Sussex 422 (Jordan 166, Brown 156) and 339 for 4 dec (Salt 122, van Zyl, 81*, Brown 60*) drew with Northamptonshire 368 (Vasconcelos 83, Buck 51) and 288 for 6 (Rossington 69*, Cobb 68, Hamza 4-51)
It has been a tough start to the season for Northamptonshire, who had a chastening time in the 50-overs matches and came back to four-day cricket to be beaten effectively in three by Lancashire last week. Apart from the first session of the first day, they were behind in this game throughout, so to emerge with a draw will feel like a triumph of sorts.
Sussex led by 346 overnight but did not declare, adding 47 more in a four-over flurry that left a target for the home side of 394 in a round 90 overs minimum, which was a hefty demand but, with batsmen well attuned these days to scoring quickly, not so forbidding that Northamptonshire would not fancy themselves a little bit.
But the balance shifted away from them in two major lurches during the afternoon session.
After the early loss of Ricardo Vasconcelos, who nicked a textbook away-swinger from Mir Hamza into the hands of Philip Salt at third slip, Josh Cobb and Ben Curran had built a fairly sturdy platform by lunch, one down for 104.
Successful fourth-innings targets on the scale of this one rarely happen; indeed, only once in Northamptonshire’s history, on this ground in 2010, when Stephen Peters made what was then a career-best 183 not out and a target of 394 to beat Middlesex was reached.
As the players re-emerged into the afternoon sun, there might have been a few home supporters wondering if something similar could happen, but such imaginings were beginning to seem more fanciful when Hamza’s post-lunch spell claimed wickets in its second and fourth overs.
These setbacks might have raised fewer groans had they not been somewhat self-inflicted. Curran, who had played with careful application for his 29 before lunch as Cobb led the scoring, undid all that with an airy waft outside off stump, offering Ben Brown a routine catch. Cobb then succumbed to an awful misjudgment, shouldering arms to a ball he plainly believed would pass by only for it to swing back and knock down his exposed off stump.
Cobb made 62 and 68 in the game, which was not bad given that he was in the side only because of Alex Wakely’s domestic mishap on the first evening. He knows it could have been more both times.
Much seemed to rest now on Temba Bavuma, in the second match of his stay here. He did not make the impact he would have liked on his debut against Lancashire at Old Trafford last week, where Northamptonshire were soundly beaten, but here was a situation in which to make a name for himself. As those before him had demonstrated, there were no demons in the pitch, even after four days of sunshine, and there were runs to be had quickly against a Sussex attack lacking the injured Ollie Robinson, in which only Hamza had been consistently tight.
An experienced batsman now, with 36 Tests for South Africa on his CV since his historic debut in 2014, Bavuma’s first scoring shot was a gorgeous cover drive for four off Hamza. Rob Keogh, his new partner after Cobb’s demise, has been in good form. Perhaps there was still room for a little optimism among the fourth-day stalwarts.
It was pretty much gone, though, after one over accounted for both of them midway through the session. Unlike Hamza, Chris Jordan had been impressive only occasionally (in his bowling, at any rate) in this match, but came up with something fast and straight for Keogh, who looked to work it to leg but was beaten for pace as the ball thudded into his front pad.
The real calamity came three balls later. Bavuma played Jordan back down the pitch. There was not much pace on the shot but Bavuma somehow saw a single in it, even though Adam Rossington, the new batsman, plainly did not.
The stand-in skipper anchored his bat behind the crease but Bavuma was halfway down before he knew he had to turn back. By then, David Wiese had swooped in from mid-on and had the ball in his hands, with enough time to pitch his throw on a long-hop length and watch it follow a gentle arc into the off stump with the South African still out of his ground.
At 162 for 5, the chance to win the game had gone. Frustratingly, Northamptonshire had scored quickly enough to be well up with the required rate, but the number in the wickets column was a clear message that they needed to change their focus to survival. All afternoon, anyone dozing off in the sunshine was liable to be disturbed regularly by the crash of ball against advertising boards. The five overs before tea, though, allowed for uninterrupted slumber.
Thirty-seven overs remained in the final session, with 182 more runs needed. Too many, it seemed, although there was enough of a nagging doubt in Brown’s mind, it appeared, that he was never quite committed to all-out attack.
Hamza was the most likely matchwinner. His third spell, immediately after tea, yielded a wicket with his first ball when late movement did for Luke Procter, snaffled by the diving Brown, but he gave way again after only four overs and did not return until the new ball became available with the race virtually run. No one else possessed his consistent threat.
Rossington and Brett Hutton, the other concussion sub, ploughed on with a resolution that will have pleased their head coach, David Ripley, who saw too little at Old Trafford. It had been a good contest, one which Sussex, having been in such a strong position after Jordan and Brown’s colossal performance on the first day had swung the game so heavily in their favour, might feel they should have made more of.