Shah fifty defies Sussex
MCC 130 for 4 (Shah 72*, Harinath 8*) trail Sussex 171 (Nash 33, Kirby 4-39) by 41 runs
Owais Shah's gritty 72 was the only innings of substance on a bitterly cold opening day of the season in which 14 wickets fell at Lord's. Sharing in an unbeaten stand of 57 with Arun Harinath, Shah and MCC outwitted the Champion County, Sussex, and are in a good position from which to take the match by the scruff.
Like the customary smattering of hardy spectators, Chris Adams, the Sussex captain, appeared to be duped by the early spring sunshine and clear blue skies. The early warmth gave way to a biting cold, and by tea, Sussex had fallen to 171 all out with Steve Kirby and Graham Onions sharing seven wickets. Chris Nash top-scored with 33, but it was a day for bowlers, however deceitful the weather gods were trying to be. In April, it was ever thus.
Kirby was the first to take advantage of the conditions, replacing Onions - whose first spell was tidy but too short - at the Nursery End. Unlike Onions and Charlie Shreck, he pitched it well up and repeatedly troubled Nash and Carl Hopkinson with marked away-swing. Nash had moved surreptitiously to 33 - a sweetly timed straight-rive the highlight - before surviving a confident shout from Kirby to one which cut back on him. Kirby got his man two balls later when Nash fell over trying to work one to leg. Sussex were 42 for 1 with under an hour until lunch.
Kirby was beginning to generate encouraging pace while maintaining a consistent line to Hopkinson, who never looked comfortable, and fell in predictably meek fashion cutting a lifter which cramped him. Michael Yardy crabbed two fours through midwicket before his lack of footwork cost him with a thick edge to Michael Carberry in the slips, and Sussex limped to lunch on 90 for 3.
Onions took over the mantle from Kirby in the afternoon. Matt Prior fell to a loose flap outside off immediately after lunch and Adams - whose 23 contained four crunching boundaries, two of them square-cut a la Robin Smith - attempted a slap over long-on, and spooned the ball helplessly to his opposite number, Ed Joyce, at mid-off. This was not the cricket of Champions.
Luke Wright replaced Prior and, inevitably, chanced his arm. Pulling Onions for a majestic four and driving Shreck through the covers, he was beginning to move the scoring rate along nicely. It couldn't last long, however, and his natural aggression cost him when he fished at a fine leg-cutter from Onions. James Tredwell then shuffled in to clean up the tail with three cheap wickets, bowling Harris with a beautifully flighted delivery. The only question left remaining: was 171 rather more competitive than MCC first thought?
Harris opened the attack with Jason Lewry and immediately matched Onions, Kirby and Co with a wonderful eight-over spell of swing and seam. Sussex have fought hard for his signing - his registration was quarantined until early this morning - but his control of line was immaculate. Joyce failed to counter the inswing, edging a simple catch through to Prior, but Harris really shone against the right-handers. Shah, in particular, was the epitome of rust: fishing and missing outside his off stump, Harris might have had his wicket five or more times. But his hard graft soon paid off.
Carberry also managed to miss the ball repeatedly, but a booming inswinger hurried into his pads to trap him in front and when Ravi Bopara edged Harris to Adams at first slip, MCC were tottering on 42 for 3. Shah's struggle against Harris continued but, in Adil Rashid, he found a partner willing to take Sussex on. Rashid's thumping square cut for four appeared to prod Shah into life who tucked into the support bowlers, Luke Wright and Ragheb Aga. And although Rashid fell to a daft single to mid-on, Shah was well supported by Arun Harinath, the pair putting on 57 for the fifth wicket.
Shortly after notching an impressively slick 65-ball fifty, Shah began to show signs of blossoming with the most delicate of pick-ups over midwicket for the day's most authoritative and elegant shot. And with that, MCC are within touching distance of overhauling Sussex and taking a lead.
Will Luke is a staff writer at Cricinfo