Sussex batsmen take control against Gloucestershire in the County Championship
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With much to do following a low-scoring day one that saw 16 wickets fall, Paul Farbrace’s side made the most of morning conditions to bowl Gloucestershire out for 195 and lead by seven runs.
Though Tom Haines then fell early, Ali Orr and Tom Clark’s second-wicket partnership of 120, as well as a stand of 94 between Tom Alsop and James Coles, inspired Sussex to take the box seat in the contest.
Much will now depend on how the pitch behaves on day three as to which way the result will go, as logic dictates that the demons in the surface are gone.
Under heavy initial cloud cover, the day began with Sussex setting about their task of wrapping up the Gloucestershire first innings with real verve.
Sean Hunt and Brad Currie began as they had after tea on day one, extracting plenty of movement from a pitch which rewarded accurate seam bowling.
In just the second over of the day, Currie claimed the key wicket of Zafar Gohar, swinging the ball outside the line of the stumps and tricking the Pakistan international into an errant drive to second slip.
Tom Clark’s hot hands in the cordon were to thank for that catch, and Sussex’s gun fielder would be involved in the very next over too.
Hunt found very slight seam movement on his delivery to Ed Middleton but made full profit, with Clark moving just a little to his right to take another catch.
As in the Sussex innings, the ninth wicket partnership then proved to be the annoyance.
Matt Taylor and Josh Shaw timed their assault wisely as they went through the gears, picking up boundaries by guiding the pace of the Sussex bowlers away.
When Henry Crocombe went for nine runs in one over and Gloucestershire had motored on to 187-8, though, Sussex skipper Tom Alsop had seen enough.
On came Jack Carson for his first spell of the day, and Sussex rapidly reaped the rewards.
Sussex’s leg spinner required just seven balls to collect the final two wickets, with Shaw drawn into a forward defensive shot that was excellently caught by Orr at short leg before last man Zaman Akhter was caught behind by Oli Carter.
Gloucestershire had reached 195 by the time they were all out, and with Sussex holding a lead of just seven runs the game was firmly in the balance.
A tough task faced Tom Haines and newly-restored opening partner Orr, then, with a spell against Taylor and Shaw to face before lunch.
While Orr flourished on his return to opening, Haines succumbed to a lazy shot just 5.1 overs into the innings, being caught by Chris Dent at gully off the bowling of Shaw.
Sussex’s former captain had to consign his 2023 season to the history books, then, with 662 First-Class runs scored at a below-par average of 33.10, and without a century in any format.
Tom Clark was an experiment at three, but played the holding role perfectly alongside Orr, with the duo reaching lunch at 29-1 from 12 overs.
They kicked on from there and quickly made the pitch look easy to play on, with Orr picking up sixes off spinners Zafar and Price under the floodlights.
The Eastbourne-based opener swiftly sealed his half-century with another maximum over the leg-side boundary and chose a brilliant time to play his best First-Class knock of a disrupted season.
Orr’s previous high score of 2023 had been a 40 against Glamorgan in his last outing at Hove, but that was way back in May and it was important for him to settle back in after much hype in the winter.
Ultimately, the knock came to an end on 67 as Orr chopped on from a slower Shaw delivery, but the Sussex lead at that point was a healthy 139.
A fantastic platform had been set, and captain Alsop was in no mood to waste it.
Slotting in at number four, he dropped anchor to make three off 29 balls before his first boundary arrived.
That approach guided Sussex to tea at 161-2, but when Clark was out to Taylor after a composed knock of 72 from 132 balls, in came a player who had barely a defensive bone in his body.
After not scoring from his first nine balls, James Coles raced away, taking 14 off Zafar before bludgeoning back-to-back sixes off Akhter in the next over.
21 runs off the following three overs saw Sussex smack the bowlers out of the attack, but Coles was undeterred, reaching his 50 from just 39 balls by steering Shaw down to third man.
At that stage, around 4:55 pm, umpires Neil Bainton and Jack Shantry took the players off for bad light and despite three separate checks on the light levels, play was eventually suspended.
It was something of a farcical situation but one that Sussex would not mind too much, considering they held all the cards in the contest.
After the day’s play, Sussex batsman Orr spoke about the importance of returning to form with the bat. “It was really important, more so mentally, to go ‘okay, I’ve still got it’ and know that I can keep scoring runs,” said Orr.
“40 was my highest score, so it was good to get a 50. It would have been nice to be a hundred, but I would have taken a 50 at the start of the day.”
Orr also mentioned the desire amongst the squad to finish the season on a high and potentially finish third in Division Two if they can win.
“Having three wins and finishing third in the division would be massive for us, to go away having that confidence and coming back next year with the chance to get promoted,” said Orr.
“We wrapped [Gloucestershire’s innings] up really well this morning, and we put ourselves in a really good situation with the bat.
“We’ve just got to be selfish tomorrow, go big and hopefully take wickets and have a good finish.”