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George Dobell at Edgbaston
April 16, 2014
Sussex 229 (Joyce 117) and 333 for 3 (Joyce 151*) beat Warwickshire 87 (Trott 37, Magoffin 3-15, Jordan 3-15, Lewis 3-18) and 471 (Bell 189*, Clarke 79, Patel 74) by seven wickets
The last time Sussex won at Edgbaston, in June 1982, Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, the Falklands War was coming to an end and a heavily pregnant Princess Diana was days away from becoming a mother. And, to underline the sense that some things never change, the England football team was about to make an early exit from the World Cup.
So it is understandable that this victory means so much to a Sussex side who, despite all the success of the last decade or so, still retain the status of a smaller county amid relative giants. Neither Ed Joyce, the captain, nor Mark Robinson, the coach, had experienced victory at Edgbaston at any stage of their careers in first-class cricket.
There is something quietly but deeply impressive about Sussex. It is not just that they play pleasing but hard cricket. It is not just that they retain the atmosphere of a family club while fulfilling their role as an elite centre of sporting excellence and it is not just that they have rehabilitated lost cricketers such as Chris Jordan and Jimmy Anyon and moulded them into fine players.
It is also that, throughout this game, they played with a generosity of spirit that sometimes seems to have vanished from professional sport. So when Warwickshire batsmen reached landmarks - such as Ian Bell's splendid century or Rikki Clarke's pleasing half-century - they were greeted with genuine applause from their opponents, and when Bell edged to the slips, Joyce was quick to inform the umpires that the ball did not carry.
These values can be easily derided. But there is something within them that makes cricket special and reminds us, in a time when on-field snarling and posturing and cheating and sledging and ugliness has become the norm, that sport does not have to be that way. That being gracious is not weak or soft. That sport is not a "war," as Alastair Cook said during the Ashes. That sport can remain beautiful without losing any of its competitive edge.
Sussex looked the better team in this match. Their bowlers - particularly the excellent Chris Jordan and the relatively unheralded Steven Magoffin - exploited helpful conditions expertly and Ed Joyce batted with wonderful application and skill. He already has 383 first-class runs this season and was, quite rightly, rated as the match-winner by Bell after the game.
From an England perspective, though, it was Jordan's form that stuck out. With an ability to swing and seam the ball at a pace that neither Stuart Broad or James Anderson can sustain, he may well have moved himself ahead of Tim Bresnan and Steven Finn into position as England's third seamer in their Test side.
Disregarding the strong suspicion that he would rather be playing for West Indies, he is, alongside Sam Robson, a dead-cert to be part of the team for the new era. What it says about the state of cricket in schools in England that both new recruits should have been brought up abroad is a debate that can wait for another day.
"He would be a very good player for England," Joyce said afterwards. "He bowls with serious pace, he is a three-dimensional cricketer - he can bat, he can bowl and he has excellent hands in the slips - and I think he would make an excellent first-change for England.
"They should get him in now. This was the best I've seen him bowl, which considering how well he bowled for us last year, is huge credit. He will be a massive loss for us, but he is ready for Test cricket now."
While the pitch here eased tremendously as the game progressed, Sussex's achievement in chasing down 330 in the fourth-innings should not be underplayed. Only once in history has a total of 400 been scored to win in the fourth-innings here and no side has managed even 300 in the last five years. To put that in perspective, the highest score a visiting team has ever managed to win at Edgbaston was the 343 made by Kent here in 1925 with Frank Woolley making the runs. To achieve it against an attack including three Test bowlers and two England Lions bowlers is a fine achievement.
Joyce accepted that, with Jordan likely to be absent, Sussex "might need reinforcements" later in the summer, but defended the performance of Ashar Zaidi, pointing out that as experienced a spinner as Jeetan Patel had failed to extract much from this surface. Such concerns can wait for now. By beating two key rivals for the Championship in the first two games, they have given their season a tremendous kick-start. The pessimistic might take comfort from the fact that they have, by mid-April, almost done enough to stave off the threat of relegation already.
Warwickshire's attack, always struggling to make up for the 87 all out on the first morning, was impatient, but this was batting of the highest class from Joyce. Hamilton-Brown eased the nerves with an aggressive half-century, though Jonathan Trott, who endured a tough return to competitive cricket, at least enjoyed a moment of joy when he anticipated Hamilton-Brown's sweep and ran from slip to leg-slip to take an outstanding catch.
Defeat was hard on Bell, though. His second-innings century helped Warwickshire overhaul a club record for the biggest difference between first and second innings totals - 350 - which was set at The Oval in 1905. But without him, Warwickshire would have been hugely disappointing in this match, with their batting, catching and bowling all below expectations.
"Our bowlers did create chances," Bell pointed out afterwards. "But we dropped four catches in their second innings. You can't afford to do that. But Joyce played incredibly well and we weren't as consistent with the ball as we should have been. We were outstanding at times, but went at four or five an over at others. You have to back-up good sessions at this level and we lost one or two sessions very heavily.
"We knew this division would be very tight this year. But in all the time I've been at Warwickshire, I've never known us have such a strong squad and, after the start we had to this game, we can take a lot from the fact that we fought back so well." Defeat does not rule Warwickshire out of the Championship race. But, with England and England Lions call-ups likely to bite deep, they could have done with a better start than this. It leaves little margin for error.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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