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April 6, 2014
Sussex 86 for 3 (Prior 32*) trail Middlesex 105 (Lewis 4-34, Magoffin 3-21) by 19 runs
Eoin Morgan blundered the first fence badly as the field in the eight-round race for England Test selection in June jumped away with the tape raised on the new season at Hove. Sam Robson was also a slow starter as Middlesex were fired out for 105 on the opening day.
Morgan opted for county cricket ahead of another stint in the IPL with the England team-sheet for the first Test against Sri Lanka showing plenty of blank spaces. But he was bowled first ball by the veteran Jon Lewis, who enjoyed the sprightliest of debuts for Sussex and whose four cheap wickets provided a rude reminder about the demands of Championship cricket in April.
This was Morgan's first Championship match in April since 2009 - and only his ninth four-day game in the last five seasons. It was a short reacquaintance in the middle as Lewis swung one into his middle and off stumps. Morgan has often been criticised for not having a tight enough technique for Test cricket - although it was his failure to deal with Pakistani spinners that saw him dropped from England's Test side - and he will have to prove overwhelmingly that he can deal with the moving ball if England are to pick him ahead of proven runscorers in the Championship.
Robson also failed. He has moved to the top of the market to become Alastair Cook's partner against Sri Lanka after a strong winter which included five centuries in six matches in Australia for the England Performance Programme and for England Lions in Sri Lanka. He now needs Championship runs to solidify his chance of selection.
Lewis relishes new challenge
But his price will have drifted slightly after a 34-ball stay where he applied the necessary careful judgement and discipline to survive most of the only hour before lunch - rain delayed the start until noon - before driving awkwardly from the crease at James Anyon and edging behind.
Robson was not the only one to fall for a loose stroke outside off as Middlesex produced little evidence of an improvement in a middle order whose struggles last season seriously undermined what was for a while a solid Championship challenge. Morgan was a boost to their ranks but was one of five single figure scores from Nos. 3 to 7.
Also beginning the season with international cricket a firm target is Steven Finn. He returns to county action after a miserable winter where his bowling disintegrated and after not featuring in England's Ashes debacle and ending a problematic phase of his career with his star fallen significantly.
He was not given the new ball and came on to bowl at Matt Prior. Third ball, Prior drove gloriously through the covers for four and two balls later a hook also found the fence. Finn went for 20 in four overs as a reminder that he still has a long way back to his best form.
With three of Middlesex's England potential players failing, Prior was left to provide some good news. His flourishing strokeplay was absent in Australia, leading to his dropping after the third Test, but here he brought a smile to spectators with his jaunty unbeaten 32.
Lewis has long departed the thoughts of national selectors but here he enjoyed a fine debut for his third county with his nibbling swing bowling tailor-made for the conditions. The wicket here is one of several relaid in the close season as part of a gradual overhaul of the square but there was no significant help for the bowlers.
A stalwart of 17 seasons at Gloucestershire, Lewis' move to Surrey saw him limited to one-day cricket but Sussex saw a wider role for him and he proved his worth with a darting spell of 4 for 12 in seven overs after lunch. Sussex will probably be without Chris Jordan for a large part of the season and their head coach Mark Robinson will be delighted with the first contribution from what looks like a shrewd acquisition, especially in early-season conditions.
Lewis' dismissal of Morgan followed his opening wicket with the previous ball: Neil Dexter chalked his name on the poor-strokes-against-the-swinging-ball board with a long reach outside off to drive and edged to Ben Brown.
Not too dissimilarly, Dawid Malan edged to Ed Joyce - the only Middlesex batsman to get settled - and Adam Rossington fell behind the wicket, the 20-year-old preferred to Joe Denly with Angus Fraser hoping to get some cricket into his squad, mindful of potentially losing Morgan and Robson to England later in the season.
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