Sussex's odd couple keep their heads above water
Sussex 303 for 6 (Zaidi 90*, Joyce 83, Yardy 60) vs Somerset
This is an uncertain time of year. Three clubs - two of them playing here - are locked in the real relegation battle; Worcestershire, to the neutral's disappointment, are all but gone. Hampshire are still fighting. But Sussex and Somerset know a win at Hove saves tricky seasons.
For players too, it's an uncertain time. Take Ashar Zaidi. Out of contract at season's end, this, like the retiring Michael Yardy, could be his final home game for Sussex. Time, then, to make an impression. Things are uncertain for Yardy too, as he prepares for life after cricket. After a day delayed by - then twice interrupted by - blustery rain, and with Sussex looking vulnerable at 171 for 6, the pair came together to share an unbeaten 132 at upwards of four an over, securing three vital bonus points.
There are, at first glance, uniting factors. Zaidi is a roly-poly sort of fellow, while Yardy these days is not svelte, and neither could be accused of haring between the wickets. Both are left-handed and both - Yardy for his extravagant crab across the crease and Zaidi for his compulsive fidgets - are downright awkward to bowl to. On Monday, both scored fine, fun half-centuries with Zaidi so defiant that he finished only 10 runs short of a century.
But there are vast differences too. Yardy is a club stalwart, while many wonder exactly what Zaidi's role is - part-time spinner, No 8 batsman, often hidden in the field - and few would be particularly surprised to see him released. The celebrations of their respective half-centuries told of this: fifties can seldom have been greeted as warmly as Yardy's - a rainbow even appeared to the east as Zaidi came down to offer his partner a warm handshake. Zaidi's brought smiles for its brevity, and sheer joyfulness.
In method, Yardy is heavy footed with his double foot-plant across from on side to off, while Zaidi is fleeter, dancing around, down and across the crease depending on who is flinging the ball at him. If Yardy's technique is idiosyncratic, he uses it watchfully and sensibly, while Zaidi swings from the hip. By day's end, with one playing for stumps and the other appearing to believe they required eight an over, they looked a rather odd couple.
On a day when rain was never far away and the wind blew so hard that the floodlights, switched on early, swayed in the gusts, Somerset would not have been unhappy to have been invited to bowl by Ed Joyce. It did not take long for Luke Wells to be squared up by Tim Groenewald and edge to second slip, where Marcus Trescothick was as safe as ever.
Joyce was Sussex's securest batsman. Strong on the cut, flicking to leg, and when leaving, he survived two sessions as flightier, more temptable partners came and went. Matt Machan looked in sublime touch, straight driving and bunting to leg, before slapping Jamie Overton to cover. Peter Trego probed and Chris Nash nibbled to Trescothick at second, while Luke Wright fell in the same manner to Jim Allenby's medium pacers after also looking at ease, playing a magnificent flamingo through midwicket. Joyce's fine innings ended when he was strangled down the legside by Overton with the afternoon session's final delivery.
It was Ben Brown's wicket, just after tea, that brought Yardy and Zaidi together. Brown, who has had a fine season, had somehow contrived to turn a shin-high, leg-stump full toss from Jack Leach to cover, off his leading edge. Craig Overton barely had to move but that delivery's cricket had hitherto been so poor that he really should have shelled it.
Zaidi set about trying to cause more trouble than the 40mph winds, which sent detritus onto the field, blew off fielders' caps and played with bowlers lines. He was away with a cut and an on-drive off Jamie Overton and never let up. For every handsome drive there was a loose waft and for every time the third man boundary was peppered intentionally, there was one that made it there by accident. With the close minutes away, he provided his innings in microcosm, deciding to amble down the track to Allenby and deposit him over wide mid-on for six.
Yardy was as perversely elegant as ever, rolling his wrists delicately on cover drives and dabbing across the line. On a pitch that has a little spice, he was a good deal more straight-laced, but such was the fun had by Zaidi, it's hard to believe Yardy was able to keep a straight face at the non-strikers. Thanks to the odd couple, Sussex's position - in the match and that relegation scrap - looks strong.