Durham 224 and 31 for 1 lead Sussex 202 (Wells 98*, Rushworth 4-41) by 53 runs
Sussex have unhappy memories of Chester-le-Street. It is where their promotion challenge came to grief last September as they were thumped by 186 runs and Chris Rushworth, Heritage Cricketer, took 12 wickets in the match.
Once again they travelled north in trepidation. They slumped to 67 for 7 in response to Durham’s 224 and once again the sun glinted menacingly on Rushworth’s shaven forehead, the pattern vaguely resembling the edge of the newly-discovered black hole into which their innings looked certain to disappear.
Run through Sussex’s batting line-up and there are not too many batsmen who relish the most exacting conditions. Phil Salt set an inappropriate tone with a slap-happy 2 which was over by the end of the first over, although to be fair he perished to a crackerjack delivery. Within 16 overs, half the side had fallen. Durham’s slips were full of expectation.
But Luke Wells is made of different stuff. Few batsmen will be more deserving of a century this Championship summer than Wells but he had to settle for 98 not out as he organised Sussex’s resistance for all but one over of their innings. He already has four Championship hundreds against Durham so can probably manage without this one.
Unlike some of his more entertaining colleagues, the tougher the challenge, the more Wells likes it. Never mind a bit of swing and seam, he would take guard with determination on the shingle and pebbles of Pevensey Beach where William the Conqueror landed back in 1066. Wells does not have the air of a conqueror. He would be the one organising near-hopeless resistance while others did not show as much heart for the fray.
His first boundary was inadvertent, a squirt square of the wicket against Matt Salisbury which probably left him a little guilty as it crossed the ropes. Five batsmen had departed by the time Salisbury tempted him into another attacking shot with a wide half-volley. Durham knew it would be hard to break this heart of stone. How Ben Raine must have rued a lost run-out opportunity when he missed from 10 yards.
Three competent slip catches set Durham on their way, two of them to the skipper, Cameron Bancroft at second slip, his 33 from 159 balls on the first day looking more valuable by the minute. James Weighell had one of those three wickets and then added Laurie Evans, who dragged on an extravagant pull, and Ben Brown, lbw.
Matters did not improve after lunch as Rushworth bowled Mark Burgess through a large gate and struck David Wiese’s stumps in the following over. At seven down for 67, Sussex were still notionally in danger of following on. But finally Wells found support – Chris Jordan, Ollie Robinson and Mir Hamza helping to add 135 for the last three wickets.
Wells’ determination not to be dislodged was not entirely helpful to Jordan, who was run out by Raine from mid-off, a throw to the striker’s end after Jordan had drilled Gareth Harte down the ground and Wells had remained embedded in his crease.
With nine wickets down, tea was delayed to no avail and he finished with a series of lofted drives against the seamers, Mirza holding out for almost an hour until Rushworth struck the stumps for a third time to bring the innings to a close. This is a closely-fought contest but Wells will need more support second time around if Sussex, already caught napping by Leicestershire in their opening match, are not to begin the season with two defeats.