Gloucestershire 63 for 0 (Weston 34*, Spearman 24*) trail Sussex 106 (Lewis 5-33) by 43 runs
This was a grim day for Sussex. The start of their annual festival at leafy Arundel Castle, demesne of the Duke of Norfolk and the most princely of out-grounds, was blighted by dark skies and buffeted by howling winds, strong enough to stop P&O's ferries crossing the nearby English Channel.
So it was little surprise the estimated 300 corporate spectators pulled down the front flaps of the billowing marquees and shut their eyes to the world. They missed some significant cricket. Sussex tumbled to 106 all out against an attack who only had to get the basics right, before Gloucestershire immediately put that scanty effort in perspective, reaching 63 for 0 shortly after tea, when the day finally disappeared into the rain that always threatened.
Defeat here would leave the champions Sussex around 50 points behind Division One leaders Warwickshire, a massive gap. If they carry on like this, relegation will be their main concern. After being inserted on a pitch with a green tinge that turned out to be deceptive, they batted as if they longed to leave the howling gale behind and return to the warmth of the dressing-room. Ian Ward set the pattern in the first over, playing back half-heartedly at a ball he could have ignored. He fended to slip, as did Richard Montgomerie eight overs later, giving Alex Gidman the first of two slip catches that had the few spectators who braved the weather open-mouthed. They may have been oohing - it was difficult to tell above the roar of the wind and the flap of the marquees.
That was not the only flapping: Chris Adams, in princely form after making 150 not out in the last round, was bowled off the back of his legs, and Matt Prior swished fatally. At lunch, Sussex were 50 for 4 and their innings wore a face as gloomy as the skies above.
But it took only one name to light up the ground. At lunch the boundary chatter was all about the former Gloucesterhire wicketkeeper and wonderful eccentric, Jack Russell, forced into retirement by a dodgy back yesterday. "It's a sad day," said Brian Smith, an ex-footballer for Chelsea and Crystal Palace, and now a friendly Sussex steward. "He was one of the best ever, one of the greats. If every player had his guts and heart, then English cricket would be doing great".
"He had the mark of brilliance on him," added a Gloucestershire supporter. What was clear was that Russell loved the game, so the game and its supporters loved him. The poet Philip Larkin, musing on a tomb here at Arundel Castle, once wrote that "what survives of us is love". If the first day of Russell's retirement was anything to go by he was right.
But the glow of reminiscence was only temporary respite for Sussex fans, many under blankets or hugging thermos flasks. Murray Goodwin, their only batsman to suggest permanence, was beaten by a beautiful awayswinger from Jon Lewis on 28. The rest tumbled in a riot of drives and swishes, with only a spate of grassed catches allowing a ninth-wicket partnership of 22. Sussex were skittled for 106, their lowest total since they became champions, largely by Lewis, who took 5 for 33. He is now the top wicket-taker in the First Division with 34. Like many good English seamers before him, he simply pitched the ball up on off stump and waited for the ball to move, which happened seldom, or for the batsmen to self-destruct, which happened often.
But Sussex's bowlers did not take the hint. Too often they dropped too short and Gloucestershire's openers found the middle more often in their first three overs than Sussex managed in 44. Craig Spearman, who smashed 341 in his last game, had 24, and Philip Weston 34, when the drizzle finally blew in.
Paul Coupar is assistant editor of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack.