Brilliant Patel gatecrashes Sussex party
Nottinghamshire 408 for 5 (Patel 142*) v Sussex
Sussex's healthiest home crowd of the season turned out in high spirits on the day they officially celebrated their 175th birthday, only to find Samit Patel gatecrashing proceedings as once more he produced the sort of innings to demand that his England career was not yet spent.
Friendly faces greeted you at the gates, offering directions to seats and foam cushions to make them more alluring. One onsite tent boasted 27 real ales - they were reduced to 24 by 4pm - while another seemed to have smoke emanating from its peak. "Don't worry, that's just the barbecue starting up," reassured the ground announcer, a very evident presence throughout the day.
"Good Old Sussex By The Sea" came through the speakers, as the home side took the field upon winning the toss. At tea interval, a parade of vintage cars circled the outfield - a penny for the groundsman's thoughts - as a cake was cut to mark Sussex's birthday, as well wishes from children were played on the big screen. It was very much a day for Sussex, by Sussex, brought to you by Disney.
There is nothing romantic about Patel's tale, yet. He does not fit the young prince look that seems to thrive in English cricket. Nor is there any whimsy to his story as a criminally overlooked player in all three formats of the international game. He has not been shy of stating his claim or deriding his status as the perennial outlier. How many more times must he produce an innings till the words and runs lose all meaning?
He has good memories of Hove, having scored 157 in the first innings of this fixture in 2013. Just as it was then, his timing and placement was a joy to behold, dictating play with every wristy drive through the off side and late flick behind square. But even as he scored runs with such ease, his chief rival for a place in the first Test, Moeen Ali, made a hundred. And so did Scott Borthwick, a spin-bowling allrounder who was flavour of the month as recently as the Sydney Test in January.
The frustration is that any and all of Patel's success is glossed over by the noise of those who talk of what they perceive as a loose attitude towards the controllables. But here he is, as peerless a shot maker as exists in the domestic game, manipulating fielders, hitting gaps, timing expertly and sapping bowlers of will. Matthew Hobden, on Championship debut, looks to have a good future ahead of him, but he will do well to come across a batsman in better fettle than Patel here today.
His hundred was passed with a fine flick to the midwicket boundary for four. As the crowds dissipated, he began to unload, taking Hobden for 16 in an over and later bisecting the men out at deep square and deep fine leg with a controlled whip as James Anyon targeted his ribs.
Patel's brilliance notwithstanding, Sussex were dreadful in the field. Normally such a tight, functional unit, their groundfielding and catching cost them dearly.
Phil Jacques, on four, was dropped by Ben Brown at first slip when Steve Magoffin found his edge with the third ball of the day. A tougher chance to Brown again, this time off Patel (32), was also shelled.
He did have a catch to his name when Alex Hales edged through to him but there was a strong suggestion from the batsman that the ball did not carry. After looking to both square leg and Brown, Hales dragged himself off, as a pocket of home support barked their disapporoval and Hales responded accordingly.
Clearly more at home directly behind the stumps, Brown had given up the gloves for Matt Prior who was looking to prove his achilles and calves were up to the rigours of long-form keeping.
He was a tad ring rusty, conceding a handful of avoidable byes and even five penalty runs when he inadvertently guided a leg-side full toss from Hobden, one-handed, onto his helmet, which was nestling a few feet behind him. A sharp but extremely difficult chance off the bowling from via a slash from Jacques shot past him in a flash but it would be harsh to dot that as a missed chance. He clearly needs games and the 96 overs, while a drag, will have helped his preparation ahead of the first Test against Sri Lanka starting on June 12.
That being said, he should have opposition for that Test spot in Chris Read. While James Foster has been spoken of as a surefire replacement, with Bruce French watching Foster in action last week against Surrey at Chelmsford, Read has long since been on a par with Foster in terms of glovework. Here, he has supported Patel well - their partnership is currently 160 - and looked in fine touch for his 61.
Notts' director of cricket Mick Newell, who is also an England selector, would not be drawn on the specifics of a potential inclusion. But with a meeting set for this week to thrash out the details of that Test squad, Newell did make it clear that the wicketkeeping situation would feature high on the agenda.