Chris Nash dedicated the 20th first-class hundred of his career to former team-mate Matt Hobden as Sussex shaded the first-day honours against Essex in Division Two of the Specsavers County Championship at Hove.
Nash and his team-mates had attended a pre-match ceremony where Hobden’s parents and his two brothers planted a tree in memory of the 22-year-old, who died in January, before both teams stood in a minute’s silence at the start of play.
Wearing Hobden’s Number 19 shirt, Nash made 119 and shared a first-wicket stand of 188 with Ed Joyce.
Six wickets then fell for 101 runs to a mixture of good bowling and rash strokes before Ollie Robinson made an aggressive half-century to help Sussex reach 355 for nine at stumps.
Nash spent the winter tweaking his technique with former South Africa opening batsman Gary Kirsten and it paid an early dividend as he raced to his half-century off 52 balls, hitting Matt Dixon for four boundaries in the Australian seamer’s second over.
Joyce was more cautious and was dropped on three by Jesse Ryder, diving to his right at third slip, off Jamie Porter.
But Essex’s attack were guilty of bowling too much loose stuff before lunch and Nash was untroubled as he reached his century off 113 balls, including 18 fours, with a single off Graham Napier shortly after the break.
Joyce went to his fifty with a boundary off Dixon soon afterwards and it was only when skipper Ryan ten Doeschate brought himself on as the seventh Essex bowler that they made a breakthrough when Joyce feathered a thin edge to wicketkeeper James Foster off his third delivery for 61.
As often happens after a big stand another wicket fell quickly with Nash departing two balls later, lbw to one which looked a touch high after facing 144 balls and hitting 21 fours.
Sussex struggled to pick up the momentum again either side of tea. Ross Taylor’s first innings for the club ended on 12 when he was caught behind off an inside edge and Essex picked up two more wickets in successive overs.
Off-spinner Tom Westley caught Matt Machan off a leading edge for 35 with the first ball after the resumption before late inswing from Napier defeated skipper Ben Brown.
Luke Wells squandered a good start when he thick-edged to slip off Westley on 25, who at one stage had figures of 9-6-14-2, before Robinson and Ajmal Shahzad counter-attacked in a stand of 51 in 14 overs for the eighth wicket.
Robinson, who made a century on his Sussex debut batting at number 10 a year ago, played some impressive shots through the off side as Essex rather squandered the new ball. He reached his fifty off 60 balls with nine fours before becoming Napier’s third victim, lbw playing across a straight one.
Ravi Bopara picked up George Garton but Shahzad and Danny Briggs took Sussex to their fourth batting point just before the close.
Nash said: “It was quite an emotional day. We had the ceremony for Hobbsy before play and spoke to his family in the dressing room and he was never far from our thoughts all day. We want to do well for him in this game and throughout the season.
“It’s always nice to get runs in the first game. I got off to a flier with a few boundaries and built from there.
“Essex bowled well after lunch to be fair but I’m pleased the hard work I did in the winter with Gary Kirsten has already paid off.
“I worked on making myself taller in the crease and moving around less and hopefully this is the start of a big summer for me.
“As a team we’re disappointed because at 188 for 0 we were in a really strong position. But there is something in the wicket for the bowlers. We beat Worcestershire on this pitch last season and our guys know where to bowl on it.”
Essex coach Chris Silverwood added: “Credit to Sussex; Nash and Ed Joyce batted really well before lunch so I was pleased with the way we fought back in the afternoon.
“Ryan ten Doeschate rotated the bowling really well and picked up those two wickets as well – perhaps he should bowl himself a bit more!”