Cricket: Athey fails to halt tide

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By Graeme Wright

at Edgbaston

Sussex 63 and 203 Warwickshire 227 and 41-1 Warwicks won by 9 wkts

Poor Sussex. After their euphoric midweek high against Derbyshire in the NatWest Trophy, chasing and achieving 328 to win, the last few days here have been cold turkey time. The Seasiders were not only brought down to earth by Warwickshire's nine-wicket victory, but their failure to notch any batting points has dumped them unceremoniously at the bottom of the County Championship table, overtaken by, of all people, Derbyshire. But then cricket has always been full of ironies.

That Sussex avoided a third successive innings defeat owed everything to another defiant half-century from Bill Athey. As the first innings scores suggest, this was not an easy pitch for batsmen. When Graeme Welch worked up a head of steam in mid-morning, he was bowling to five slips and a gully.

In the ninth over of the morning, Athey was on 17 when dropped at first slip off Dougie Brown and as he struggled through the twenties, Allan Donald gave him as torrid a time as he is likely to have experienced in his 21 years of county cricket. Several times after playing forward defensively to the South African fast bowler, the 39-year-old remained leaning on his bat like an old man recalling his past.

The way Athey drove Welch several times to the long-off boundary showed that technique and memory still have something to offer. Spectators may suffer from his stubbornness, but Sussex in this summer's form would be in a fix without him. Keith Newell helped Athey add 54 for the seventh wicket before Welch uprooted Newell's middle stump just after lunch, and without these two Sussex might have been packaged and parcelled by lunch.

One of the two nightwatchmen, Mark Robinson, failed to survive the first ball he faced, popping a straightforward catch off Welch to Anurag Singh at short leg. The other nightwatchman, Alex Edwards, got into line well until, in the eighth over of the day, he edged Welch to third slip. Brown took the catch low and two-handed to his left, and set a standard of slip catching more than matched by Dominic Ostler at second slip.

Fielding as substitute for the injured Andy Moles, Ostler's sure hands accounted for Keith Greenfield and Peter Moores before he eventually ended Athey's 194-minute resistance with a brilliant right-handed take when it looked as if the ball was past him.

That gave the appreciative Donald his eighth wicket of the match, his 37th of the season, and it left Vasbert Drakes to provide a few more fireworks before Warwickshire, batting again, rattled off the 40 runs needed for a victory before tea. Drakes's unbeaten 41 came off 32 balls, and with two massive leg-side sixes off Brown and another straight one off the slow left-armer Ashley Giles, plus three fours, he at least ensured that Sussex went out with a bang. Sadly, the confusion which produced the run- out that ended the innings reflected Sussex's cricket rather more appositely.