They were back. It would be an exaggeration to suggest that they were greeted with carpets of flowers and a parade of trumpeters but there was a definite frisson of something approaching excitement in Sussex by the sea when the England stars returned yesterday to the Championship.
On the one side, for the champions Nottinghamshire, there were Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann, and on the other, for Sussex, there were Matt Prior and Mike Yardy. The gates were not exactly locked and indeed they were not opened at the members' entrance until 10am but the anticipation was palpable.
The championship has long since learned to cope without current Test cricketers – it had no choice – but their fleeting presence remains welcome. Unfortunately, it will also always be fitful. That world has changed forever.
It was Broad, the country's new Twenty20 captain, who was in action first with the new ball and rusty he looked too in the first hour. But it was Swann, typically, who made the first impression.
Sussex were allowed to make a bristling start and had reached 100 in the 26th over, 20 of the runs coming from Andre Adams' first five balls of the match, which equally allowed some stern opinions about the quality of bowling.
Swann appears to have spent most of his time since returning home from England's long winter tweeting his every move. His jaunty contributions there (notwithstanding his opposition to AV) do not conceal the fact that he is a serious cricketer. With his 11th ball of the season he had the in-form Ed Joyce, who had become the less assertive of the opening partners, leg before, misjudging the line a little carelessly. For a few overs in the early afternoon, Prior, as is his wont, unfurled a succession of crisp, no nonsense attacking shots but, as is also his wont, he got carried away with it all. Trying to drive the first ball of Swann's second spell, he was caught off a swirling outside edge in the covers.
Yardy's return was the most welcome of all. He has been inactive since he was forced to leave England's World Cup campaign with depression and his return to the Sussex four-day side had not yet been expected. Only when he went out to toss as their captain once more was it realised that he was playing. It was good to see his stoic batting later, though like too many of his colleagues he was out with the job started, not done. Chief among these was Chris Nash, who made his fifth half century in succession, his seventh score above 40 in nine innings. He had pounced on Adams' aberrations and from his low stance had batted pleasantly and crisply especially off the back foot. He was out to Samit Patel, seven short of his century essaying a misguided sweep.
Patel was the most efficient bowler in the innings and his left-arm spin yielded three wickets. However, it seems that he has yet to follow to the letter the dietary advice given him by the England and Wales Cricket Board.
In the evening, Broad made inroads, demonstrating again that he is a lucky bowler as well as a skilful one. He had Luke Wright caught behind down the leg side, an archetypal strangle, and four balls later produced a peach to James Anyon. Rana Naved played with some intent and was unbeaten when Adams finished Sussex off with his 500th first-class wicket. He will have bowled much better in securing most of those preceding it. It also left Nottinghamshire with three overs to negotiate, which they failed to do intact.