Saffrons delivers for Sussex with a cricket occasion to remember

Grove Road has been a one-way street for many years now, but once a year the Sunday morning pedestrian flow is a steady north-to-south too. And last weekend, Sussex were back at the Saffrons (writes Kevin Anderson).

Jofra Archer hits a six for Sussex against Essex at The Saffrons (Photo by Jon Rigby)
Jofra Archer hits a six for Sussex against Essex at The Saffrons (Photo by Jon Rigby)

If all the world played cricket, we would surely have fewer wars. Balanced, civilised and with a sense of tradition passed on from granddads to grandchildren, it’s a sport we could all learn from.

Walking down from the station, two mature cricket watchers alongside me are reminiscing. “Trouble is, we were spoiled in the 70s. John Snow and Tony Greig in the same team. Just needed Dexter to be born a decade later.” “Aye, and Imran Khan a couple of years earlier!”

Today’s heroes may not be such household names, but there is a sense of history to live up to. The Saffrons itself is looking splendid, and primed for a huge crowd.

Ringed with green trees, with the Town Hall clock approaching 11.00, and under a magnificent blue sky, it’s a real theatre of sport. Fifty overs a side is about right, according to my walking companions. “Any less isn’t a cricket match,” thinks one.

“The way it’s been going, they might as well just bowl at a stump and be done with it.” Hopes of Sussex qualifying for the next stage will require some blue sky thinking, plus a highly improbable set of results elsewhere.

Still, Essex are in with a good shout of the quarter finals and in any case, there is no question of rolling over – especially in front of a huge and eager Saffrons crowd.

With Sussex confidence possibly wobbling after a feeble defeat in Glamorgan, it is no surprise to find the visitors asking the Sharks to bat.

Wickets go cheaply, and the batting is all about carve and nurdle, scrabble and scamper, rather than grand flowing shots. It is all a little too placid, and a circling seagull feels comfortable enough to swoop, land and settle at long-off.

But Laurie Evans smacks his first ball for a cover-point four, and then leads the resistance with a lovely century, quick-footed and wristy.

Boundaries are a bit sparse but each is greeted with drumming applause by a home crowd, willing Sussex on.

Harry Finch opens his shoulders in support, before getting out – rather bizarrely – stumped off a wide. All perfectly legal, I’m assured by those in the press tent more knowledgeable than me, and in any case nobody complains, for courtesy and protocol are the warp and weft of cricket.

The Sussex total still looks forty runs short, but the later batters have other plans. Inside every fast bowler there is a half-decent batsman hiding, and Jordan and Archer enjoy their midday in the sun.

Grown men are ducking for cover as Joffra Archer bashes two huge sixes almost into the Town Hall car park, and one more into the beer tent, and Sussex reach a respectable 281.

Time for lunch, and rather a highlight of the day: the traditional mass trespass on the outfield, where those granddads show off their off-spin, but their nippers keep a straight bat. Meanwhile on Larkins Field a gentle croquet match is playing out, quite untroubled by the throng of cricketers.

Another era, and a few costume adjustments, would have seen Poirot roll on to the set in a vintage motor car to solve The Murder at the Saffrons.... Cricket is now, and timeless.

Essex get their innings off to confident, front-foot start, and after 10 overs they have chalked up 70 without loss. Talk about power play.

Twice, wide balls go for four byes, and a couple of possible catches do not quite go to hand.

Saffrons favourite Luke Wells comes on at the Town End to coax some spin from the Saffrons track, but Essex are remorseless.

With the visitors halfway to their target, an impromptu band suddenly trumpets out a chorus of Sussex by the Sea, to rouse the spirits – and rouse any nodding spectators in the burning afternoon sunshine.

Jerusalem, and then the Okey Cokey, soon follow on the playlist, but the male voice choir fails to throw Essex off their stride to victory.

But on the larger canvas, defeat was no disaster. For Eastbourne, for Saffrons chairman Ian Fletcher-Price and his team, and for over 4,000 happy spectators, cricket was the winner.