Middlesex collapse wrecks Rogers' day
Sussex 386 (Prior 125, Anyon 50, Finn 6-80) beat Middlesex 105 (Anyon 4-24, Magoffin 3021) and 154 (Magoffin 5056, Anyon 3-67)by an innings and 127 runs
Chris Rogers had a lot to reflect on at the Wisden dinner. Named as a Cricketer of the Year he could take pride in a consistent career which has been finally rewarded at Test level. But domestic cricket has been his main patch and he has overseen a mess of a performance from Middlesex in the opening match of 2014.
Billed as potential champions, Middlesex will have to play a good deal better than this. A collapse of 8 for 33 saw them lose before lunch on the final day and begin the season with a hammering in little over six sessions after the second day at Hove had been lost to rain.
Without Rogers, who made 1068 Championship runs last year, and Sam Robson, 1180 in 2013, Middlesex have often veered off course but here, with Robson out on the third evening, they finished in a mangled heap once their captain was dismissed 40 minutes into the final day in what became a shocking highlight of their middle-order deficiencies.
The weakness was identified by Sussex captain Ed Joyce: "The two openers have been big batsmen for them over the past couple of years and if you can get them out the middle order is potentially a bit vulnerable, looking at the averages."
Joyce described the loss of quick wickets as the "Hove Cluster" - such things tend to happen here - but Middlesex suffered a Hove Calamity. James Anyon, bustling up the hill from the Sea End, marched them to the shore, and Steve Magoffin kicked them into the water to finish with five wickets.
Sussex's consistency with the ball was crucial with enough swing available to cause problems. The opening overs were settled before Anyon struck and carnage ensued. Rogers looked to play to leg and was caught by wicketkeeper Ben Brown; Eoin Morgan failed again, also feathering an edge behind; Adam Rossington was Anyon's third wicket, lbw looking to play square too.
Jon Lewis floated a wide delivery that Neil Dexter couldn't resist driving at; he edged to third slip. A better Lewis delivery saw Dawid Malan caught at first slip. Magoffin then blew away the tail with an ugly flattening of stumps.
Middlesex's Championship challenge faltered towards the end of last season and it will take a defiant response towards perceived weaknesses even to get in the frame this year. They now have three matches at Lord's to find a response. They need to work not just on their batting, but all aspects of their game.
"We got outplayed throughout the whole game," Rogers said. "We've had a very poor game. We've got some questions that need to be answered. It's not a great way to start the season.
"We played poorly all round and we got what we deserved. Even if we had scored 200 in the first innings we'd have been in the game. And then there was a crucial dropped catch. We had a lot of players who performed below expectations. We had no one apart from Steve Finn who stood up and for only one person to do that in a game is not good enough.
"At the beginning of the season we're thinking we've got half a chance to be contending at the end but not with performances like that. But we've only had one bad game, that can happen, and we have to get better."
Sussex also began 2013 with an innings victory and will hope to go a couple of places better than last year's third place. They have a very solid bowling attack with Jon Lewis' six wickets here a fine start to what could be a second wind for his career. Chris Jordan is also to come back but it was his batting that Joyce identified as a key component in Sussex's development.
"We bowled a lot more consistently then they did and showed more fight with the bat and our lower order really contributed well," Joyce said. "We've been working hugely hard over the winter to try and improve the lower order batting. We looked at the teams who have won the title over the past few years and they seem to be scoring runs from six down.
"We did a lot talking over the winter as a group and went to Spain together to come up with a bowling plan; it's pretty simple to hit the same spot lots and lots of times and we did that in this game. It's obviously a great start."
Alex Winter is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo