On paper it did not look great. It was unfortunate Durham chose their first day’s play as champions to produce their second-lowest first-innings score this season, hastened there by eight afternoon-session wickets.
It was the smallest score batting first at Hove all season and only in their last defeat, at Lord’s in August, have Durham made less in a 2013 first innings.
Ah yes, those following on Ceefax would say. The champions had their eye off the ball, probably still hungover from the party which started on Thursday afternoon, minds more on how to spend £350,000 in prize money than doing theirs jobs.
It was an easy conclusion to draw, but the wrong one.
When Durham last ended a season as champions, at Worcester in 2009, they were in party mood.
The catching was sloppy at times yesterday, but good Sussex bowling and Luke Wright’s destructive batting were the main reasons the hosts had the better of day one.
That Scott Borthwick and Ben Stokes took a while to get the ball off the square and that the latter took ages dragging himself off it after giving his wicket away, would not normally be cause for celebration, but in this instance it was. It showed two young Durham players who cared.
Borthwick had good cause to, needing 15 more runs to reach 1,000 in this season’s Championship. Mark Stoneman required one less.
As Stokes’ and Borthwick’s slow starts highlighted, Durham were more careful than careless.
Steven Magoffin, James Anyon and Chris Jordan all bowled extremely well.
The Riversiders pitched up on the south coast after a 12-hour bus journey intent on making history.
Even the daily journey to and from the ground is a horror one for them, the Labour Party Conference in Brighton forcing them out to Arundel.
A club-record-extending sixth straight win and an 11th in a Division One season were what they had in mind, but to do that they will also have to be the first team to win at Hove batting first since September 2011. That was Durham too.
The thick mist gave way to bright sunshine as Durham’s bus trundled along their 75-minute commute and they chose to bat first on a cracked pitch. Magoffin got the first and fifth balls of the game to rear up at Stoneman off a length. When Graham Onions bowled, from the opposite Sea End, the lack of bounce brought two lbws.
Maggofin is a fine county bowler – steady in pace, even steadier in line – who has not had the wickets he deserves against Durham this season.
If he had, he might be challenging Onions as Division One’s leading wicket-taker this season, but with 68 the Gateshead-born fast bowler is looking as uncatchable as the England selectors bewilderingly seem to view him as unpickable.
Magoffin was gifted a wicket when Onions spooned the ball so high either mid-on or mid-off could have caught it. Anyon and Jordan took the rest, and earned them.
Keaton Jennings’ dismissal was tame, edging as he propped forward. Stoneman followed, but only after driving through offside for his 1,000.
A few short balls, pulled to the boundary, got Borthwick into his stride only for Jordan to slightly square him up. Ed Joyce took a terrific catch.
At first it seemed Luke Wells had dropped Stokes at point but he scooped the ball up before it hit the turf as far in the eyes of the umpires.
Stokes stood a long time after the finger was raised, but with his head looking down at the pitch he was hopefully contemplating his error not disputing the decision.
There were 107 runs on the board by then, so losing six more wickets for 57 was hardly the stuff of champions.
As he told yesterday’s Journal, this is almost certainly Will Smith’s last Durham game, with no new contract on the table.
When Wright pitched the ball outside his off stump he made an involuntary lunge at it on 11, only withdrawing his bat once it had passed his edge.
He made 32 when Matt Prior, standing at first slip, dropped him.
However, Prior dived right and collected at the second attempt, sending Smith on his way five short of 6,000 career frst-class runs.
Anyon took 3-0 in six deliveries, Phil Mustard another edging, Michael Richardson lbw and Usman Arshad late on a ball which cut in and perhaps kept low.
When Paul Collingwood picked out deep square leg it set up a 44-over final session.
Onions reducing Sussex to 6-2 was a good start. Joyce batted fluently, as he apparently has all season.
He dominated the scoring with 45 of the first 64 runs until becoming the first of two key wickets to fall to the golden arm of Usman Arshad. Prior edged behind.
Wright followed his captain’s lead, monopolising the scoring even more in a 38-ball 50 which saw him hit Onions out of the attack during a three-over spell which cost 33, including a six over midwicket. There was more power than precision when he drove the ball on 14. Maybe he was fortunate it was not close enough for Onions to catch. Maybe Onions was.
Borthwick had dislocated a finger on his left hand dropping Prior off Arshad.
Having backed away at ever-deeper backward square, Stoneman ought to have ended Wright’s innings for 57, but was too casual about the catch.
An hour of Wright this morning could almost put the game beyond Durham’s reach but Borthwick was hopeful of wrestling the initiative back on a “bang, bang pitch”.