rayner.
That was the best Middlesex could manage, though, as Luke Wells and Murray Goodwin combined to seal the deal.
So Sussex for the title? "If I'm really honest we don't see ourselves as title contenders," said Robinson. "It's probably Warwickshire's to give away to a degree but we'll try to come up on the blind side and then you never know."