Worcestershire 45 for 0 trail Sussex 345 (Machan 135, Wright 51) by 300 runs
There is something eminently reassuring about county cricket at Hove. Even on a day of uncomfortable chill by the seaside, a healthy smattering of supporters found their way to the array of deckchairs, which included some reinforcements from last year.
If the expectation was of a genteel day of cricket, Matt Machan provided Hove with something rather more scintillating - a 70-ball hundred. Just as Kevin Pietersen was making his much-anticipated county return in Cardiff, Machan produced an innings that at times evoked Pietersen at his best: not just in its brutality and panache, but in the astonishing contrast with his team-mates. While ten colleagues made a combined 194 from 374 balls, Machan hit 135 off an even 100.
Not bad for a man who was not even meant to be playing. Machan spent last week playing for the second team. Only a combination of an illness to Mike Yardy and Chris Nash's injury granted him this opportunity, in rather cooler conditions than when he played for Scotland in the World Cup.
Machan, locally raised but with a Scottish mother, exuded class at times in the tournament, particularly in his serene half-century after Trent Boult and Tim Southee had reduced Scotland to the wreckage of 12 for 4. But while he top-scored against both World Cup finalists, Machan frittered away starts against weaker sides.
He had a right to feel frustrated, but no one would have envisaged the manner in which he took that out on Worcestershire. Machan is powerfully built - to the outside he can look chunky, but it is really the product of an indefatigable gym regime - and sits deep in his crease, crouching down unusually to give himself a firm basis from which to attack.
The result was spectacular: Machan took just 14 balls over his first 28 runs - all fours - as boundaries were punched down the ground with languid southpaw class. Two huge leg-side sixes off Jack Shantry soon followed, the first heaved over long on resulting in a lost ball. A half-century arrived in 27 balls, transforming Sussex's angst at losing an early wicket into a position of dominance in the process.
Machan has not always started brimming with such intent. Last season he averaged 24.22 in the Championship and, by his own admission, his strike rate of just under 50 showed someone who was over-complicating first-class batting. "I almost blocked the life out of it in four-day cricket," he reflected after his century. "That's the way I want to play and how I play my best."
Despite entering in the sixth over, Machan played with such gusto that he had designs on a century before lunch. At one stage he needed 16 from the last 15 minutes of play until being deprived of the strike.
No matter. Machan's rhythm was not disturbed by the lunch; he promptly reached his century with, appropriately enough, another six, flicked over midwicket off Shantry. But as much as this innings was marked by power, it was also defined by supreme placement. Two hooked fours in three balls off Charles Morris, both bisecting two men square on the legside, underlined the precision of Machan's placement. How Sussex will reintegrate Yardy and Nash to their powerful batting line-up is unclear, but it would seem odd to dispense with Machan after this display, his second Championship century and the highest first-class score.
It was an innings that threatened to blitz Worcestershire out of the match, especially when Ed Joyce, becalmed by comparison, was adding 145 with Machan for the second wicket. Yet after Joyce fell flashing on 49, Worcestershire fought back admirably to take the last nine wickets for 184. This is not the flattest of Hove wickets - Machan reckoned it was "a little bit up and down" - but a total of 345 rather let down Machan's supreme effort. Morris bowled with vim all day, enticing Craig Cachopa with a beautiful delivery that nipped away, and Gareth Andrew showed the virtues of bowling full to the tail.
Still, Sussex's sense of an opportunity squandered would have been acute. The sight of Luke Wright, who played with typical authority in his half-century, berating himself after pulling Alex Gidman's medium pace to Sachithra Senanayake, encapsulated the latter half of the day. Senanayake had begun awkwardly, bowling far too short to do a passable impression of Saeed Ajmal last season, but two wickets in consecutive balls provided partial redemption, and a reminder of the damage that unorthodox spin can inflict upon a tail.
When Worcestershire's openers then survived the opening 15 overs with little alarm - though Joyce appeared to shell a sharp chance from Daryl Mitchell in the slips - Sussex would have had bemoaned not providing Machan with better support. One cannot move for hearing Tory fears about Labour relying on the Scots after the general election, but here Sussex were most grateful for their Saltire connection.