THESE ARE early days in the season, too early judging by the weather, but on the evidence of the last few days at Hove one thing stands out. Devon Malcolm, the History Man, is not yet history.
The Sussex batsmen can testify to that, though in some cases it might need a subpoena to make them tell their tale. Malcolm's six-wicket demolition job on their first innings is something they'd rather put behind them.
The damage was done on Thursday afternoon. Pounding uphill from the Sea End, which is bound to be known as the press Portakabin end before too long, Malcolm struck four times to leave the home side struggling on 79 for 7 at the close. When the match resumed yesterday after Friday's washout, the former England strike bowler immediately removed Shaun Humphries' off-stump.
There was an intriguing little period while Mark Robinson hung about long enough for Rajesh Rao, who was on 28 overnight, to get Sussex past the century-mark and himself to a half-century. Then Malcolm came back to fire out the tail-ender's leg stump.
As most time-serving Devonians would predict, of course, the force was not with Malcolm when Sussex followed on 287 runs behind, needing to survive a minimum of 71 overs to avoid an innings defeat.
Liberal with runs, he helped Sussex to get off to a tearaway start that owed everything to the Northamptonshire cast-off Richard Montgomerie tucking into Malcolm with gusto. He dashed to 50 from 53 balls, hitting six fours, while his fellow opener, Toby Peirce, who had been dropped at forward short leg off David Follett in the fourth over, contributed just two singles and a two.
Entrenchment, however, was more important to Sussex than runs, and by the time Peirce was out for 48 in the final session, the salvation operation was done and dusted. All that remained was for Montgomerie to savour a richly deserved first Championship century for his new county. He spent 58 minutes in the nineties, his second 50 taking 150 balls.
It has to be said, though, that Northamptonshire should have bowled better. Once Sussex's opening pair had got away, the visitors never looked like clawing their way back, and their new captain, the Australian Matthew Hayden, will have seen enough England bowling in recent years to recognise the symptoms of a peculiarly English disease.