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George Dobell at Edgbaston
August 31, 2013
Sussex 311 (Wells 65, Jordan 61, Nash 59, Chamber 5-68) and 394 for 9 dec (Hamilton-Brown 75, Joyce 68) drew with Warwickshire 394 (Evans 137, Patel 78*, Ambrose 61, Magoffin 5-87)
If Warwickshire, or more realistically Sussex, do end up missing out on the Championship title by a handful of points, they may well reflect on this match as the defining moment of their campaign.
In a situation described as "farcical" by Warwickshire's director of cricket, Dougie Brown, this match ended with third-rate bowlers bowling to tail-end batsmen as the sides could not agree a fair fourth-innings target. It was the sort of day that gives county cricket a bad name.
Who you blame probably depends on which team you support. Warwickshire supporters were upset that Sussex failed to declare, but Sussex supporters could claim, quite reasonably, that on such a flat wicket, with such a short boundary and without a credible spin threat, such a scenario would have left them on a hiding to nothing. And Warwickshire could have engineered a target by serving up some 'declaration bowling'. They declined to do so.
Besides, this result is not quite the end of Sussex's Championship hopes. With three games left, they trail the leaders, Yorkshire, by 29 points. Crucially, all three of their remaining games are against the top two sides; two against Durham and one against Yorkshire. By drawing this game, they feel they have all but ended Warwickshire's hopes - they are 46 points off the top of the table - and left "a three-horse race" for the title in the words of their cricket manager, Mark Robinson.
Still, the manner in which the game ebbed out its life left a sour taste in several mouths. Warwickshire utilised nine bowlers as their aim turned more to saving energy for games to come and, while Ian Westwood's first first-class wicket since 2009 clearly gave him considerable joy, it was not shared by the glum spectators who stayed in the hope that a run chase simply had to come sooner or later.
"We did approach the subject," Brown said. "But Sussex weren't interested at all. It's quite surprising, really. If we'd been in that position, I'd like to think we would have tried to win. Even if they had set us 260 in 40 overs we would have had a go."
Robinson countered: "It wasn't a wicket that was good for cricket. It was slow, there was a 45-yard [actually 49] boundary and we have a young spinner, so it would have been very hard to set a declaration. Early chats between the teams didn't go well and it seemed anything we agreed would be a bit one-sided."
Robinson also accepted that Sussex had squandered their chances to win the game on the first couple of days. "We went from 156-1 to 311 all out," he said. "And then we dropped Laurie Evans before he had 50. We missed opportunities and we didn't back up our seamers, who were exceptional.
"We're outsiders for the title now, but it's a three-horse race now and, if Warwickshire had won, it would have been a four-horse race."
This was a scenario that also raised new questions about the return of the heavy roller in Championship cricket. Combined with the dry summer, the use of the heavy roller - banned from the start of games for the last three seasons before this - has taken much of the life out of pitches. While the logic for its return - that international cricket is played on flat tracks - is sound, pitches as slow as this serve little purpose for anything. Both Brown and Robinson mentioned as much in their post-game conversations.
There were still some admirable performances here. Rory Hamilton-Brown, who may well not have played had Luke Wright been available, provided a welcome reminder of his undoubted talent with a selfless half-century that appeared to preface a declaration and Jeetan Patel passed 50 Championship wickets in the season to underline his value to Warwickshire. Brown described him as "one of the best offspinners in the world at the moment" afterwards.
Both teams have some tricky challenges ahead. While Warwickshire hope that Chris Woakes and Rikki Clarke may be fit to return for the game at Trent Bridge, the news on their captain, Jim Troughton, is far less encouraging. There are even whispers that his back injury may threaten his future in the game.
Of more immediate concern is who will keep wicket next week. With Tim Ambrose having sustained not just a fractured thumb while batting but broken a finger while keeping, there is no way he can play in the game starting in Nottingham on Tuesday. But his replacement, Peter McKay, also has a broken finger and the window in which loan players can be brought in has now closed. Ben Scott and Jon Batty were considered in such a predicament earlier in the season.
Sussex also have concerns. They will be without Ed Joyce, Matt Machan and Chris Jordan - all on international duty - for their next game, as well as Wright.
Looking further ahead, they also need to decide who to bring in for next season. While Steve Magoffin has been exceptional, he does not feature in white-ball cricket, leaving the club to decide whether to look for a limited-overs replacement for next season. They will also look to bring in a spinner, with Robin Peterson among the Kolpak options and, perhaps, Gary Keedy (from Surrey) or Stephen Parry (from Lancashire) two possibilities.
"Warwickshire have the best squad we've played against," Robinson said. "They've been hit by call-ups, but they are still a tough, resilient side. And for us, this is life after Monty Panesar. He would have been helpful on this pitch. But he's not here. We'll be looking to bring in a finger spinner before next season.
"So we're outsiders for the title. But if someone had offered us this position in February - one of three teams in with a chance with a few weeks to go - we'd have bitten their hands off."
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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