Steven Mullaney had put Notts on course for a strong day, but Sussex’s middle order wasn’t about to roll over at the end of the season

Sussex 230 for 5 (Burgess 67*, Rawlins 55*) v Nottinghamshire

It began with only one team in mind. Nottinghamshire, needing 12 points for a promotion to Division One that should have been wrapped up with a bow on it by now. Sussex? Well, Sussex were just fulfilling their last fixture of the season. One that promised much: a tilt at promotion or a cup run of sorts with a blend of old, young and new. A neat run of results got them back on track but, ultimately, it has been a summer of four different first-class captains and little else of note.

When play did get underway at 1pm, overnight rain and morning mizzle preventing an earlier start, Nottinghamshire did as Nottinghamshire have done. Even with key men missing – only Chris Read (playing in his last professional match) Samit Patel, Jake Libby and Riki Wessels played in the demolition of Sussex at Trent Bridge earlier this year – their alternates stepped up, as they have done all season.

In Luke Wood and Brett Hutton, they have two bowlers who, were they not so wedded to Nottinghamshire, would be ever-presents in other attacks. As it happens, they make do as back-ups: waiting in the wings to come in when international call-ups and whatever else take their toll, as they have done this season, with just 13 Championship matches between them coming into this final round. Today, they shared the new ball.

Inside 15 overs, Sussex were two down: Wood getting Harry Finch to edge behind from his left-arm approach, Hutton drawing an airy drive from Philip Salt to Cheteshwar Pujara at cover. Not long after, Steven Mullaney took over and Laurie Evans’ struggles against the red ball continued as he played across the line to be trapped in front to leave Sussex 52 for 3. And, more importantly, a first bowling point for Nottinghamshire. Just 11 more to go…

For a moment, it looked like Mullaney was on a mission to accrue all the points himself. A spell from the Sea End of 15 overs, 3 for 24 cut through the middle order, as Chris Nash played to point and captain Luke Wells caught on the crease for a smartly crafted 46. Sussex were 107 for 5 in the 34th over. Never mind that a second bowling point was one away – victory was already in sight.

By stumps, however, Nottinghamshire were still waiting for that second point and the win was a bit blurrier, thanks to a thrilling sixth-wicket partnership between Delray Rawlins and Michael Burgess that was uninterrupted on 123 at the close.

Thrilling is probably the right word for it. The 20- and 23-year-old, respectively, went about their business with an attitude that only youth brings. They weren’t concerned that Notts had more to play for, nor were they coloured by the collapse of more experienced heads before them. That’ll be why Rawlins, on nought, walked down to Mullaney, third ball, and pulled straight to Pujara at catching midwicket, who put down a firmly struck chance. It would have been 107 for 6.

It took a while for Rawlins to shake the skittishness. Every drive he attempted early on either plinked over the fielders down the ground or skewed off an inside edge, just past his stumps and away to fine leg. His wagon wheel for the beginning of his innings resembled an umbrella in the wind. Slowly but surely, he got his groove back – the sort of groove that Sussex tried to utilise at No.3 when the season began.

Now in the middle order, with an older ball to deal with, he caressed through the off-side and began hooking with ease. When Patel was brought on for something different at the Sea End, Rawlins used his feet to thump him down the ground for the first six of the innings. Eventually, after 115 balls and seven fours, he had his first half-century of a testing summer that, while not a success, can be chalked up as “character building” for a very highly rated England U-19 player.

By that point, Burgess already had his fifty to his name – his third in the Championship in his first season with Sussex. Much of Burgress’ career has been character building: a nomadic trail that started out at Surrey, where he is still spoke of in glowing terms, before three years spent at Loughborough, studying Sports and Exercise Science. It was for the university that he made his first class debut in 2014, against Sussex.

Loughborough’s proximity to Leicestershire saw him taken on by the county from 2015, but despite scoring an accomplished 98 against the touring Sri Lankans at the beginning of 2016, no contract of note was forthcoming. When an opportunity arose at Sussex this summer, he was quick to take his chance, scoring runs in Second XI cricket and impressing when first-choice wicketkeeper Ben Brown fractured a finger during the Royal London Cup. Now, with Brown out for the season with a sore back, a steady run has seen Burgess build on his first-team cricket. Last week, he signed a deal with the club to keep him on until the end of the 2018 season.

Surrey and Leicestershire’s loss looks to be Sussex’s gain. A slog sweep for six took Burgess to his half-century from 71 balls, but most of his scoring shots came through the covers. His judgement of length stood out most and, while he clubbed a few fours with full-blooded drives, he was able to show some finesse to pick gaps when Nottinghamshire reinforced the off-side.

Sussex may have less to play for but Rawlins and Burgess have given them two knocks to give them some warmth over the winter. For Nottinghamshire – 11 more points.

Vithushan Ehantharajah is a sportswriter for ESPNcricinfo, the Guardian, All Out Cricket and Yahoo Sport

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