Sussex 355 for 8 (Nash 119, Joyce 61, Robinson 51) v Essex
In memory: All the Sussex players wore Matthew Hobden’s number © Getty Images
Half an hour before play, at the end of a poignant memorial service for Sussex fast bowler Matthew Hobden, Chris Nash wiped away a tear from his eye and walked over to embrace Hobden’s mother. Half an hour after lunch, wearing Hobden’s No. 19 shirt, Nash ran through to complete as life-affirming a century as you are likely to see in this year’s County Championship.
It was John Arlott who said: “Sometimes I think we are in danger of taking sport too seriously and life not seriously enough.” At Hove, however, there was plenty of room for perspective. Nash’s hundred was warmly received by the first home crowd of the season, though they were also applauding the name on his back, a player taken away from this close-knit club at the age of 22. When Nash’s innings was eventually stopped, with an apt 19 added to the century, they rose in unison once more.
Hobden’s memory will live long at Sussex. The entire XI were wearing his shirt number, though most were concealed by sweaters, while Tymal Mills has had MH and 19 embossed upon his bootstraps. After Sussex’s rain-affected opening fixture away to Northamptonshire, this was a chance for their fans to commune together and the club to forget some of the sadness.
The other focus of attention coming into this match had been on Alastair Cook’s reluctance to switch to a batting helmet with a fixed grille – in line with new ECB regulations – but Sussex quickly pushed that matter down the agenda with an opening stand worth 188.
Both captains had wanted to bat, which meant Ben Brown, again deputising for the injured Luke Wright, had to resort to the ingenious method of tossing a coin. Brown won the right to choose and duly put Essex into the field, thereby giving Cook another 24 hours to get used to the idea of wearing a new, safety compliant helmet.
Cook, it seems, has already given way. The Times reported that he will end his stubborn resistance to changing helmets after further discussions with the ECB, including his old Test opening partner – now England’s director of cricket – Andrew Strauss. Asked whether he was happy about wearing a helmet with a fixed grille after testing one in the Hove nets on Saturday, he is said to have replied: “No.”
Cook the opening batsman does not give up much easily – as various new-ball bowlers around the world have discovered – but his Sussex counterparts, Nash and Ed Joyce, were in similar mood, notwithstanding Jesse Ryder’s drop of Joyce on 3.
Sussex were already 37 without loss by that point, thanks to Nash’s crisp start. He missed the trip to Wantage Road with a foot injury but there was nothing protective about the boot he put in against an Essex attack that too often lived down to Division Two standards. Jamie Porter and Matt Dixon began with a maiden apiece but Nash then reeled off four consecutive fours in Dixon’s second over to shake the innings into life.
Nash’s first-class returns of 867 and 866 over the last two years, albeit hampered by injury, have been his lowest since 2007 but his 20th first-class hundred was as confidently assertive as it was emotionally resonant. His half-century came from 52 balls and he barely slowed on the way to three figures from 113, with 21 fours briskly dispatched around the wicket before Essex had the sniff of a chance.
Joyce was more circumspect, his first boundary coming in the 17th over, but his grizzled 61 came to seem all the more valuable after he and Nash fell within three balls from Ryan ten Doeschate. Essex used seven bowlers and Graham Napier and Tom Westley shared five wickets, as Sussex’s soft middle order ceded some of the advantage accrued, but a mature fifty from Ollie Robinson, promoted to No. 7, helped push his side towards a fourth batting point.
It is fair to say it has been a difficult winter at Hove but there is also a sense of optimism around the new set-up. Wright has replaced Joyce as captain and although he is due to have a minor operation on his right wrist on Monday – Sussex hope he will be fit for their third Championship game, against Leicestershire in a fortnight – he stayed at the ground after the service for Hobden, chatting to supporters and watching his openers put on what he will hope is the first of many weighty stands this season.
Sussex is a familial sort of club, something the Hobdens have been publically thankful for since Matthew died suddenly while celebrating New Year. A tree was planted in his memory near the entrance at the Sea End as a crowd of friends and well-wishers, including former Sussex coach Mark Robinson, gathered to pay their respects. Professional baritone Nick Gee gave a rendition of “Good Old Sussex by the Sea” and Wright and Nash were among those who joined in with the final chorus, an ethereal moment on a day that was made for cricket but served as a fine tribute to a fallen cricketer.
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo