Sussex promotion hopes are over as Warwickshire celebrate

The inevitable took a painfully long time to be confirmed.

Friday, 21st September 2018, 5:21 pm
Updated Friday, 21st September 2018, 5:23 pm
It's over at Hove - the ground has seen its final day of Sussex cricket for 2018

Sussex began the final day of their last home County Championship match of 2018 knowing they needed a miracle - or unexpected generosity from Warwickshire - to save their hopes of getting back to the first division.

And miracles don't happen very often - not even in the county championship, a competition that throw up strange results and freak sequences of events more than most sporting contests.

Quite simply, Kent's win over Glamorgan, completed on Thursday, meant Sussex had to beat Warwickshire to keep their own hopes alive going into next week's final round of games, which sees Jason Gillespie's troops sign off away to Northants.

But with the Midlands side, who have looked good for promotion all summer, carving out a first-innings lead of 97, then extending their advantage to 238 with ten wickets in hand by the close of day three, it was pretty much game over before Friday's play had begun.

The only thing that would have given Sussex a chance would have been if the visitors had set them a gettable target in an effort to win themselves and work their way a number of points ahead of Kent before the promoted sides' title shootout next week.

It didn't happen. The men from Edgbaston relentlessly batted on to make sure of the draw and promotion. And on. And on.

There were just two breakthroughs in the morning as Ollie Robinson had Will Rhodes lbw for 88 then Jonathan Trott by caught by Harry Finch off Chris Jordan for eight, while Ian Bell went off to hospital after a rising Robinson delivery struck his thumb and turned it purple.

All the time Dom Sibley was quietly frustrating the home players and fans, reaching three figures and looking like he could have stayed there for days, given the chance.

The afternoon brought no further wickets and an increasingly farcical feel to proceedings as paceman Robinson bowled some spin, batsman Finch took over from Ben Brown behind the stumps and Phil Salt and Michael Burgess came on to bowl their first-ever first-class deliveries - the pair even being given a bit of tea-interval coaching by Gillespie, a man who knows a thing or two about what novice bowlers should be trying to achieve.

If there was a highlight of the day from a Sussex point of view it came shortly after tea when Sam Hain was caught by Finch to give Salt his first wicket. You'd have thought it had clinched that elusive promotion spot for the hosts by the way Salt ran off to celebrate, pursued by his disbelieving team-mates.

And if one keeper-batsmen, Burgess, was going to get a bowl, why not Brown too? Yep, you can add him to the bowling list too after he came on to test new batsman Tim Ambrose.

A surprisingly decent-sized number of fans had stoically remained in their seats to the bitter end but if ever a session of cricket could be filed under the heading 'going through the motions' this was it.

Warwickshire were promoted in all but name but had to wait until 4.20pm and a declaration on 381-3 and shake of the hands between the sides to confirm the draw and their elevation back to the top flight of the four-day game.

So Sussex have missed out on two prizes inside seven days - losing to Worcestershire on Vitality Blast Finals Day and now losing their way in the final straight of the championship promotion race. But that must not take away from a solid season at progress achieved by Gillespie and his charges.

They'll start next season still in division two, and not having won a one-day trophy since 2009, but they'll surely do so with great hope that what 2018 promised, 2019 will deliver.