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George Dobell at Taunton
June 8, 2014
Sussex 210 for 9 (Joyce 99*, Trego 3-47) v Somerset
It is unfortunate for Somerset that, on a day when they did almost everything right, it was their one failure that proved to be the defining moment.
Certainly Ed Joyce punished Somerset for a dropped catch with a typically high-quality innings on the first day of the Championship match in Taunton.
Joyce, the Sussex captain, had not scored when he poked at a delivery outside off stump from Peter Trego and edged the ball in the direction of James Hildreth at first slip. But the ball never reached Hildreth as Craig Kieswetter, the wicketkeeper, dived far to his left and, in trying to claim the chance, knocked the ball to the ground. Had it been taken, Sussex would have been 16 for 3.
To say that Joyce's remains the key wicket would be an understatement. With Sussex missing Michael Yardy, who has a torn bicep, Matt Prior and Chris Jordan, who are back on England duty, Jon Lewis, who has an Achilles problem, and having dropped Ashar Zaidi, they went into this game with a long tail and with Joyce the only man in the top five averaging over 35.
So when he was drawn into poking at one outside off stump only a few minutes after winning the toss and electing to bat on a slow surface that appeared to provide assistance to the seamers throughout, both sides knew that it was a key moment.
Joyce went on to finish the day unbeaten on 99, one run short of his fifth first-class century of the season and his fourth in the Championship. No one else in the Sussex side contributed more than 30. Only three other men made double-figures.
Appreciating his side's reliance upon him, Joyce took 33 deliveries to reach 7 and another 24 balls to score again. His half-century occupied 142 deliveries and there were times when he was beaten twice in an over on a day when the ball swung throughout and also seamed a little.
But as the ball softened and the bowlers tired, Joyce also played some typically elegant strokes. While many of his runs were accumulated just behind square on the off side - Joyce cuts and guides as well as anyone in the English game and reasoned that the key to success on this pitch was to wait for the wide ball and not try to hit it too hard - he was also efficient off his legs and, when the ball was full enough, fluent through the covers.
He resumes, on strike, in the morning and on the brink of the 36th first-class century of his career and the 17th since moving to Sussex at the start of 2009. Only Samit Patel, who has played five more innings, has scored more Division One runs this season and an average of 132.60 tells its own story. There are very few better batsmen in the domestic game.
"I had a lot of luck," he said afterwards. "It feels as if the pitch is doing quite a lot and they bowled exceptionally well."
Whether Joyce's decision to bat first will be vindicated remains to be seen. His logic seems sound: there is no heavy roller available in this game, so any indentations made on the first day will not be rolled out. In theory, batting should become more difficult. But as Trego reasoned, Sussex's current total is probably "somewhere between 80 and 120 below par".
"You never see 200 wickets at Taunton," Trego said. "It is doing a bit and we have made very good use of the conditions. We have been pretty attritional with the ball and to go at under three an over at Taunton is a good effort.
"Ed Joyce scored 99 too many as far as I'm concerned, but catches go down in cricket. He doesn't give many chances and you know he will punish you if you don't take them. But we win, lose and have our successes and failures as a team."
Sussex lost three wickets to batsmen playing-on - the slow nature of the pitch does not favour forcing strokes - with three other wickets falling to edges behind the wicket as batsmen were drawn into poking at deliveries that left them. Ben Brown was the victim of a brilliant, diving catch at cover by Johann Myburgh and Luke Wright, usually so fluent, spent 34 balls stuck on 7.
With rain a frequent visitor (18 overs were lost), Alfonso Thomas and Trego - an opening pair with a combined age of 70 - were able to bowl throughout much of the day and contributed 39 accurate overs. But Craig Overton, again playing ahead of his quicker but more wayward twin James, impressed most: maintaining an immaculate length, the 20-year-old gained bounce and movement in barely conceding two an over. He looks destined to play a huge role in Somerset cricket over the next decade or two.
There was, meanwhile, a heartening sign of the values that remain inherent at most levels of the game. Both Nick Compton and Alviro Petersen, fielding in the cordon, appeared to take low edges cleanly but immediately informed the umpires that the ball had not carried. As Joyce, the non-striker on each occasion remarked, had they claimed them, he would have been none the wiser.
"I had no idea they had bounced," Joyce said. "If they had claimed them I would not have known better."
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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