Durham piled insult onto injury on a miserable day at Hove yesterday.
They began an overcast morning well but as the skies brightened, their mood darkened.
Back injuries to Graham Onions and Usman Arshad made the task of bowling out Sussex – which initially looked routine – extremely difficult. But it was their mistakes which will hurt Durham more than anything.
At 115-5 three balls after lunch Sussex were there for the taking. Sloppiness set in and by the time Durham’s weary players, flogged around three flat pitches already this season, trooped off, the hosts were 441 to the good without having lost another wicket.
Onions and Arshad were not the only walking wounded as the players left the dressing room in late-evening sunshine. Mark Wood and Keaton Jennings needed treatment after damaging their bowling hands attempting sharp return catches, while the little finger on Phil Mustard’s left hand was heavily taped.
Durham made excellent use of winning the toss in the morning, reducing their hosts to 110-4 at lunch. But once centurions Ben Brown and Luke Wright settled in, Durham’s fielding got ragged.
It was sloppy against Yorkshire in the previous game, with seven catches of varying difficulty put down. The opportunities Wood and Jennings dropped, like the one a diving Mark Stoneman put down at point, were half-chances, but three routine errors helped the salvage operation.
Brown was twice put down in the 40s by Mustard. Five times the wicketkeeper dropped the ball in the morning session, three in Arshad’s opening over, although none were from edges. He was up to the stumps when Brown was facing Jennings and Chris Rushworth, and twice reprieved him, on 43 and 47.
The ball after his second slip-up, Mustard tried to salvage the situation by running Brown out at the non-striker’s end. Mustard missed the stumps and gifted Brown the five runs needed for a half-century.
Mustard needs to be careful. He has openly admitted last season was not his best, and that the winter signing of Stuart Poynter has provided him with stiffer competition. Acknowledging the problem is a good first step, but he needs to do something about it.
Not that he was the only guilty party. Michael Richardson, who once had the job of pushing Mustard’s wicketkeeping, dropped a straight-forward catch on the deep midwicket boundary. Wright was 80 not out when he pulled at the South African. Later Richardson attempted a sliding stop on the boundary, only to pull the ball over it with him.
Durham’s slackness should not detract from Sussex’s recovery. Wright belied his reputation as a merry slogger with authentic cricket shots. Some of his drives were gorgeous, although as the bowlers tired he played more square of the wicket. It was all a far cry from the morning.
Onions and Rushworth bowled with the sort of control missing against Yorkshire, particularly the latter. He got his reward when he found a little extra lift and the edge of Chris Nash’s bat during an eight-over spell which reaped 1-10.
Stoneman’s drop off Michael Yardy was forgivable and not costly, Kumar Sangakkara taking an excellent diving catch at third slip before he had added to his five runs. Onions was soon out of the attack, and the day’s play.
Arshad and Mark Wood did not offer the same control which, with short boundaries, made for fast scoring, but the change bowlers offered plenty of threat. Arshad’s first ball swung extravagantly after beating the bat.
Nash hit a wide ball through the covers for four, only for Arshad to send his off-stump cartwheeling from the next delivery.
Mustard pouched the next two catches, a tumbling effort off Wood to remove Luke Wells, then a comfortable one to see off Matt Machan. It was a false dawn.
Brown and Wright’s partnership is already the biggest for the sixth wicket against Durham.
Wright edged through the vacant point 10 runs before being put down by Richardson. A pull went just out of midwicket Borthwick’s reach on 153 off Rushworth. The fielder seemed to hurt his already damaged hand on landing.
Physio Nigel Kent came around the boundary to give Arshad treatment on his back. Before he returned to the dressing room Jennings, having replaced the bowler at the Sea End, took his place on the rope needing work on his hand.
Paul Collingwood bowled himself when the second new ball was only six overs old, making it spit at Brown, who tried too late to pull out. The ball looped over the slips for four.
The wicketkeeper’s career-best score could be problematic for England. Matt Prior is close to returning from an Achilles injury but can his county drop Brown? With those who follow Lancashire reporting sketchy glovework from Jos Buttler, and Jonny Bairstow only yesterday returning to wicketkeeping, England will hope Sussex find a way to help them. Durham have bigger worries right now.