Sussex 323 (Finch 103, Robinson 52, Harris 5-86) and 232 for 7 (Brown 65*) beat Middlesex 230 (Holden 84*, Robinson 7-58) and 322 (Malan 119, Gubbins 107, Wiese 4-70, Briggs 4-70) by three wickets
If Sussex supporters seemed reluctant to drag themselves away from the County Ground it was entirely understandable. Why bother trying to shoehorn yourself on to a crowded beach when you can sit in a deckchair on a blissful Bank Holiday afternoon, sup a pint and celebrate a victory that suggests Jason Gillespie is working his magic again?
Apart from the addition of Ishant Sharma, who didn’t play in this game, the squad Gillespie inherited is the same that badly underachieved under his predecessor Mark Davis. There is certainly a more positive atmosphere in the dressing room, according to the players. Gillespie arrived with no pre-conceived ideas about some of the younger members of the squad and youngsters like Harry Finch and Ollie Robinson have responded to the freedom he has given them to play without being burdened by the consequences of failure.
Here, Finch scored his maiden Championship hundred and Robinson took eight wickets although it was skipper Ben Brown, using all his experience of these relaid Hove pitches which are producing such riveting contests, who led his side to the first win of the Gillespie era just before tea.
As Brown and Michael Burgess ticked off the runs Gillespie sat impassively at the back of the players’ balcony. But if he gave the impression of someone in control of his emotions during a tense chase there was no disguising his delight as he waited at the top of the steps to embrace his captain after a three-wicket victory had been secured.
“That’s why I’m a fan of county cricket,” he said. “That was a fantastic four days and I’m so proud of the way the guys kept going against what was a very good Middlesex side, led by Browny who was magnificent.”
It was a situation Brown revels in. More than the odd ball kept low while one delivery from James Harris which he tried to cut leapt off a length and flew past his face. But it was no minefield. He stayed leg side of the ball to take lbw out of play and improvised impishly at times as he and Burgess put together the match-winning stand of 87.
And while Gillespie remained calm, Brown’s guttural roar of delight would have been heard on the crowded seafront when Robinson bunted James Harris down to long leg for the winning boundary. Sussex could probably do with another experienced top-six batsman but that is not such an issue when 10 of their team here has scored a first-class hundred, including nightwatchman Danny Briggs whose stand of 87 for the third wicket with Stiaan van Zyl at the start of the day seemed to have set up a comfortable run chase.
Briggs hit Harris for three fours in an over and it was a surprise when he drove Ollie Rayner to short cover. There wasn’t much turn for Rayner’s offbreaks and it was the belated introduction of Australian Hilton Cartwright which gave Middlesex hope. Bowling stump to stump to a run-saving ring field, he removed van Zyl and Luke Wright with successive balls before Harris picked up Finch in the last over before lunch. Brown then took charge and although Burgess was pinned lbw by Dawid Malan, Sussex only needed 15 to win.
A second defeat in three is hardly an ideal start to Middlesex’s bid for an immediate return to Division One but it’s worth bearing in mind that they were without six internationals here, for one reason or another. While praising a “fantastic” innings by Brown, captain Malan admitted his team had underperformed with the bat. They will be in the shake-up though.
Brown says the challenge for Sussex is to try back this win up at Canterbury in their next game. They are by no means the finished article but the Gillespie effect already seems to be working.