Nottinghamshire 108 for 5 (Whittingham 3-37) trail Sussex 565 (Jordan 147, Burgess 146, Archer 72) by 457 runs
Sometimes, you want to shake county cricket out of its slumber as it saps the energy of those around it with lethargy and tedium. And, like today, there are times when you sidle up next to it, gaze into its eyes and have what it’s having. No one could have envisaged that Nottinghamshire, league-leaders in all but position, would be at the mercy of a Sussex side who came into the final match of the season without a settled captain, let alone a settled side.
Who knows if this match will offer Sussex any clarity. But at the very least it offered players like Michael Burgess and Stuart Whittingham the chance to stake their claim for opportunities beyond the coming winter. The overarching theme is of promotion out of Division Two, which Nottinghamshire look like stuffing up. But the sub-plot on day two was of career-bests.
Burgess’s maiden century of 146 and Chris Jordan‘s 147 now stand as their highest first-class scores. Even Whittingham’s 22 was a feather in his cap, before he devastated Nottinghamshire’s top order with a burst of 3 for 37 from seven overs.
For the visitors, Billy Root’s maiden first-class wickets did little to ail the bruises from a severe pounding to the ego and soul. The more severe aspects of the 433 runs and the 10 wickets witnessed today hurt Notts the most.
In among the carnage, a checkpoint. After 110 overs, only seven Sussex wickets had been taken, for 457 runs. It meant that not only had Notts not taken full bowling points for the first time this season, but to guarantee promotion they would need to take maximum batting points and avoid defeat. At 108 for 5 at the end of day two, neither looks likely.
What a time for Sussex to produce their best day of the summer. Only Northamptonshire’s own errors in going from 168 for 2 against Leicestershire to 199 for 8 has Notts resting a little easier.
Just two runs were added to the overnight score when Delray Rawlins was caught behind off the bowling of Harry Gurney. A misty approach to Hove spoke of movement through the air and maybe even a supernatural hound on the loose, but Notts were unable to summon any demons.
With back-to-back fours through a vacant gully, Burgess moved on to 98. He’d been there before: a career-best score coming into this match, brought up against the touring Sri Lankans for Leicestershire at the start of last summer. Then, he tried to find two runs into the leg side against the left arm spin of Milinda Siriwardana, but only managed to pop a catch back to the bowler. This time, he did as he had done, making it three fours on the bounce with a cover drive off his 146th ball – to take him to three figures for the first time.
Burgess is a lesson in perseverance: a player who came through the ranks at Surrey but was unable to break into the first team. He went off to Loughborough, playing for the MCCU, while also turning out predominantly for Leicestershire’s 2nd XI. Despite strong performances, an end of season meeting brought an unexpected “thanks, but no thanks”. It left him cold and exploring other options, such as a city job in London or work at Royal Hospital School in Ipswich.
With one last roll of the dice, he called in a couple of favours with Whittingham – his room-mate at university, who was on Sussex’s books – and bowling coach Jon Lewis, who Burgess had played with at the end of his stint with Surrey. A trial day in March went well and a concussion to Ben Brown not long after saw Burgess play a predominant part in pre-season.
A broken finger sustained by Brown afforded him further opportunities in the Royal London Cup and the Championship, before a sore back ruled Brown out for the remainder of the season. Burgess has not only taken his chance so well – he signed a year-long deal last week – that he can begin to plan for a Sussex career without checking on Brown’s health first.
With the weight of a hundred off his back, he began to tee-off and drive Notts further into the dust. Both he and Jordan seemed involved in a Longest Drive competition, which Jordan shaded. The England quick – on the evidence, “allrounder”, too – can claim a lot of the credit for the ease with which Burgess and, later, Jofra Archer were able to pick off a weary attack. His wave of drives and cuts – his half-century took just 59 balls – saw Sussex reach 389 for 6 at lunch as he and Burgess equalled the highest seventh-wicket stand against Notts, with 157 off 30 overs.
Burgess’ dismissal – bowled by Gurney – took nothing out of Jordan’s sailed, who blitzed his way to a second first-class hundred, with 14 fours and two sixes inside 114 balls. Jordan’s previous best was surpassed and so was 500. Archer picked off the remains to finish on 72, Root picked up some freebies and then Whittingham got to work.
The 23-year-old quick has been something of a bit-part player for Sussex, with only 12 appearances in three first-class summers. Without a doubt, this has been his best. He picked up his first five-wicket haul – 5 for 80 against Derbyshire – and made his senior-debut for Scotland (he qualifies through his mother).
Both club and county have made no secret that Whittingham is a prominent part of their plans: Sussex signed him to a two-year deal in 2016 and Scotland believe, with his raw pace, they can make a dart for qualification to the 10-team 2019 World Cup. The quality and calibre of the wickets he took in the final session, to leave Nottinghamshire reeling at 65 for 5 at one point, tells you all you need to know.
Charging in down the hill, he found some late movement into the right-handers to force a man of Cheteshwar Pujara’s class to pad up to a ball that was hitting all three, removed Steven Mullaney’s off-stump and then trapped Samit Patel in front.
It was a burst that left Notts on their knees. And while Root was able to recover from a blow to the helmet from Archer, who took out Jake Libby and Riki Wessels in tandem with Whittingham from the Sea End, to reach 31 at stumps, along with Chris Read, fire-fighting for one last time, the visitors may need to start looking for favours and snookers to reach Division One next year. No one saw this coming. Least of all Sussex.
Vithushan Ehantharajah is a sportswriter for ESPNcricinfo, the Guardian, All Out Cricket and Yahoo Sport