Jofra Archer ruffles Kent before Ollie Robinson nags Sussex into the ascendancy
Fast bowler confirms bid for full fitness is back on track after fiery opening gambit at Hove
Sussex 51 for 2 trail Kent 145 (Leaning 63; Robinson 3-29, Garton 3-65, Archer 2-29) by 94 runs
When Jofra Archer last played a first-class match at Hove he was not a World Cup winner nor had he played in an Ashes series. The game took place in September 2018 and was memorable for the final first-class centuries of both Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell. Trott's hundred satisfied the technicians; Bell's pleased the aesthetes and brings them comfort still. Archer had played 10 IPL games for Rajasthan Royals and was plainly England's next big thing. But his four late wickets against Warwickshire hardly disturbed the universe and certainly nobody gave a monkey's what he did with his fish tank apart, one assumes, from the fish. The age of aquaria had not yet dawned.
That era is upon us now, though, and so Archer is perhaps fortunate that he is based in Brighton, where other-worldliness is an asset and where shredding your finger cleaning up after your piscine pets is something that could happen to anyone. Even more than Britain's metropolises this city is a shrine to the outré and the baroque. Archer is thus an extraordinary cricketer in a city filled with extraordinary people and maybe he enjoys the camouflage, even if such concealment is not always available. The news that he had recovered sufficiently from a right-elbow injury to be named in Sussex's squad for this game against Kent brought extra photographers and journalists to the County Ground and in the first half an hour of the day we could all see why.
In Archer's third over Daniel Bell-Drummond was beaten for pace and bounce; the catch went very fast to second slip where George Garton made it look laughably easy. Next over, though, Archer over-pitched and Zak Crawley helped himself to four runs past wide mid-on. We settled down for a duel between a couple of England's Test cricketers, only for it to end two balls later when Crawley could do nothing with sharp lift and movement off a length except nick the ball to Ben Brown.
"Usually I bowl to Zak n the [England] nets and I have done that quite a bit," observed Archer when our day's cricket was done. "Obviously, you're never out in the nets so it was good to get him out here, with umpires."
Thereafter, though, the bowler upon whom some Ashes strategies may rest blended into the background of what became a fine day for Sussex. He bowled two spells of four overs and then one of five that was bridged by rain. The speed and steepling bounce will have reassured the selectors but Archer bowled no better than Ollie Robinson, with whom he may yet open England's bowling in a Test match during this most unpredictable of seasons. Robinson nags at a batsman's technique much as an abscess might plague the nerves beneath a tooth; extraction is often the inevitable consequence. Such relentless discipline appeals to England's selectors and Robinson was more responsible than anyone else in Brown's attack for Sussex dismissing Kent for 145 on a cloud-strewn, shower-threatened day when the decision to bowl first cannot have required much thought. In the over after lunch he bowled Jordan Cox through the narrowest of gates for 24 and then returned in the evening to have Kent's top scorer, Jack Leaning, taken at slip by Aaron Thomason for 63 when nibbling at a ball outside the off stump. "More of a chomp than a nibble," observed Sam Keir, Sussex's Media Executive, a man with a good memory for confectionery. One saw his point. It was a thickish edge. By then, though, Leaning's studious, three-hour innings had become an exercise in damage limitation. In the morning session he and Cox had piloted their side to 68 for 2 only to see such comparative affluence frittered away by the haemorrhage of five wickets for 42 runs in the afternoon. Cox was the first to go but that misfortune was followed by the loss of three batsmen in the space of 15 balls. Garton took two of the three and may even have benefitted from his irritating habit of mixing many distinctly good balls with occasional dross. The saddest departure was that of 20-year-old Tawanda Muyeye, whose maiden first-class innings lasted just eight balls before Robinson's third leg-before appeal against him in the same over received a grim assent from David Millns, a decision with which Muyeye could have no complaint. And the debutant had at least got a run to his name, a distinction not shared by Darren Stevens, who flashed at a wide one. The same error was committed in excelsis a few overs later by Marcus O'Riordan and both edges were taken by Thomason at first slip. The showers returned and Kent took tea on 113 for 7. Jack Carson picked up a couple of cheap wickets to end the innings but even that skill adds to a spinner's growing reputation. Adil Rashid could tell Carson that.
Having been assisted by the relatively dry weather during the bulk of the day, Sussex were helped by the return of bad light when 14.3 overs remained to be bowled. At that stage Brown's batsmen had reduced the deficit to 94 runs but only for the loss of Tom Haines who feathered a catch behind off Stevens and Thomason, whose booming drive off Nathan Gilchrist was snaffled by O'Riordan at cover point. It was a careless end to what had been a pleasing three sessions for Thomason and his team but Brown would have settled for this state of affairs this morning, when the captain of Sussex arrived at the ground on his scooter and saw a tiny murmuration of starlings feasting on grubs in the wet earth.
Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications