Sussex 278 for 8 (Wiese 92*, Wright 69) beat Surrey 274 for 9 (Foakes 64, Jacks 56, Hamza 4-43) by 38 runs
Jofra Archer’s instant selection for England has put every bowler in their preliminary World Cup squad on red alert. One false move and they could lose their place in the biggest tournament in England for a generation.
Liam Plunkett has already made two false moves, beginning with seven overs for 67 against Gloucestershire in Bristol as Surrey lost their opening Royal London Cup match by 147 runs. Not the greatest limited-overs debut after his move from Yorkshire on a three-year deal.
Against Sussex on a sunny Good Friday (there’s a misnomer for Plunkett if ever there was one), he had another match to forget; on Archer’s home ground, this time six overs bled 57 runs. Even that represented something of a recovery as Luke Wright thrashed 18 from his first four balls. Another over later went for 17 – Chris Jordan this time his nemesis. Archer might be at the IPL but absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that.
You felt that Sussex were targeting Plunkett, not respecting him, as they chased a demanding 275 to win. Not a good look in a World Cup year. When things go well, he has possessed the firepower so valued by England. When things go awry, he responds with a little facial shrug that might have been designed by a cricketing psychologist. Keep yourself together, it says, it’s just one of those things. That survival expression is in high demand at the moment.
For Surrey, there was more gloom, too, as they fell by two wickets with 11 balls to spare, David Wiese playing the outstanding innings of the day with an unbeaten 92 from 81 balls. His shot selection was crisp and nervelessly executed, the one batsman to look totally at home on a slow surface. Twice, he crashed his fellow South African Morne Morkel through point. Later, a drive against the spin (and there was a little) in the penultimate ball of Gareth Batty’s challenging spell, was another key moment.
Plunkett has been the leading wicket-taker among England’s ODI pace bowlers since the last World Cup but life is not always fair when you are 34. His pace has declined and his back-of-a-length stock ball is not quite the force it was. Even allowing for Eoin Morgan’s loyalty towards the players who have made England the No. 1 one-day side in the world, Plunkett may suspect the World Cup has come a year too late.
Or perhaps Tom Curran will have to make way. Not because he is the oldest, but because he is the youngest. But he is as spiky as his haircut, a fine death bowler with a rich array of slower balls as was emphasised by his 3 for 37. “Tom Curran bowled beautifully tonight,” Wiese said. “He was the pick of the bowlers. You just had to give him the respect he deserved.”
Curran reverse-swung the ball markedly, too, late in the innings, even though it is still mid-April and the outfields are green and moist. It was a wonderful V-sign to administrators who have introduced two white balls in an innings and killed one of cricket’s great attractions. Fielders told to keep the ball up, and not to fling it into old pitches to encourage reverse swing, should keep doing it anyway. Let’s see them suspend an entire team.
Wiese, batting with a long Sussex tail, appeared to be running out of partners when his side, chasing 275, slumped to 232 for 7 and then 255 for 8 after Wright’s 69. But he stood firm to make his highest score for Sussex in 50-over cricket.
Counties will surely reflect that they should play Surrey on the slowest pitch they can muster. Jason Gillespie, Sussex’s coach, likes pace and carry, but it’s a fair bet he doesn’t like it as much when Surrey possess an armoury of batsmen who can clear Hove’s tight boundaries with a mishit.
Jason Roy, driving uppishly to the first delivery of the sixth over, fell to a tumbling catch by George Garton in the covers. Mark Stoneman and Will Jacks then gave a solid base to the Surrey innings, with a second wicket stand worth 84 in 16 overs, before Stoneman fell lbw to Garton for a 58-ball 38.
Jacks is a stately hitter. He reached his fifty from 52 balls when he lifted Danny Briggs for a straight six, repeating an earlier blow against Will Beer. On a pitch with pace one felt he might sail one out of the ground and crash into the dilapidated Imperial Hotel, which might well finish it off for good. But he was out soon afterwards, caught at long-off attacking Briggs once more.
Rory Burns, attempting to reverse sweep, was bowled by Beer before Ben Foakes (64) and Ollie Pope put on 63 for the fifth wicket. But Mir Hamza, with four wickets, benefited from a collection of leg-side lofts from a Surrey batting line-up which once again has begun the 50-over season in disappointing fashion.