The opening day of the new County Championship season was blessed with glorious sunshine at the Rose Bowl in Hampshire. Opting to bat, title holders Sussex had an early scare when Shane Bond was rewarded for some aggressive bowling with the wicket of opener Carl Hopkinson, clean bowling him for just 7. However, with both Chris Tremlett and Dimitri Mascarenhas strangely out of sorts, the Sharks slowly began to recover through Chris Nash and Michael Yardy. However, both batsmen fell just before the fifty mark and James Tomlinson was the man who made the first breakthrough, just before lunch. A splendid catch was taken at slip by James Adams and Nash (47) was on his way. Immediately after the lunch break, Yardy (46) attempted an ill advised hook shot off of Bond and simply guided the ball to Chris Tremlett at long leg. Hampshire were suddenly back in the game and possibly even on top. Out strode Murray Goodwin and his captain, Chris Adams. Goodwin began solidly, but Adams started with a bang, showing an attacking intent, as he plundered a few quick boundaries. Clearly the Sussex captain wants his side to continue to play competitive cricket this year. However, he was soon overtaken by Goodwin, who was in sublime form. Some marvellous shots followed as the two experienced campaigners took the ineffectual Hampshire attack to the cleaners. Mascarenhas, Tremlett and Greg Lamb were going for too many, too fast and an early criticism of Mascarenhas would be that he bowled himself for too long and failed to give youngster Tomlinson, who had comfortably been the second best bowler in the morning session, a chance until over an hour and a half after the lunch interval. Upon Tomlinson's return, Adams (30) was on his way, edging a rising ball behind to the keeper. Sussex were though very much in the driving seat and Matt Prior was soon finding the gaps and building another big partnership with the ever dependable Goodwin.
Chris Tremlett ruffles Sussex Captain Chris Adams with a short pitched delivery
At this point it is worth pointing out that Hampshire went into this match with Greg Lamb as their only recognised spinner. He quite simply is not up to the task of being the primary spinner in four day cricket. He is adequate as a fifth or sixth bowler in limited overs cricket, but offers no real threat to a batsman with time on his side. Hampshire fans will hope that Liam Dawson soon finds himself in the side, as Lamb, whilst being a multi-dimensional cricketer, is your typical jack of all trades, who tends to excel at none unfortunately. To go from Shane Warne and Shaun Udal, bowling in tandem, to Greg Lamb would make a grown man cry, and it nearly did! To conclude this point, Lamb is the classic example of a below average kolpak signing who is blocking the path of a promising home grown youngster and I hope that the situation is soon resolved, or Hampshire will struggle to pose a spinning threat to opposition sides.
Matt Prior cover drives Greg Lamb for another boundary
Back to the action and Goodwin and Prior were in blistering form and Goodwin soon brought up his hundred. It was a chanceless knock and one of the best I have seen. Prior soon brought up his own landmark, as he passed fifty. He is an assured batsman who could yet find himself in an England side as a specialist bat. All looked lost at 317-4 and the weather forecast was already being discussed. Then, just at the last, along came Bond, Shane Bond (I had to!). Back to the pavilion went Prior (62), Luke Wright came and went for a duck, he was joined by Robin Martin-Jenkins (1) and Ragheb Aga (0) and all of a sudden Hampshire were on top on what has so far been a very good batting wicket. Next, Tremlett found some late form and removed the dangerman Goodwin, for a brilliantly played 121. Bond then wrapped up the innings with the removal of Mushtaq Ahmed (1), to finish with figures of 19.1-2-66-7, Chris Liddle the not out man (4*).
Shane Bond sends down another blistering delivery
The five overs left in the day were faced by Michael Carberry and Michael Brown and it was the former who fell victim to Martin-Jenkins for just two. Tomlinson survived the remaining few overs as night watchmen to set up a curious day’s play tomorrow.
The second opening slot appears to be a problem for Sussex as was feared. However, the middle order is still on the money and in Yardy, Goodwin, Adams and Prior, Sussex have a very experienced and able batting line up. Add in the ability of both Luke Wright and Martin-Jenkins to take the game away from an opponent in a flash and it is not good news for the other title hopefuls. It remains to be seen though whether or not the pace bowling will be up to the challenge of the season ahead. On paper, minus Jason Lewry and new kolpak signing Ryan Harris, the attack does not look that strong, with only Mushtaq the stand out threat. However, at full strength Sussex have variety and a quality XI.
Hampshire on the other hand were very reliant on Bond today. He is an excellent player, who is capable of blowing a tail away, a very useful ability indeed. Tomlinson’s performance was though the most pleasing aspect of the day, as he was threatening and deserving of at least another wicket. Mascarenhas’ captaincy is in it’s infancy, but it appears as though he will follow Shane Warne’s policy of attacking the opposition, which is commendable. He needs to rely less on himself though and put a bit more faith in the younger players at his disposal, like Tomlinson and Dawson. Lamb was a rather defensive pick in my opinion, perhaps the prospect of playing Sussex contributed to his selection. David Griffiths meanwhile has shown himself to be more than capable of filling the shoes of a pace bowler in pre-season, so Hampshire are well covered in that respect for now. They will also have Sean Ervine back for the weekend match at Taunton, and more importantly, to cover Mascarenhas’ two week absence in May. It remains to be seen how the batting line up performs tomorrow, but the early loss of Carberry will not help matters. With Brown, Adams and Lamb still to come, Sussex will be confident of establishing a lead, although John Crawley and Nic Pothas will provide stout opposition.