Sussex made to sweat by Gloucestershire but collect first win of 2024

Sussex survived the craziest of comebacks from Gloucestershire as Cheteshwar Pujara’s resistance was enough to complete a run chase of 144 on the final day of a needlessly dramatic County Championship contest.
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With Gloucestershire leading by 19 runs overnight with just their last four wickets remaining, Sussex had been exepcted to sweep up the visiting side’s tail and then knock off the slender amount of runs that remained.

While Jayden Seales (4-18) and Jack Carson (3-45) bowled superbly, others struggled to get much out of a placid pitch which suddenly leapt into life when Sussex came to chase.

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Five batsmen were out for 13 runs or less and all were victims to Gloucestershire spinner Zafar Gohar as the Pakistan international found extreme turn from the Sea End, but the margins were never in his favour as Pujara (44 not out) and Danny Lamb (17 not out) saw Sussex over the line to remain top of Division Two.

Jack Carson celebrates with skipper John Simpson after dismissing Miles Hammond of Gloucestershire during the visitors' first innings in the Vitality County Championship match at The 1st Central County Ground (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)Jack Carson celebrates with skipper John Simpson after dismissing Miles Hammond of Gloucestershire during the visitors' first innings in the Vitality County Championship match at The 1st Central County Ground (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Jack Carson celebrates with skipper John Simpson after dismissing Miles Hammond of Gloucestershire during the visitors' first innings in the Vitality County Championship match at The 1st Central County Ground (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Coming into the day needing to take Gloucestershire’s last four wickets and restrict their slender lead of 19 runs, Sussex knew they had victory firmly in their grasp.

They had the unflustered batting of Tom Alsop, Cheteshwar Pujara and two Lancastrians – captain John Simpson and Danny Lamb – to thank for the pressure they applied to Gloucestershire on Day 3, but the greatest credit had to go to the bowlers as they ripped through the visitors in the evening.

Ollie Robinson looked near to his best with overnight figures of 2-32 – including the prized wicket of Australian opener Cameron Bancroft – while Jayden Seales (2-12), Jack Carson (1-9) and James Coles (1-0 off one over) continued to impress too.

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They had engineered seam movement and spin from a pitch that for much of the first three days had seemed relatively navigable, and with scoreboard pressure telling, six Gloucestershire batsmen had fallen without amassing much of a score.

Still at the crease as the visitors resumed on 81-6, however, was Miles Hammond, who was aiming to at least replicate his first-innings half-century as he returned on 25 not out. His seemingly impropable task was to steer a vulnerable tail, with only Zafar Gohar (one not out) providing much in the way of batting expertise below him.

Contrary to the collapse of the previous night, though, Gloucestershire started Day 4 in fine fettle. Sussex employed some imaginative fields and particularly tried to turn the screw through Jack Carson and James Coles in the first hour, but with little assistance from the pitch, the four wickets they needed seemed a much taller order.

The two best chances were pacier deliveries where Zafar and Hammond avoided nicking by mere millimetres from Robinson and Lamb respectively, while Carson almost had Zafar trapped deep in his crease only for the Pakistan spinner to get his bat down in the nick of time.

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The more changes Sussex had to make, however, the less control they exerted.

Coles conceded three boundaries before being taken off, while Fynn Hudson-Prentice – who had to wait 90 minutes to get his chance – allowed 17 runs off his first three overs.

Seales and Carson were certainly the most potent of the home bowlers, and as the latter made Hammond squirm with an LBW shout in his penultimate over before lunch, he kept the threat of wickets alive.

Kept on in the six overs after lunch but before the new ball was available, Carson – evidently refuelled and fresh of mind – ripped the heart out of the Gloucestershire rearguard action.

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In his second over after the interval, the Northern Irishman first span fiercely to pin a labouring Hammond on his pads, with the decision a rather simple one for umpire Mark Newell. Two balls later, Dom Goodman fell too, playing far too late to a similarly straight delivery from Carson which took just a small but crucial slice of turn off the pitch.

The Gloucestershire lead at this stage was just 104, and thanks to Carson’s intervention, thoughts returned to wrapping up a win before tea, rather than a nervy afternoon in the field.

Though there was further resistance from Zafar and new partner Zaman Akhter, scoring quickly off Robinson in a chancy stand of 39, when Zafar drove the returning Seales to Carson at extra cover on 52, the game was almost up.

In fact, with Seales’ very next ball it was, as Ajeet Singh Dale edged into the hands of Coles at third slip and Gloucestershire were 205 all out, leading by just 143.

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Returning with only the slight threat of rain seemingly capable of denying them, Sussex openers Tom Haines and Tom Clark imposed themselves immediately upon Akhter and Zafar. Clark ended up being a casualty of this fast start – edging to Cameron Bancroft on 11 from 17 balls – while his namesake Tom Alsop did no better at number three.

Though he was victim to a highly dubious LBW call when dismissed by Zafar, Alsop was struggling to play the spinner and departed for just four. While Cheteshwar Pujara helped steady the ship, further complications came when Zafar picked up his third wicket, bamboozling Tom Haines to leave him stumped by James Bracey on 13.

In another dramatic twist, James Coles – who started with great intent – became the incredulous fourth victim of Zafar, caught by Ben Charlesworth for 10 with 73 runs still for Sussex to score. When the sides returned after tea and John Simpson was in for Sussex, the conditions were no easier to negotiate.

Zafar was convinced he had Simpson caught at leg slip in the 18th over and Simpson even began to walk, only for umpire Newell to rule that the Sussex captain had not made contact. Simpson was living a charmed life as he narrowly survived two further chances to be caught off Zafar, and eventually, after cracking his best shot for four to the square leg boundary, Simpson went again against Dom Goodman and holed out to Ollie Price.

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Fynn Hudson-Prentice then fell LBW on just one, giving Zafar his fifth wicket, and Sussex were still very much in the woods at 115-6. Pujara and Danny Lamb almost replicated the disastrous run-out that got the former out in the first innings, but got away with it after a weak throw from square leg.

When the two calmed down and agreed to nudge and nurdle themselves towards safety, though, Sussex finally spluttered over the line. Just 11.2 overs of the contest remained when Lamb struck the winning runs in Gohar’s 19th consecutive over, and Sussex knew they had themselves to blame for such strife en route to the 22 points that keep them top of Division Two.

Speaking after the match’s conclusion, Sussex’s head coach Paul Farbrace said: “Never in doubt, was it?! It was nervy because [Gloucestershire] showed an awful lot of fight on the last day, as you’d expect.

“I thought they played really well up to lunch time, and then Zafar with the ball was outstanding. He kept them in the game all the way.”

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Farbrace went on to praise Cheteshwar Pujara for his contributions to see the side over the line: “We had to play exceptionally well, and that’s where someone like Puj showed his class and value. It’s a real testament to him that he works hard every day to keep improving, so he sets great examples for our players.

“If we look back, we would probably say that we weren’t at our best at various times in the game – they probably got 80 or 90 too many, and we probably left a few out there that we should have scored. The one good thing is that we’re now expecting to win games of cricket, winning the two at the back of last year and beating Durham at the start of last season.

“I think we’ve got a team who are confident, I think we’ve got a good balance to our team and we bat all the way down.”

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