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April 13, 2014
Sussex 229 (Joyce 117, Barker 3-52) lead Warwickshire 87 (Trott 37, Magoffin 3-15, Jordan 3-15, Lewis 3-18) by 142 runs
The national selector, James Whitaker, might have ventured to Edgbaston to see the batting of Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell, but it was Ed Joyce who stood out amid the wreckage of a day on which 20 wickets fell.
At a time when Associate nations have been given a pathway, albeit a pathway strewn with obstacles, along the route to Test cricket, Joyce provided a compelling reminder of the class of batsmen outside the current elite. In seam-friendly conditions in which everyone else struggled, he oozed quality, compiling a century from 116 balls. Only two other men passed 30 and no-one else on either side managed to reach 40.
Joyce's enterprise left Sussex with a potentially decisive first-innings lead of 142 as they immediately threatened to add to an innings victory in their opening Championship match of the season against Middlesex at Hove.
This was Joyce's second first-class century of the season - following an innings of 103 against Loughborough MCCU - and his 14th since joining Sussex at the start of 2009. It was chanceless until he reached 100 - Trott then put down a relatively straightforward chance on the midwicket boundary - and was studded with fluent drives through the covers and graceful flicks off the pads. There are few higher-quality, more elegant batsmen in the county game.
While Joyce may take the headlines, Sussex's dominant position was established by their seamers. Utilising helpful conditions expertly, a quartet of bowlers that have all been deemed surplus to requirements by Surrey at one stage or another dismissed Warwickshire for their lowest first-class total this century.
Indeed, it was only the third time this century they have been dismissed for under 100 and is their lowest total since their 86 against Essex in 1999. It was also their lowest total against Sussex since they were dismissed for 43 here in 1982.
Chris Jordan, in particular, can only have impressed Whitaker. Bowling at a sharp pace, finding movement both ways and maintaining an excellent line and length, he cut through the top-order with a series of deliveries that were close to unplayable. Certainly Laurie Evans could have done little with the ball that bounced and left him, while Varun Chopra and Bell were also victims of fast, well-directed deliveries that drew strokes and moved late to take the edge.
Odd though it sounds for a team that lost all 10 of its wickets before lunch, Warwickshire were victims more of excellent bowling and slip catching - six wickets fell to catches in the cordon - than they were guilty of poor batting.
It was a scenario that caused Bell to rue his decision to bat first upon winning the toss. He later admitted he had "got that one wrong," but, after lunch, as conditions eased, it was easy to see why he had batted first. In truth, it was an excellent toss to lose and Joyce admitted that he, while he would have chosen to bowl, he was in two minds about what to do.
The ECB's pitch liaison officer, Jack Birkenshaw, left after tea having declared himself satisfied with the pitch. There was some seam movement, as you would expect on April 13, but much of the damage was done by swing. That has nothing to do with the pitch.
Jordan received excellent support from Steve Magoffin, who created indecision in the batsmen's minds by moving the ball both ways, and Jon Lewis, who would rarely have seen conditions as much to his liking as this in his spell at The Oval. Jimmy Anyon, back at one of his previous clubs, also claimed the 300th first-class wicket of his career when Chris Woakes attempted to turn a straight one into the leg side.
"Jordan would bring something new to the England team," Joyce said afterwards. "He bowls with pace, he swings the ball, he is a good first slip and he bats well. He was exceptional today."
The one man who looked comfortable was Trott. Given a rousing reception by the 1,500 spectators enjoying the Spring sunshine, Trott played the moving ball expertly and looked every inch a Test-class batsman. It was some surprise when, left with the tail for company, he attempted to force the pace and, in trying to run one to third man, chopped a ball on to his stumps.
"They bowled outstandingly well," Bell agreed later. "There actually weren't that many bad shots. You saw some genuine dismissals and Jordan, especially, was brilliant. He bowled exactly where we didn't want it. We're a long way behind in this game and we have to come out scrapping tomorrow."
Perhaps the day could have been even better for Sussex. By the time they began their reply, conditions had eased considerably and they had an opportunity to bat Warwickshire out of the game. Starting brightly against some loose bowling from Chris Wright and Keith Barker, they were brought to heel by the excellent Woakes and canny Jeetan Patel and may yet come to regret some profligate batting. Joyce apart, they batted poorly.
A first innings lead of 142 is substantial, certainly, but with several batsmen falling to loose strokes - Joyce pulled directly to the midwicket fence where Trott made amends for his earlier error; Rory Hamilton-Brown heaved across the line; Luke Wells turned one to mid-wicket and Ben Brown edged a waft - they may yet reflect that they have missed a chance to kill off a dangerous adversary.
Sussex have a poor record at Edgbaston. They have only won once in the Championship here since 1961 and that was back in 1982.
"We're a little frustrated," Joyce continued. "We would have liked to be five or six down. But Woakes came back at us really well and Warwickshire probably have the strongest seam unit in the country. We expect an attritional day tomorrow."
The other shadow on Sussex's day was the continuing struggles of Matt Prior with an Achilles injury. Prior has struggled with Achilles problems for a couple of years and, having not been fit to keep wicket in Sussex's first game against Middlesex, was obliged to pull out of this game entirely.
Sussex hope that an injection and a two-week period of rest will resolve the issue but, with England looking to rebuild with a team that can see them through the next few years, there have to be doubts over Prior's long-term fitness. At present, Sussex hope to have him back for their game against Somerset, though it may be he is able only to bat and not keep wicket.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
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