Sussex turn a bang to a whimper

Sussex 429 and 297-5dec Surrey 355 and 114-1 Match drawn

This top-of-the-table clash, which began with a bang as Sussex stunned the First Division leaders in the first two days with bat and ball, finished with barely a whimper.

This top-of-the-table clash, which began with a bang as Sussex stunned the First Division leaders in the first two days with bat and ball, finished with barely a whimper.

Sussex had had a genuine opportunity to wrest the Championship lead from Surrey's weakening grasp, but they bottled it. Draws do not win titles.

No matter that Murray Goodwin had suffered a dislocated finger on his right hand which handicapped his batting yesterday, or that they lost 37 overs to bad light (though in the opinion of many, play could have continued for a while longer on Friday before the Sussex batsmen accepted the offer and scuttled off, not to be seen again that evening). There was ample opportunity for Sussex to set up a tempting target.

As it was, Sussex batted deep into the afternoon before declaring at tea, leaving Surrey to score 377 runs off a minimum of 36 overs. Improbable even by Surrey's bold and exhilarating standards.

The home supporters were unhappy, judging by the slow handclaps and ironic cheers that punctuated a slow afternoon and even slower accretion of the Sussex cushion.

True, the Surrey leg-spinner Ian Salisbury did not help by bowling around the wicket, and Jimmy Ormond, who took four first-innings wickets, did not get a bowl. The only conclusion to be drawn was that it was fear of losing, possibly provoked by Surrey's first-innings recovery thanks to a very waggy tail, which incidentally has earned Surrey 10 of the 18 batting bonus points they have gleaned from their last four matches. But surely, to borrow a phrase, "'tis better to have tried and lost than not to have tried at all"? If you want to be regarded as the cream of the crop you have to beat the best, not draw with them. You have to take risks to pull off the improbable.

So for all that Sussex might pat themselves on the collective back and say they had competed with Surrey, even got the better of the First Division leaders for the bulk of this match, ultimately the draw leaves them four points adrift, whereas victory would have seen them open up a 10-point lead, while defeat when going for it would have been an honourable one.

And the argument that victory was unlikely does not hold water when you are armed with the most potent wicket-taker in the country, Mushtaq Ahmed. His leg-spin has brought him 71 Championship wickets in his 10-and-a-bit matches to date, which suggests that a win was not beyond the realms of possibility.

Come the big reckoning at the end of the season, this game could prove to be the one where Sussex's title aspirations went out the window, all for a lack of adventure.

At least Sussex got something right, awarding caps to their two excellent wicketkeepers, Tim Ambrose and Matthew Prior, the presentation being made when the pair came off at the declaration, each having reached a half- century in their unbroken sixth-wicket stand of 74.

Ambrose had earlier partnered Robin Martin-Jenkins to the tune of 120 runs off 31 overs, although the only evidence of a sense of urgency came from Prior, who lofted Salisbury for two sixes in his 49-ball fifty. Ambrose's 76 was compiled from a more conservative 162 balls.

Surrey openers Ian Ward and Jon Batty then reduced the target by 82 before Mark Davis dismissed the left-handed Ward for a sedate 33 before the game fizzled out.

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