Warwickshire 299 (Bell 70, Ambrose 81, Wiese 4-50) and 87 for 3 drew with Sussex 374 (Wiese 106, Brown 91, Stone 8-80)
It is, perhaps, a sign of the changing times that the first Championship century of the season should have been made in a single session.
David Wiese, a Kolpak registration who had endured a modest time at Sussex in 2017, thrashed a century before lunch to help his team to four batting bonus points and a secure draw against Warwickshire. It completed a fine all-round display from a man who had earlier taken 4 for 56 in Warwickshire’s first innings; also a better haul than he had managed in the previous season.
In partnership with the more measured Ben Brown, Wiese added 155 for Sussex’s eighth wicket, breaking the record (for Sussex against Warwickshire) of 152 set by HL Wilson and GA Stannard at Hove in 1920.
It also gave Sussex, who took a first-innings lead of 75, brief hopes of putting Warwickshire in trouble in the final session-and-a-half of the match. And, after Will Rhodes was bowled by a beauty from Ollie Robinson that pitched on middle and took the top of off, Ian Bell was lured into a drive and feathered an edge before Jonathan Trott shuffled in front of a straight one. At 55 for 3, Sussex fancied their chances.
But on a pitch that had dried out to become slow and true, that equation was never likely to work out for them. Dominic Sibley (89 balls) and Adam Hose (57 balls) stood firm and, in truth, the poor weather that robbed us of about five sessions defined this encounter. Perhaps, had Tim Ambrose been held at slip on 5 in the first innings, things might have been different.
As it was, Wiese thumped the 10th first-class century of his career in just 91 deliveries. Joining his captain after Robinson had flashed at one angled across him, Wiese immediately went on the attack, striking 14 fours and three sixes in his century. Two of those sixes, one over long-on and another, hit ferociously hard over long-off, came from successive deliveries from the medium-paced Will Rhodes, with the other, over mid-on, coming off Jeetan Patel. Using Patel’s pace – the off-spinner bowled surprisingly quickly at times – Wiese cut nicely and provided a reminder of his quality after that disappointing season in 2017.
“That meant a lot to me,” he said afterwards. “Last year didn’t really go to plan for me. There’s a new coach and I wanted to set a high benchmark. I was quite emotional when a reached my hundred.”
At the other end, Brown provided sensible support. Helping his side from 88 for 5 at one stage, he showed all the calm and determination that has seen him appointed captain. He looked certain to reach the 15th century of his first-class career before, perhaps trying to set up a chase, he flashed at one outside off to become the sixth victim of the innings for Ambrose behind the stumps. Only two keepers, Keith Piper and ‘Tiger’ Smith, have taken more for the club in a first-class innings.
The bowler who continued to pose the biggest threat was Olly Stone. He eventually finished with 8 for 80 – easily a career best – and followed his eye-catching performance of the previous day with another display of sustained pace bowling. There were moments, particularly when he was attempting to bounce out poor Stuart Whittingham, when he looked quite a genuinely intimidating fast bowler. He is not the finished product – Sussex felt his pace varied sharply depending on how well he completed his action – but he has something special that could be an asset far beyond Warwickshire.
“I’m extremely impressed,” his new captain, Patel, said afterwards. “We all knew he could bowl fast, but to bowl consistently throughout the whole innings at that pace suggests he is going to go places. He asked tough questions of good batsmen on a good wicket. He provided us with impact and excitement.
“He’s a really big asset for our club. He’s someone we’re going to treasure. He needs to learn to go through the gears and not bowl 100% all the time, because he’s going to break at some stage, but if he can do that, he’s going to become a very good bowler.”
The Sussex bowler who stood out in both innings was Ishant Sharma. Bowling at a decent pace – though notably slower than Stone – and maintaining such a tight line and length that leaving him was unwise, he demonstrated his experience and quality in harnessing the conditions beautifully. It frustrates some in English cricket – not least the national coach, Trevor Bayliss – that overseas players are provided such experiences ahead of international tours, but there was plenty to learn – for both batsmen and bowlers – from the way he attacked the stumps. He could prove quite a threat to England later in the summer.
But despite his excellence, Stone’s return, Ambrose’s haul and Wiese’s all-round contribution, the men of the match were probably the groundstaff. Despite the appalling weather coming into this season – the Birmingham League season has been pushed back a week for the first time in living memory – they were able to produce a surface that reaped the two highest team scores and the only century of the round of games. They also produced a pitch which gave a young fast bowler the chance to shine. We criticise them when they struggle; it’s only right we praise them when, in desperately taxing conditions, they perform so admirably.