As the newly-restructured Royal London One-Day Cup launched throughout the country this weekend to signify the return of 50 over cricket to the county circuit, reigning limited overs champions Nottinghamshire took a convincing victory over Sussex to begin their title defence of sorts on another beautiful wicket at Cricket Field Road, Horsham.
After being put in by Ed Joyce, the Outlaws ticked along steadily with openers Alex Hales and Michael Lumb staying put for a century partnership that frustrated the home side, who had taken a rare victory over Warwickshire in the Championship on the same ground on Thursday. Unusually for the pair, known predominantly for their exploits in Twenty20, docility appeared the name of the game as both reached half centuries at strike rates of below 100 – Lumb from 58 balls, Hales 73 – before Lumb played on a Will Beer delivery for 77 in the 29th over.
Then, the middle-order collapse began. Though Hales was dropped by Matt Machan on the boundary for 88, Beer (3/60) managed to bowl James Taylor before the batting powerplay was taken after 35 overs. Nottinghamshire didn’t utilise this particularly well, scoring just 27 for the loss of both Samit Patel and Riki Wessels. Hales too almost fell to Chris Liddle, who ended wicketless and 86 runs down the drain, but Matt Machan’s drop over the midwicket boundary spared him as he moved onto his century off 107 balls.
Hales finally departed for 116 to the bowling of Steffan Piolet, who finished with 2/35 from his allocation, but Steven Mullaney fired the team above the holy run-a-ball threshold with 40 off 20, including 16 from a consecutive trio of Lewis Hatchett deliveries. Hatchett eventually prevailed, following up with a bouncer that visibly threw the batsman off track as he offered a simple catch to Craig Cachopa at backward point in the 48th over. Early thoughts were that 350 would be par upon the flat, dry outground wicket, and Mullaney’s blast lifted them from 235/6 after 42.1 to 312/8 at the conclusion.
Sussex started in encouraging fashion, with a partnership of 64 between skipper Joyce and Luke Wells, who departed for a pedestrian (though List A career best) 23 off 44 as Sussex not once overtook the Notts run rate. Lacking Luke Wright, who picked up a side strain during his record breaking 153* against Essex on Friday night, few Sussex batsmen went aggressively at the Nottinghamshire bowlers. One exception was Cachopa, making his List A entrance for Sussex by launching a free hit from fellow Kiwi James Franklin over the long-off toilets on off his first ball before falling contentiously to a Chris Read catch on 22.
Fellow Sussex List A debutant Piolet was the top scorer with his maiden half century in the format, finishing on an unbeaten 48-ball 63 that included 8 boundaries, but support was sparse as the required rate escalated. Joyce mustered 59 to reward James Taylor’s consistent athleticism in the field, while Machan fell for 43 as miserly Mullaney did away with much of the middle order in a spell of 7-1-19-3. He later returned for the struggling Ben Brown (3 off 16) and ultimately secured the points for the visitors with his 4/33. Jake Ball picked up the wickets of Beer and Liddle at the death, completing a 29 run victory that perhaps reflected too kindly upon the hosts’ batting.
“As defending champions we wanted to stamp our authority on the tournament and we’ve certainly done that here,” said Hales at stumps. “It was a nice wicket to bat on. There was a little bit seam movement early on but, as it showed, if you got through that then you’ve got a good score on the board.”