Phil Salt assault launches Sussex into the ascendancy

Phil Salt celebrates his hundred Getty Images

Sussex 422 and 292 for 4 (Salt 122, van Zyl, 52*, Brown 51*) lead Northamptonshire 368 (Buck 51) by 346 runs

Sussex supporters know by now not to spend too long away from their seats when Phil Salt is going about his business; whatever the young batsman does with a bat in his hands, it tends to happen quickly.

His scores coming into this game were informative. Among his 13 innings this season were seven dismissals in single figures. But there was also a 137 off 106 balls that included six sixes in a 50-over game against Kent. To that can now be added the 122 in 104 balls with which he swung this match in the favour of Sussex, decisively they will hope.

He is an explosive, all-or-nothing kind of player, not unusually for someone of 22 years old in the modern game. Some coaches and captains might find him infuriating. Sussex are in no hurry to see him change and quite happy to give him his head even against the new ball in the Championship.

"He might have a crazy dismissal one day then win you a game on his own the next, so as captains and coaches we have to let him play his own game," the Sussex skipper, Ben Brown, said following Salt's call-up to England's T20 squad earlier this month.

Until then, Salt had not been selected in an England squad of any kind, not even at Under-19 level, which is slightly odd given the meticulous work that goes into the ECB's talent identification processes, supposedly to ensure that the progress of no qualified player goes unmonitored, and that anyone with obvious talent is exposed to some kind of international cricket as soon as possible.

Salt made 355 runs in the Vitality Blast last season, which is clearly his most effective arena, but he has such a good eye that if can survive the first dozen overs or so against the red ball he can produce an innings such as this one, which had echoes of the 148 he made at Hove last August to open a pathway to victory against Derbyshire.

He got away with a fair few indiscretions in this one, picking up an early boundary with a slice over the slip cordon before an inside edge off Brett Hutton just before he reached fifty came within a whisker of his off stump.

When the ball came out of the meat of the bat, though, it invariably went a long way. Jamie Overton, Nathan Buck and Luke Procter took it in turns to suffer, and when stand-in captain Adam Rossington turned to Rob Keogh, Salt went after his offspin from the off, smiting him through cover and over his head for back-to-back fours before hauling the next delivery over deep midwicket for six. That one cleared the bank of seats and sailed out of the ground, coming to rest in someone's back garden, presumably.

The only bowler he wasn't able to get away to much gain was Hutton, in the game as an unprecedented second concussion substitute after Luke Wood was unfit to resume following the helmet strike he suffered against Chris Jordan on the second evening.

Salt made the unfortunate Keogh watch the ball disappear into the distance a couple more times before it all came to a predictable end just before tea when another vigorous swing of the bat against Overton sent the ball directly upwards. As he began to run, he knew even before the ball started to drop that he may as well head straight for the pavilion.

"At the end of the day, if you strip it back, it is just a ball coming down at you and you have to hit it," he said.

"Obviously, in four-day cricket you have to show the bowlers more respect but I don't see much of change in the way I approach the game in different formats, apart from that mental switch."

Sussex had not been nearly as far ahead as they had hoped when Northamptonshire's first innings ended, largely because of Buck, who had only once before passed fifty in 122 first-class innings but showed that he actually possesses a decent repertoire of strokes, particularly square of the wicket.

His partnership with Procter, most of it against the second new ball, added 70 for the ninth wicket, taking Northamptonshire past the follow-on score and on to claim a third batting point. Ben Sanderson's late support enabled Procter even to stay around long enough to claim a fourth.

It left Sussex still 54 in front, but with a need to score quickly to manoeuvre themselves into a position from which they might dictate the way the contest played out. Salt completed that part of the plan, and half-centuries in the final session from Brown and Stiann Van Zyl have given them a big enough advantage to declare overnight, or at least early in the final day, although taking 10 wickets on this pitch will be a test.

Northants 4th innings Partnerships

1st13R VasconcelosBJ Curran
2nd99JJ CobbBJ Curran
3rd21JJ CobbT Bavuma
4th28T BavumaRI Keogh
5th1T BavumaAM Rossington
6th56LA ProcterAM Rossington
7th70AM RossingtonBA Hutton