Ben Brown century fortifies Sussex as 16-year-old Danial Ibrahim sparkles
Yorkshire kept at bay by unbroken 92-run stand between skipper and teenage debutant
Sussex 267 for 5 (Brown 126*, Thompson 3-42) vs Yorkshire
Ben Brown of Sussex. The phrase has a solidity about it and an unfussy assurance of effort to which supporters of county cricket always respond warmly. Perhaps in time those kind souls who hold Sussex close to their hearts will remember the surname as fondly as now they recall Cox or Griffiths, Barclay or Parks. There would be nothing out of place in such an observance. On the contrary, Ben Brown already deserves it. We knew this before the Sussex skipper made an unbeaten 126 against Yorkshire but it was still enriching to be reminded of it. There are, though, many other reasons for supporters at Hove to feel encouraged this early June evening. Their side's chances of qualifying for Division One of the County Championship may be strictly arithmetical but their achievement in ending this day on 267 for 5 was still substantial and our evening session was honoured by an innings of unnerving composure from 16-year-old Danial Ibrahim, who had been presented with his Sussex cap by Matt Prior only a few hours earlier. Ibrahim is the second-youngest debutant in his county's history yet few players can have taken to first-class game with greater ease. At close of play, the young man stood back politely and allowed his skipper to take the applause of his team-mates and a generous Yorkshire crowd, yet it was still possible to wonder if we will recall Ibrahim's unbeaten 37 just as vividly. Such gentle privileges are rare, indeed.
"I thought he was fantastic and I'm so thrilled for him," said Brown of a cricketer nearly half his own age. "I said to him walking off, 'I got nought on debut, I was in and out and didn't make an impact'. To go in against the second new ball and that bowling attack and get the score he did, I'm delighted. I feel old enough because I've played a lot of club cricket against his dad, Kash, who was here today. These are the days we've missed so much through Covid: a debutant gets runs against a good attack in front of a big crowd and his own parents."
The sight of Brown and Ibrahim adding an unbroken 92 for the sixth wicket was all the more delightful because such riches did not appear within Sussex's grasp during a morning session in which the visitors did reasonably well to reach lunch on 63 for 3. Asked to bat on the sort of cloudy Leeds morning when bowlers cause havoc and a game's shape can be decided in a session, the visiting batters had to scrap for every run.
Tom Haines, who at 22 is almost a senior player at Sussex these days, has just been awarded a new contract at Hove but he had added only a couple of runs to the 622 he had scored in the Championship this season when he was defeated by David Willey's extra bounce with the new ball and nicked a catch to Harry Brook at third slip. As though exacting retribution Stiaan van Zyl smacked Willey through the covers for a couple of fours but then fell to a fine ball from Jordan Thompson, who is rapidly becoming one of the first names on Andrew Gale's team sheet.
At the other end Ali Orr was batting so maturely that one had almost forgotten this was also his first-class debut. But having played very competently for 15 hard-earned runs in 91 minutes, he tried to pull Brook's first ball of the day and merely top-edged a catch to the substitute fielder Duanne Olivier at long leg. And eight balls after lunch Yorkshire claimed the vital wicket of Travis Head, also for 15, when Thompson slanted the ball across the Australian who pushed a little too freely at it and edged to Harry Duke behind the stumps.
And so we waited for Sussex to crumble away like the fresh Wensleydale many good Yorkshiremen enjoy with their Christmas cake. The crowd waited expectantly on what for many of them was a day that had long been ringed on their calendar. Yet they waited in vain…
Aaron Thomason and Brown were not parted until six overs after tea, by which time they had put on 107 for the fifth wicket. If their stand did not take their side to genial affluence, it at least ensured basic subsistence, even on a good batting wicket, and Thomason deserves a sizeable share of the credit. The former Warwickshire cricketer was pressed into service as an opener at the start of the season when Phil Salt was knocked off his bike and had not made more than 21 in any of his last nine innings before being dropped down to No4 for this game. His 40 runs in 231 minutes therefore represented a substantial effort of concentration if nothing else and his disappointment when he chipped a slower ball from Thompson to Dawid Malan at midwicket was very plain.
And then the crowd waited again. But as if to confound them at once Ibrahim scored his first runs in big school when he tucked Willey behind square for a couple. Brown reached the 19th century of his career with a leg glance off Thompson and received a hug from the young lad against whose father he had played. And our day ended not with the to-and-fro departure and arrival of many Sussex batters but with the serenity of two cricketers at utterly different stages of their careers yet who understood precisely what each was about.
Brown of Sussex? Yes, absolutely. But Ibrahim of Sussex? It is surely too early for such fancies. But such evenings as this make one hope it might be so.
Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications