Two out of three isn’t bad, but the Sharks did not quite pull off the third on a baking hot Sunday in front of a packed home crowd.
Visitors Essex, although rarely in total control, had looked the likelier winners from the early stages of this Royal London One-Day Cup encounter, and – after a day of 547 runs, thirteen wickets and some exhilarating individual play – they eased past the Sussex total with two overs to spare.
The result called final closure on the Sharks’ hopes of progressing from the Royal London group stage, although even that would have required a very improbable mix of results elsewhere.
Ahead of the upcoming T20 competition, head coach Jason Gillespie gave indications of at least one new arrival from overseas, and the word around the boundary ropes was that it might be two.
For much of this season, the Sussex batting has looked under-powered, and on Sunday, with three early wickets down and barely 40 on the board, the middle order had a repair job to do – actually reaching a respectable 281 thanks to a superb century from Laurie Evans, with punchy support from Hastings’ favourite son Harry Finch. The pair added 111 for the fourth wicket, and some lusty late slogging by Joffra Archer and Chris Jordan set Essex a fair challenge of 282 to win.
However patchy the batting display, the home crowd of more than 4,000 were lapping up both the cricket and the whole occasion. Bringing county cricket back to Eastbourne for the second time – after a seventeen-year absence – chairman Ian Fletcher-Price and his team once again got everything right.
The whole day was immaculate, from smooth admission and ample seating and refreshment provision, to clear communications and a sense of relaxed organisation. Just as in 2017 the weather was perfect: Fletcher-Price either has a hot line to the weather gods, or access to an extremely long-range weather forecast....
There are those, not necessarily in Sussex, who grumble at fixtures on the so-called out-grounds – as if a ride to a gloriously sunny Eastbourne is some sort of drudge. Sussex CCC is more enlightened, and a Saffrons fixture allows a whole tranche of cricket lovers, young and old, to embrace the sport. This truly is cricket for the people.
But back to the match. A long and genial lunch break included the usual happy mass trespass on the outfield, with countless little contests between eight-year-olds and granddads, and then Sussex took the field to try to contain the Essex batsmen. It was a tough task.
The Essex openers rattled up 87 for the first wicket, and then led by an impressive 88 from Tom Westley the visitors always looked comfortable, staying slightly ahead of the run rate. Archer and Jordan did their best to get lift out of a flat, brown and expertly prepared Saffrons wicket, but it was always warm work, and despite a little wobble just after the 40-overs mark, Essex closed in remorselessly.
Westley was in sight of his century when he lost his wicket to a comedy run-out mix-up, but by then the match was lost and won. No victory for the Sharks, but a triumphant day for Eastbourne and the Saffrons.
Sussex head coach Gillespie said, “It was a similar story to quite a few of our games in this competition. Laurie Evans went on and scored a really good hundred which I am delighted about, but a few others got starts but didn’t go on which is disappointing and frustrating, both for me and the players themselves.
“With the ball we allowed them to probably play too many big shots without much risk involved. Those are two things which we need to improve going forward.
A positive was seeing Laurie bat as well as he did and also score 107 off the last ten overs but overall in the competition it’s a case of opportunities missed, both today and in a number of the other games.”
Ryan ten Doeschate, the Essex captain, added, “It sets up Wednesday nicely against Kent. If we win we’ve got a really good chance of going through.
I thought it was a deserved win for us. I was a little bit disappointed we conceded as many runs as we did in Sussex’s last ten overs, having bowled really well for the first 40 overs but on a ground with small boundaries that can happen.
“We always felt we could chase that target down. It was unfortunate that Tom (Westley) got out in the way he did when it looked as if he was going to get a hundred but apart from that little wobble at the end I felt we deserved to win.”