Nottinghamshire v Sussex, Trent Bridge, 1st day September 23, 2009

Sussex scrap but relegation looms

John Culley at Trent Bridge

Nottinghamshire 294 for 8 (Read 78*, Fletcher 0*) v Sussex

Sussex have good memories of this ground and against a Nottinghamshire side looking pretty ragged as the season closes it would not be a surprise were they to emerge with a win, their first in the Championship against a county other than the long-doomed Worcestershire.

Sadly, victory will probably count for very little. The defeat against Yorkshire at Hove in the penultimate round had the feel of a mortal wound and Sussex knew that even if they were to take all 22 points on offer, they would have to rely on someone else -- Yorkshire, Hampshire or Lancashire - taking a hammering if they were to avoid relegation to Division Two.

Hard to imagine that, only three years ago, they crushed Nottinghamshire by an innings and 245 runs in three days here to secure a second Championship in four seasons, a title they would retain the following summer.

Where has it all gone wrong? This year, according to Robin Martin-Jenkins, there have simply been too many mistakes. "We've dropped catches at crucial times, had mini batting collapses when in a strong position, maxi batting collapses from any position, fallen short of extra batting points on many occasions and even lost a point due to a slow over-rate," he told the Brighton Argus.

It might also be pointed out, quite reasonably, that they no longer have Mushtaq Ahmed. It would be incorrect to say that their three titles were down entirely to him but a brilliant spinner with a 100-wickets-a-year habit is a fairly substantial asset, as indeed he proved in that crucial moment three years ago, when Nottinghamshire were bowled out for 150 following on and he finished with 9 for 48.

Yet a side that reaches the Friends Provident final, wins the Twenty20 Cup and will probably clinch the final Pro40 title as well cannot be hopeless in four-day cricket and, among seven almost equally moderate counties between Worcestershire and runaway champions Durham, Sussex may simply feel they were the ones left standing when the music stopped.

Given that Nottinghamshire, chasing second place and the £225,000 prize that now goes with it, entered the last round with three wins to Sussex's two, they might have a point. On the other hand, if the number of defeats were seen as the crucial statistic, they are clearly the next-to-worst team.

This game, so far, has gone reasonably well for them - but not as well as they would have liked when Michael Yardy opted to let Nottinghamshire's batsmen have first use of a pitch that promised more than it has delivered so far as his bowlers were concerned. They will surely collect maximum bowling points, but whether they can fashion a win remains to be seen.

With a good covering of grass, the pitch did help the ball bite and deviate for the seamers even late in the afternoon but with not much pace there was little margin for error.

Productive opening stands have been a rarity for Nottinghamshire this summer. Indeed, not since Darren Bicknell retired at the end of 2006 have the county enjoyed dependability at the top of the order. So for Bilal Shafayat and Alex Hales to put on 70 for the first wicket, their second-best opening stand of the summer, was a bonus.

Hales, a tall right-hander who will probably open with new signing Neil Edwards next season, was first to fall, lbw playing across the line to Jason Lewry, in his farewell Championship match after a 14-year career.

Shafayat departed soon afterwards, taken well by Yardy at first slip off a ball that bounced perhaps more than he expected. Samit Patel was a little unlucky to play on to Martin-Jenkins, while his 19-year-old brother, Akhil, a left-hand batsman making his Championship debut, lasted only four deliveries before, trying to work to leg, he was trapped in front by Dwayne Smith.

A fine catch by Rory Hamilton-Brown at second slip, holding on to a ball that Ally Brown went after hard, reduced Nottinghamshire to 163 for 5 but the wicket Sussex really wanted was Mark Wagh, who had been dropped on 19 by Murray Goodwin at gully.

Ultimately he was bowled by a leg-break from Piyush Chawla as Goodwin, in charge in Yardy's absence, turned to the Indian wrist-spinner but not until he and the Nottinghamshire captain, Chris Read, had put on 76 for the sixth wicket.

Read, far and away his side's most consistent performer with the bat, lost two more partners as Mark Ealham -- another in his farewell first-class match -- became Chawla's second victim and Andre Adams, trying to execute an unnecessarily risky slog-sweep, was bowled. But the wicketkeeper survived on 78 at the close and Nottinghamshire will surely claim at least a third batting point, putting them on course to pass Somerset in the race for second spot, in which Warwickshire are the other contenders.