Cricket: A guiding hand from Di Venuto

Sussex 275 and 315; Nottinghamshire 199 and 132 Sussex win by 259 runs
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The Independent Online
FOLLOWING SUSSEX means never taking anything for granted, so the man who sings "Sussex, Sussex by the Sea" remained quiet until Nottinghamshire lost their third wicket. Since they had scored only 54 of the 392 they needed, it was all right to celebrate - however tentatively - a place in division one next summer, especially as expectations in the Nottingham- shire dressing-room are not high: "I haven't got any batting," says their commendably frank coach and guru, Clive Rice.

Hardly any at all, to judge by a limp performance that ended with them all out in 40.2 overs for 132. True, there was sustained accuracy from the Sussex seamers, particularly Mark Robinson, an import from Yorkshire who took 3 for 33, including the wickets of Jason Gallian and Graeme Archer whose stand accounted for a big slab of their total.

The win gives Sussex 181 points, 10 more than Hampshire, and only one fewer than Derbyshire and Somerset who stand equal sixth. Though their last game away to Warwickshire will be hard, Sussex are playing above themselves, like a team that expects to be among what might loosely be described as the elite next summer.

Nottinghamshire made it look easy for them under a hot sun at Hove. When Richard Stemp came on to bowl gentle left-arm spin, the fierce Australian Mike Di Venuto hit his first over for 11. He hit David Lucas for three fours in the next over, and, all of a sudden, his fifty was being applauded by a decent audience for a Championship Saturday.

Nottinghamshire's bowling attack - young, promising, and by far their strongest suit - seemed to quail at the prospect of what Di Venuto would do next. As well they might, since he scored 40 off the next 32 balls he faced, before giving an edge to Chris Read behind the stumps. His 90 brought up Di Venuto's 1,000 runs in a rewarding, one-off summer.

It was the first of five catches by Read, though none of them was especially difficult. Chris Adams edged a catch to him after scoring only 12. He was pushing forward, and Rice, a South African selector, observed that this forward push to a decent pace bowler will cause him endless trouble this winter.

Read did not do any better with the bat. Rice explains he tells Read to block a few before taking a swig of the elixir of youth and driving flamboyantly. Ignoring this advice in his first innings, he was caught behind without scoring. His hearing seemed to improve yesterday when he played more cicumspectly, though he was bowled by Jason Lewry for 15.

But what Rice saw yesterday triggered a number of observations, most of them jaundiced. On his return to county cricket, he finds it riddled with mediocrity: "I can't believe it," he says. The principal problem is batsmen want to play in a friendly environment - "they've got a mark on their bats that says, `please aim here'".

When the ball swings or bounces they blame the ground-sman, he grumbles. His own team is certainly not exempt. He wants to hire three reliable stalwart batsmen, and there will be blood on the carpet at Trent Bridge this winter. Rice's own contribution to quality is to sign Shoaib Akhtar. He points out that this should be an incentive for good batsmen to sign: "They will be spared a ball up their nose at 90mph," he says.