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Paul Coupar at Arundel
June 25, 2004
Gloucestershire 300 (Mushtaq Ahmed 5-58) and 25 for 1 beat Sussex 106 and 218 (Ward 69, Mushtaq Ahmed 54) by nine wickets
Strange game, this cricket. In the morning session here at Arundel, Sussex's opening batsman Ian Ward found the very meat of the bat in an assured half-century on a true pitch: it looked as if only a piece of wizardry or a thermonuclear strike would remove him. Then, shortly after lunch, and with no obvious explanation, he became part of a landslide of Sussex wickets, five in 17 balls.
Robin Martin-Jenkins and Mushtaq Ahmed then put that collapse in embarrassing perspective, adding 88 for the eighth wicket. But they were revelling in the freedom of a lost cause: Gloucestershire had only 25 to dash off for victory. They breezed it in four overs after tea, thus ensuring a good match at a charming ground was ended before going into the one day when most members of the working population could actually come and watch it. A strange game indeed.
Sussex's collapse was astonishing. There was little to explain the huge swing other than the confidence of the batters: Ward's surfeit, after averaging more than 80 in his last two games, and the run-less middle-order's lack. Perhaps that is a disservice to Gloucestershire's seamers, unspectacular but relentless, who bowled a good line and length and built pressure, restricting the batsmen to just above two an over in the morning, despite Ward's assured cuts and cover-drives. Mark Alleyne also managed to winkle out two of Ward's partners with his medium-pace all-sorts before lunch.
Afterwards the dam-wall burst: Chris Adams was caught by a tumbling second slip; Ward padded up to a straight one; Tim Ambrose tried to cover up and edged to the keeper; and then two classic Mike Smith deliveries from left-arm over took wickets: first the inswinger had Matt Prior lbw, then the one that holds its line had Alex Gidman caught behind. From 113 for 2, Sussex were 115 for 7 inside 15 minutes. Gloucestershire's worries about a nasty forecast for tomorrow had evaporated.
The same could not be said of the worries of the Sussex accountants, who pay rent to Arundel to stage games here. An early finish deprived them of a valuable day's gate money, though not of revenue from their corporate guests, who inexplicably disdain Saturdays and prefer to take their entertainment on weekdays.
Paul Coupar is assistant editor of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack.
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