Nash ton lifts injury-hit Sussex on pitch expected to spin
Sussex 280 for 3 (Nash 112*, Wells 68) v Warwickshire
Sussex finished third last season and began this year as title contenders in the judgment of some, yet now find themselves bracketed with Hampshire, Worcestershire and Nottinghamshire in the group of four likely to yield the two sides who will ultimately be relegated.
In this rather less optimistic state of affairs, they can plead mitigating circumstances. No side has taken the hammering they have suffered in injuries to bowlers, for example. Nothing has been seen so far of James Anyon and Lewis Hatchett, Ajmal Shahzad, who started so well after his arrival from Nottinghamshire, is likely not to bowl for the remainder of the season because of a pectoral injury and Chris Jordan will be out for up to six weeks with a side strain. And then there is Tymal Mills, the express-paced former Essex bowler, whose career in first-class cricket looks effectively over because of a congenital back problem.
Yet they have won their last two Championship matches against Warwickshire, notably for the first time in 32 years at Edgbaston last season, a curious match in which Warwickshire made 87 in the first innings and 471 in the second yet could not prevent Sussex successfully chasing 331 to win. Ed Joyce made an unbeaten 151, having scored 117 in the first innings. This season, they won again at Hove, by one wicket, albeit on a pitch that was marked as 'poor' by the umpires.
Given that their batting has not exactly been robust, they should regard their opening-day position in this match as satisfactory at least, given the prognosis for the pitch. It is the same one used for the last two NatWest Blast matches and both sides have selected three spinners. So far it has played well for the batsmen, generally speaking, offering not much to the pace bowlers and only slow turn.
Between them, Jeetan Patel, Josh Poysden and Ateeq Javid bowled 61 overs on the opening day and took only one wicket between them. Varun Chopra, the Warwickshire captain, was wedded to his strategy, even delaying the new ball by 10 overs in order to persevere with Patel and Poysden in tandem.
But Sussex's batsmen continued to hold the upper hand and after Luke Wells had survived some difficult moments in laying the foundations for a decent total, Chris Nash took on the responsibility for providing an innings of substance and met it by posting his first century of what has been a lean campaign.
For the most part it was a well measured, diligent performance by the 32-year-old right-hander, his first century since dropping down the order from his customary role as opener. He batted ten minutes short of three hours and found a solid ally in Luke Wright, who demonstrated his ability to switch disciplines with a 124-ball unbeaten 43 made only 48 hours after a 56-ball 111 in Friday's T20 match against Gloucestershire in Bristol. He and Nash have added 117 for the fourth wicket so far.
Warwickshire, who need to win this match to keep within striking distance of the Division One leaders, had reasons for optimism, even though it was Sussex's day. They have been hit by injuries, too, with Keith Barker ruled out of this match with a calf problem, Chris Woakes still sidelined by a knee injury and Rikki Clarke, though playing, seemingly under the weather.
But the circumstances at least provided an opportunity for a long look at a legspinner in 24-year-old Poysden, who is making his Championship debut. As it happens, Poysden hails from Shoreham on Sea and played a number of matches for Sussex's 2nd XI without winning the offer of a contract.
He has played alongside several members of this Sussex team. Until he began to tire, as was inevitable given that most of his cricket recently has been in T20, he bowled with consistently impressive control and picked up a good wicket when he tossed one up to tempt the drive from the left-handed Matt Machan, who paid the price as Chris Wright took an acrobatic catch at mid-off.
"I only found out at the toss that I was playing," Poysden said. "It's a thrill and an honour to make my red-ball debut for Warwickshire after playing just a few limited-overs game.
"It was an attritional day but I was pretty happy with the way it came out for me. I have been nagging the groundsman Gary Barwell all season to prepare some turning wickets."
Nash admitted he has needed to adjust to the different demands of his new role.
"It has taken me 150 games to get to No. 4 in the order," he joked. "As I have opened the batting all my life I felt quite nervous going in lower down but I am chuffed to bits. It has been a tough season so far and we have played on some interesting pitches so to get a hundred in a big game for us was very satisfying.
"Luke Wright batted superbly and really showed his maturity. His century last week was the best T20 innings I have ever seen so for him to switch down the gears and play like he did today just shows what a fine player he is."
Joyce this time fell for 30, well caught by Laurie Evans at gully off Boyd Rankin. Wells rode his luck a little, with Poysden unlucky not to get him out on a couple of occasions, but was beginning to look a touch more settled when he went for a pull against Wright when not quite in position to make the shot and top-edged to Clarke at midwicket.