Ollie Robinson chips in with 59 as Sussex recover admirably from 127 for 6
Sussex 291 for 9 (Haines 155, Robinson 59) vs Lancashire
It little mattered that the easterly wind down Talbot Road retained something of its winter cut this morning or that the sun over Salford Quays was as watery as a Methodist minister’s Christmas tipple. Large portions of the County Championship may have been barged into spring and autumn but the season was still beginning and most players know these are the games by which they will be judged. By late September careers will have a different shape. The anticipation was keen as the breeze and cricketers have known that feeling for a hundred and more years. “Some do sing as though the summer’s coming,” wrote the marvellous Nancy Kerr.
So much was the same. That was clear in the particular enthusiasm the bobble-hatted gaggles of players devoted to their morning warm-ups. Among those groups were the Lancashire seamers, whose efforts dominated the first exchanges of our day’s cricket; also running like fury – as much to keep warm as anything? – was Tom Haines, whose career-best 155 was the innings by which this day will be remembered. Haines scored the first century of his career on a blissful midsummer’s afternoon at Arundel when the world was very different and the runs came with a freshman’s ease. This was a very different affair: the 22-year-old was dropped three times before he departed with a tired swish and edge to the keeper deep in the evening session. But Haines’ understanding that he needed to give the Lancashire seamers the morning before claiming the rest of the day for his own revealed a new-found maturity. To an extent he batted better here than he had at Arundel.
And yes, other things were different, too The absence of spectators was noticeable on this, above all days; crowds will not return until May 17 at the earliest and our game will not be anything like complete until they do. And even members of the media had to complete a questionnaire before being allowed entry to Old Trafford. Very necessary, of course, yet in doing so the hacks and broadcasters vouchsafed themselves in ruder health than they had known since spotty adolescence and some of the details required reminded one vaguely of a fiche-obsessed French province. The desk at which we fill in these forms has been christened Checkpoint Chappie.
Extreme vigilance was also needed from Sussex’s batsmen after Ben Brown had chosen to bat but only Haines was sufficiently watchful and even he was dropped twice by Steven Croft at second slip before getting to double figures. For it was a session that could have been plucked from the 1960s with the seamers in the ascendant and runs squeezed like straight answers from a government minister. The pattern was set in only for the fourth over when Aaron Thomason shouldered arms to Saqib Mahmood and lost his off stump. In fairness, Thomason is a makeshift opener and is deputising for Phil Salt, who has followed Jed Bartlet’s example and shown how easy it is to fall off a bike. This first session suggested that neither Salt’s recovery from injury nor Travis Head’s arrival from Australia can come too soon for Sussex.
Lancashire’s seamers, on t’other hand, looked a formidable cadre, even without the resting James Anderson and the injured George Balderson. Tom Bailey had Stiaan van Zyl leg before for a duck and returned to have Ben Brown caught at slip by the previously porous Croft. (That’s somewhat hard on one of Lancashire’s finest fielders: he should have taken his first chance but the second was an athletic parry to a scrambling Rob Jones in the gully.) Bailey’s successes sandwiched Lancashire’s other wicket, which was rather presented to Luke Wood by Tom Clark when he hooked the seamer straight to Danny Lamb at long leg.
Sussex were 40 for 4 when Brown was out and that was perhaps as pleasant as the day was going to be for Dane Vilas’s bowlers. Some portent of the afternoon and evening’s cricket was offered when Haines was struck a painful blow on the hand by Lamb in the over before lunch but responded by taking 12 runs off the next four deliveries, thus reaching his fifty off 94 balls. In the hour or so after lunch Delray Rawlins fell leg before wicket for 18 when playing no shot to Wood and George Garton was taken at slip by Croft off Lamb for 10 but the arrival of Ollie Robinson and the ageing of the ball changed the terms of the engagement. Not content with being in the minds of the England selectors for the Test matches against New Zealand in June, Sussex’s No. 8 probably sees himself as something of a bowling allrounder and he justified that description with an innings marked with shrewd aggression.
In the morning we had thought that Tom Hartley’s presence in Lancashire’s side on this first day was purely decorative but the Lancashire spinner was summoned in mid-afternoon and was almost immediately lifted for a straight six by Robinson. Batting gradually appeared a tolerably straightforward undertaking, at no time more so than when Haines forced Tom Bailey through point to reach his hundred off 177 balls. During the evening session Robinson reached his own fifty and the pair had come within a run of doubling the score when he fell to the new ball when fencing at Mahmood. He and Haines’ 126-run stand set a new seventh-wicket record for Sussex against Lancashire but they will be happier with having changed the course of this encounter. Late wickets for the Lancashire seamers did nothing to mar that achievement.
And in the morning we shall gather to see what sort of reply Lancashire can muster on a good pitch that repays vigilance. The photographers will dress like polar explorers and the players’ shadows may be even sharper in the floodlights than they were on this cold April evening. None of which will bother Haines as he enjoys the sleep of the just and nor should it trouble us overmuch. Our season has begun and it is not too fanciful in these troubled days to think it something of a fragile deliverance.
Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications