Group 3, Hove, May 13 - 16, 2021, County Championship
145 & 387/4d

Match drawn


Jack Leaning scores century, but a once-promising contest drifts out to sea

A whole lot of not a lot at Hove, but it's an improvement on this time last year

Paul Edwards
Paul Edwards
Jack Leaning pulls during his 79, Northamptonshire vs Kent, County Championship, Wantage Road, April 8, 2021

Jack Leaning made the game safe for Kent with a composed hundred  •  Getty Images

Sussex 256 (van Zyl 52; Quinn 4-54, Gilchrist 3-51, Stevens 3-64) drew with Kent 145 (Leaning 63, Robinson 3-29, Garton 3-65) and 387 for 4 dec (Leaning 127*, Robinson 85, Crawley 85)
A match that had once seemed likely to end in a Sussex victory with Jofra Archer displaying his fitness for Test cricket ended in the most sclerotic of draws with Archer not even on the field. The first of these outcomes had always seemed likely once Kent had survived a short session on Saturday, and the second was probable once the England bowler's sore elbow had prevented him bowling that same evening.
Despite their lowly positions in Group C these sides never appeared to contemplate the possibility of setting up a game and the 43 overs we saw this afternoon might not be numbered among the most gripping of the season. Other correspondents could even judge them balls-achingly tedious.
But Jack Leaning will take a different view. The former Yorkshire batsman notched only his second first-class century since 2017 and will approach Thursday's game against Glamorgan in a more confident mood. Likewise, from their different perspectives, Tom Clark, who took his maiden first-class wicket, and Tawanda Muyeye, who batted half an hour for 12 not out on his debut. A drop of red ink is as comforting as a duvet to a young professional making his way. Every solid defensive shot is a moment.
And if these slightly aimless sessions were still a disappointment we could scourge no one but ourselves. On Friday, when a 104-over day had heaved itself beyond seven o'clock, we little thought how fortunate we were to see any cricket at all, let alone to be doing so when millions could not.
Zak Crawley was batting on that second evening, so such ingratitude required public abasement. But our penance, such as it might have been, was useless. The following evening, when only 24 overs were possible, Crawley was dismissed by the excellent Jack Carson and even that moment was given the elbow by Archer's inaction, forced or otherwise.
Thus to Sunday with the Channel turquoise in its shallows but gravely blue farther out to sea. A pleasant dawn was replaced by an unlucky bag of showers, some of them slight, others heavy with Anabaptist doom. While David Millns and Graham Lloyd made one of their inspections the clouds to the west were grey as an undertaker's work-suit; to the east they were blue as one of Bryan Ferry's more exotic two-piece numbers. Birds gathered ravenously on the white pyramidal roofs of the hospitality suites. By the way, the gulls in Hove have clearly been watching Alfred Hitchcock movies; I've seen smaller turkeys. The white thugs waited for scraps; we waited for cricket.
At ten past one our patience received its reward when the Sussex team, minus Archer, took the field and Carson bowled the first over from the Cromwell Road End. The cricket soon became good-humoured, gentler in its rhythms and enriched by jokes and encouragement. Neither side could win the game but the practice had value for Leaning, whose back foot drive off George Garton was the stroke of the day. A little while later he swept Delray Rawlins for a single to reach his century and Ollie Robinson was attempting to emulate that feat before he was lbw to Clark for 85 late in the piece.
And so concluded a match in which we had been at the mercy of not only the elements but also the endless work of the Sussex groundstaff and the good judgement of Messrs Millns and Lloyd. But umpires are rather fortunate at the County Ground in that they are two of the few officials in this area to whom folk actually pay attention. There are large parts of Brighton and Hove where people pat legislation on its head and send it over to Eastbourne. Visit North Laine and you will find businesses that seem to regard official forms as entertainments to which only other people need pay any attention. One would not be surprised to find a Private Walker or two sidling in the alleyways: "Need any vaccines, guvnor? I can help you there."
(And should Millns and Lloyd ever jack in umpiring they could go into business together selling perfumed unguents and other bathroom aromas. They already have the names for it. "Oh darling, could you be terribly sweet and pop into Millns and Lloyd for a rosewood and peony diffuser?" This would be a tremendous achievement for two lads from Clipstone and Accrington, where, one imagines, no-frills aerosols are produced by firms called something like Broadbottom and Snout.)
Such reveries occur to one on these afternoons at Hove, for this place retains its tender hold on the heart, even on days when there is nothing much going on. A year ago at least one of us would have paid twenty quid simply to sit here for half an hour during the perfect weather that taunted us during lockdown. And it is easy to be seduced by the County Ground, to be beguiled by its cricketing families, by the scent of the sea, by the view down Selborne Road and by the writers who have honoured this sacred space. Surely, one thinks, at odd moments, the romance is all too much, too heady…
And then one understands that resistance is utterly useless. In dusk's first fading light a fox and vixen stroll over the outfield as though asserting some ancient right; perhaps they have their den in George Cox's garden. And so, like the foxes, we go in search of supper and leave a great ground to its kindly ghosts on a spring evening.

Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications

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