Drama at Hove: Ollie Robinson inspires Sussex to unlikely County Championship victory over Yorkshire

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Sussex pulled off the most improbable of 21-run County Championship victories as they held their nerve in an endlessly low-scoring contest against Yorkshire where the visitors crumbled to 161 all out.

Yorkshire had the game in their hands after dismissing Sussex for 227 all out on the final morning with overnight stalwart Tom Alsop and his lower-order partners adding just 33 runs, but other than opener Adam Lyth, the visitors struggled.

Even Joe Root, the hero of the Tykes’ first innings and the star attraction of this contest, managed only 10 runs as wickets regularly fell.

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Sussex, meanwhile, defied all expectations as Ollie Robinson – who appeared to pick up various blows and strains – bowled with Test quality for figures of 4-42, while Sean Hunt again showed brilliantly maturity for his 2-23.

Ollie Robinson celebrates a wicket as Yorkshire crumble | Picture: John Heald PhotographyOllie Robinson celebrates a wicket as Yorkshire crumble | Picture: John Heald Photography
Ollie Robinson celebrates a wicket as Yorkshire crumble | Picture: John Heald Photography

When Sussex finally wrapped up victory at 5pm on Sunday with a fitting run-out, it was ecstasy for the home players after a match that proved the mettle they have missed for years.

John Simpson, Sussex captain, said: “This was a phenomenal day and a great advert for cricket. It was a great achievement by the boys.

“With them needing 183 to win we had to get the ball in the right areas as much as we could and take early wickets, It was incredible from the bowling unit and to get over the line was phenomenal.

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“I thought Ollie Robinson [a season’s best of four for 42 and seven wickets in the match] bowled magnificently in this game. He looks back to where he should be, knocking on that Test door. That was terrific bowling by him at the end. But Sean Hunt was fantastic too, with a career best in the first innings, backed up by Danny Lamb and Fynn Hudson-Prentice and Jack Carson at the end.”

Two hard-fought days of action had finished with Yorkshire the slight favourites coming into Sunday, trailing by 149 runs but with just three more Sussex wickets to collect before they could begin their chase.

For such a momentous day at Hove where two Division Two promotion favourites were chasing an invaluable win, it was unfortunate that the attendance was brought down.

Historic matches for Crawley Town and Brighton & Hove Albion meant many home fans were elsewhere, seeking the last footballing glory of the season.

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Nonetheless, Sussex kept a steely focus at the 1st Central County Ground and with a full-throttle approach in the decisive final throes of this contest, the fans that did turn up were richly rewarded.

The first task for Paul Farbrace’s side was to extend their overnight lead of 149, with Tom Alsop the key man on 77 not out.

Jack Carson resumed alongside Alsop on 22 not out – just below his first-class average of 22.70 – and given his solid technique would be fully entrusted to assist the hosts en route to a competitive total.

Though Sussex survived the four overs that remained from a Day 2 abandoned for bad light, the story after this was one of quick collapse.

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Instructed to score once he had consolidated, Carson took on Jordan Thompson but found the pouncing James Wharton at mid-wicket, who completed a fine catch to see the Northern Irishman out for 25.

Some quick scoring from Alsop and new partner Ollie Robinson followed, but Yorkshire began to set traps for any big hitting.

The pair completed 5.1 overs together before Alsop finally perished, swishing at a faster ball from George Hill and edging to Finlay Bean at third slip.

Sussex’s Buckinghamshire-born number three received a well-deserved standing ovation as he trudged off, shattered but proud after amassing a stubborn, intelligent and well-timed 86 from 256 balls.

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Alsop guaranteed himself the highest score of the match but also had his highest score in his last 22 first-class innings, dating back to the 100 not out he scored against Worcestershire 11 months ago.

Considering what the ex-Hampshire man has contributed in that time, it was a fitting reward.

Alsop captained the side on several occasions, provided unwavering energy in the field at first slip and only missed a single innings in the last year – coincidentally the second innings at Yorkshire last July after suffering a concussion.

If Sussex were to make anything from this contest – and they soon took the field as Robinson was bowled two balls after Alsop’s exit – then Sussex’s unselfish adopted son would be key.

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Given how the Hove pitch had become easier to play on during Day 2, tamed particularly by experienced heads Alsop and Cheteshwar Pujara in the afternoon, Yorkshire were generally made favourites with just 183 runs to chase down for victory.

How foolish any doubts of Sussex were, though.

Robinson, who had taken a blow to his right bowling hand whilst batting, looked to be ailing but emerged from the dressing rooms with a real roar.

The England bowler’s thirst for revenge only ratcheted up when Adam Lyth scored two boundaries in the first over, and in tandem with Sean Hunt, Robinson refused to give Yorkshire anything else without a fight.

Hunt, though, was the man with the breakthrough.

The 22-year-old had played magnificently in the first innings to take career-best figures of 4-64 and followed up with searing pace to draw Bean into a nick that squirted away wide and found Tom Haines, stationed wisely at a temporary fourth slip.

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Haines was worthy of huge praise for a brilliant low catch, and very soon after, captain John Simpson pulled off a blinder of his own.

Robinson’s jarring line and length drew Shan Masood into an unthinkable nick behind to Simpson, who gratefully pouched the catch to make it 21-2 with Yorkshire still 162 runs behind.

The only problem was that Yorkshire then had their two best batsmen at the crease – opener Adam Lyth and the untouchable Joe Root.

It was unthinkable that either should throw away their wicket in pursuit of victory, given all their England experience, their impeccable first-class records and the respect they had from Sussex’s bowlers.

Respect did not extend to generosity, though.

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Robinson and Hunt kept the pressure on with several tight overs, while Danny Lamb and Fynn Hudson-Prentice took to the stage with an unflinching focus.

In his third over of commendably rapid bowling, Lamb poured everything he had into a full delivery at the toes of Root, who shockingly played late and was wrapped on the pads for a plumb LBW.

The next over – the last before Lunch – Hudson-Prentice did exactly as he had on Day 2, having Hill caught behind with his fifth ball that meant he took the sides into the dressing rooms with Sussex in the ascendancy.

With Yorkshire requiring 138 more runs and Sussex needing six more wickets, the game could hardly be tighter going into the afternoon.

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Both teams cracked on, not breaking for a second from their focus.

Simpson kept the bowling changes coming for Sussex, with all four seamers rotated and Hunt producing a brilliant delivery to get James Wharton to chop onto his stumps just as Yorkshire were stabilising.

The Tykes were 76-5 and relied upon wicket-keeper Jonny Tattersall to assist Lyth, which the Harrogate man did superbly.

Sussex turned to Jack Carson to deliver their first spin of the match, and while Carson struggled to be as unscrupulous as Joe Root on Day 2, he did make a breakthrough.

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Switching to the Cromwell Road End for his fourth over, Carson tricked Tattersall into a paddle sweep that found James Coles over his left shoulder, leaving the win again in the balance at 121-6.

Lyth then survived a potential edge to Tom Clark in the slips and was a bag of nerves as he deflected up a bouncing delivery from Hunt and saw it drop clear of any fielder on 60.

Tea came at the right time for Lyth and partner Matthew Revis, who could play patiently against an ageing ball and tiring attack.

One last Sussex push saw the seamers pumping their long levers and digging determined heels into the hardening pitch, doing well to even produce half-chances.

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Robinson drew a top edge from Lyth which fell safely again, while Lamb had an LBW shout against Revis that was ignored by the umpires.

As the game seemed to be slipping to an anticlimactic conclusion, though, Robinson intervened.

Lyth faced a different, shorter ball in the 53rd over and could not help but play at it, gloving the ball on its way through to John Simpson to fall on 73 from 152 balls with just 35 more runs to score.

Robinson was not done there, and in his next over had Thompson caught magnificently by Carson on the long leg boundary without scoring.

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The manic celebrations of that wicket were still reverberating around the ears of the Hove members when Robinson bowled number ten Dom Leech with the over’s final ball, and suddenly Sussex were one wicket away at 158-9.

Not only had Sussex dismissed the last of Yorkshire’s established batsmen, but they were also up against Ben Coad, who had been off the field since Tea on Saturday, suffering from the toll of a punishing first two days.

Eventually, this proved the decisive factor as Coad was run out as Revis called his partner for a cheeky single in the final delivery of Robinson’s 17th over.

Hudson-Prentice was the man who completed the heroics by diving belly-first and launching the ball onto the stumps, and with the seismic smack of the wickets breaking, Sussex felt the overwhelming rush of victory.

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They assured themselves of 19 points in vastly unfair contrast to Yorkshire’s mere three points, but the gulf of rewards was a driving factor in creating such a spectacular final day.

Sussex remain top of Division Two after securing their third victory of the season and continue their promotion push with a daunting trip to Lord’s to face Middlesex from this Friday, 24 May, to Monday 27 May.

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