Dropped catch helps Cook 'get on with it'
Sussex 360 (Nash 119, Joyce 61, Robinson) and 288 (Nash 92, Porter 5-82, Napier 5-92) drew with Essex 320 (Westley 86, ten Doeschate 51, Ryder 51) and 266 for 7 (Cook 127*)
Alastair Cook rose to meet his particular challenge of recent days by scoring a second Championship hundred in as many matches, this time wearing the new-style helmet that has unexpectedly become the source of some bother, but it was not quite enough for Essex to overcome theirs on an enthralling final day in Hove.
Cook was dropped on 1 but went on to score an unbeaten 127, anchoring his team's attempted pursuit of 329 in 91 overs while at the same time quelling some of the concern that has sprung up over his enforced switch to an ECB-approved helmet. He was required to keep his eye on the ball right to end, seeing out the last ten overs in the company of Graham Napier, as Sussex sought the last three wickets that would have given them a memorable victory in a captivating contest.
Speaking for the first time on the subject, Cook said he was still getting used to his new helmet. "It's not my preference, I would rather bat in my other one but I totally understand the position everyone is in with the regulations, so you just have to get on with it," he said. "I just think I pick the ball up better in the other one but it wasn't too bad today.
"It was nice to score a few, you're always judged by runs. I got a bit of luck early on but you kind of need that. With the break I've had and just playing one form of the game internationally, you get chunks of time off, so I've come to Essex to try and score runs and hope we get off to a good start."
The ECB have insisted on a safety-first approach to player protection, and Essex ought not to be criticised for taking the safety-first approach in their chase. Sussex are expected to be rivals for the Division Two title, after all. Cook set the tone, prioritising his desire to spend a significant amount of time in the middle, and that eventually provided Essex with a platform from which to launch an attack during the evening session.
However, the dismissals of Jesse Ryder, Ryan ten Doeschate and James Foster in a seven-over period just as the second new ball beckoned meant that Sussex, who had begun to look increasingly flat in the field, suddenly became the only team likely to win. Ben Brown, standing in as captain for Luke Wright, described it afterwards as a "great game of cricket", living up to the Division One standards both sides aspire to.
Cook was batting for the second time wearing his new helmet, the most talked-about grille in sporting circles since George Foreman moved into kitchen appliances. There were nervy moments early on - such is the life of an opening batsmen - and England's Test captain was grateful for Danny Briggs, standing in the injured Ed Joyce at first slip, shelling a straightforward outside edge off the bowling of Ollie Robinson in the fourth over and saving him from replicating his first-innings score.
There had been a suggestion from the Hove groundsman that the pitch would turn on the final day, potentially casting Briggs in a pivotal role. This was an important contribution of the unwanted variety, although Cook might well remember it fondly if Briggs bowls himself back into contention for an England spot at some stage in the future.
He had moved on to 2 when Steve Magoffin and the Sussex cordon made a prolonged, impassioned and ultimately unsuccessful appeal for lbw but gradually Cook's movements became smoother, the judgement more assured, his sense of high dudgeon at being forced into an equipment change by those panjandrums at the ECB dissipating with every delivery faced.
After 38 balls of reconnaissance, he leaned into a fuss-free cover drive for four off Magoffin. A few overs later an overpitched delivery from the pacy 19-year-old George Garton was timed back down the ground, before the favoured square cut came out to dispatch Robinson to the boundary. Ajmal Shahzad, in particular, began to feed Cook's pet shot and he must have felt everything falling back into place as he swatted through the off side.
His half-century arrived courtesy of one such cut, from the 112th delivery he had faced, his hundred via a dab for three off Briggs, from 189 balls. But while Cook played his part to perfection, only Ravi Bopara and Ryder looked capable of taking the chase on; the latter's dismissal, playing on against the legspin of Luke Wells the ball after bringing up a century stand with Cook, finally curtailed Essex's ambitions.
Having lost Nick Browne and Tom Westley to the new ball - both lbw from the Cromwell Road End - Essex looked to be oiling the gears for an assault during a partnership of 48 for the third wicket. Bopara took Briggs down the ground and through the covers, passing 10,000 first-class runs in the process, but a wristy flick off Shahzad was his undoing, the ball carrying all the way to deep square leg where Matt Machan held a fine low catch diving forward. Machan's excellent running take at deep cover to remove ten Doeschate was another key moment.
Ultimately, the stand between Sussex's last-wicket pair of Shahzad and Magoffin, which they extended to 46 on the final morning, helped extinguish the possibility of a result, although there were various moments in the match that could have tipped the balance either way - not least the fact that 13 overs were lost to bad light on the second evening.
Sussex could reflect on twice having let intimidating positions slip, going from 188 for 0 to 289 for 6 late on the first day, then collapsing from 165 for 2 - with a lead of 205 - on the third, while Essex showed impressive character to fight back. It was hard to argue with Brown's conclusion that this was a contest "between two teams who will probably be the top two teams in the division towards the end of the season".
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick