Hove serves up another challenge for batsmen
Hampshire 116 for 4 (Vince 52*) trail Sussex 251 (Wright 59, Berg 4-67) by 135 runs
Last year the pitches were too dull at Hove. Now they're too fruity. The last two four-day games here have only needed three for a result. With 14 wickets falling on the first day this time, be prepared to add this one to the list.
The surface was not quite the hell-raiser against Middlesex, or the blood-spiller that stung Warwickshire's paws. But there was enough to be wary of going forward: the Cromwell Road End was a collection of plates while, by tea, Fidel Edwards' footmarks had dug a crater that needed filling at the interval.
He seemed to want to create imprints in the middle of the pitch with the ball, too - bumper happy throughout a day that suggested if the bowlers found consistency, the pitch would do the rest. That being said, his pursuit for the perfect bouncer contributed to some great entertainment.
Perhaps the best indication of how this pitch will unfold - not literally of course, though you can't be too sure at Hove nowadays - was Ed Joyce's decision to ensure Sussex would not be batting last on it. And when Edwards dug them in, Luke Wells and Michael Yardy had a go.
The opening pair went at more than five an over, swiping effectively around their heads, like rich-blooded tourists in mosquito country. Steaming in from the Sea End, Edwards was even allowed two men on the hook inside the first few overs. To the credit of Wells and Yardy, nothing came close to going to hand, as both committed to each of their shots and timed each swivel and roll of the wrists to make the most of the pace of both Edwards and the outfield. With Jackson Bird proving expensive from the Cromwell Road End, it fell to Gareth Berg to curtail the excitement.
Judging a book by its cover just this once, it is not a role you would associate with Berg. His expansive range of tattoos and penchant for a night out in his younger days paint the picture of a character more at ease with introducing a little anarchy than control.
Yet, while his fellow pacemen touched and exceeded four runs an over, he was steady at around three. He also attacked; a pre-lunch spell of eight overs accounting for the wickets of Wells lbw, Yardy caught at third slip by Will Smith and Ed Joyce caught by James Vince at second, while only conceding 24 runs. He would go on to take one more, Ollie Robinson, caught by Sean Ervine at first slip, to return figures of 4 for 67 - his best first-class return with the ball since a six-wicket haul against Glamorgan in September 2011.
Above the haul, he and Hampshire will be buoyed that he bowled his 22 overs at a consistent pace and getting good lift off the pitch, with no sign of any discomfort. For an avid Batman fan - a tattoo of the caped crusader covers his left forearm - the Ageas Bowl may prove to be his Lazarus Pit.
Post-lunch, Luke Wright and Chris Nash made use of some wayward bowling from Bird, and the odd miscalculation from Berg, to thump fifty runs inside the first six overs of the afternoon session. Their fifth-wicket stand reached three figures in 124 balls, with Wright's hard-handed square game dovetailing nicely with Nash's touch, to wrestle back the initiative. Wright brought up his half-century in 71 balls but Nash fell short on 48 - his highest score of the season so far.
Having taken the score to 202 from 87 for 4, both fell in successive balls to trigger a collapse that led to Sussex's first innings finishing on 251. First Nash, who had just seen Wright cart Vince into the pavilion balcony for six, was given the chance to do the same with a juicy long-hop. All he could find was Sean Terry on the square leg boundary. A ball later, Danny Briggs got one to spit off the pitch and take the glove of Wright, through to Ervine at first slip.
Hampshire's first innings followed a similar pattern with the loss of their four wickets triggered by an unfortunate run out of skipper Jimmy Adams who was backing up too far when Magoffin got fingertips on a Terry straight drive. Some smart working of his bowlers from Joyce saw Robinson take a wicket from each end, meaning Briggs was sent out as nightwatchman to see the day out.
He will start again on the second day with Vince, who closed with his first half-century of the season. It was more of what we have come to expect from Vince; full value from drive balls and elegance through the gaps. His innings has featured nine fours so far and his team-mates would rather he cashed in rather than someone else having to start again tomorrow. Although even with a fifty under the belt that will not be easy. Especially on this pitch.