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Alex Winter at The Oval
April 25, 2013
Sussex 204 for 2 (Wells 108*, Joyce 51*) trail Surrey 351 by 147 runs
Luke Wells likes batting against Surrey. In both matches last season he made centuries and having taken guard for a third time against the Prince of Wales's feathers, he played another stern innings with identical results to lead a solid Sussex response.
Wells, 22, is unique among his peer group in being a red-ball specialist and is seldom used in the one-day arena. There are plenty of young cricketers with dashing, attractive strokeplay but few who set their stall out to ball all day and do so.
For a third consecutive match Wells batted out a day to frustrate Surrey. Last year at The Oval he merely delayed his side's defeat but here his efforts have put Sussex in a healthy position. Their progress was slow as Surrey bowled a consistent line, particularly in the afternoon where 82 runs were scored, and the wicket is on the slow side, but Wells knuckled down and made his sixth first-class hundred in 324 balls.
There was a nice moment when, on 70 not out, he guided Tim Linley from back of a length into the gully, playing only slightly away from his body. Wells was annoyed with his stroke and took three strides towards square leg before slapping his pad with his bat. Like a race horse getting a reminder on the second circuit, it was Wells sharpening himself up.
Only this season, with Ed Joyce wishing to fill Murray Goodwin's slot at No. 4, has he regularly opened the batting but he is a natural and has filled the role for most of his career outside the first XI. He was given the chance to open against Yorkshire at Hove in 2011 and made a first-class best 174.
He is a real grinder and tailor-made for a wicket where it is difficult to time the ball. But he and first Michael Yardy, then Joyce, sat tight and worked hard for their runs. The afternoon session was everything that is wonderful about red-ball cricket, with an intense battle between bat and ball, but Sussex triumphed in the skirmish and managed to progress at above three-an-over after tea.
Surrey had nudged ahead with a wicket on the stroke of lunch after their tail had wagged. Chris Tremlett hoisted a six over midwicket to bring up a fourth batting point but was bowled next ball by Chris Jordan, who claimed a second five-wicket haul in England. His first came in the opening match against Yorkshire.
And like the season-opener at Headingley, the new Sussex opening partnership of Wells and Chris Nash failed. They managed 11 on debut and could only double the tally here before Nash was adjudged lbw when he might have got outside the line playing forward to Linley.
But also like at Headingley, the opener that survived went on to make runs and Wells kept his focus during a tricky period after lunch, where Tremlett found some rare movement from the Vauxhall End and Jade Dernbach caused problems from the Pavilion End and was convinced that Wells had edged behind.
The reprieve gave further ammunition for Surrey to aim at Wells, who described himself as the most-sledged county cricketer. "It's a bit of an in-house joke," he said. "I'm used to the pressure and in some ways it helps me get up for the battle and to keep going."
He survived another very close call, this time for lbw from a Gareth Batty arm ball, and pressed on, with the aid of painkillers for a sore knee. His last dose came with eight overs left in the day and needing four for a century. But medication or not, he would have felt no discomfort in rocking back to Vikram Solanki's first ball and slashing it through cover to get to three figures.
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