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The Arundel anniversary

Throwback Thursday


Sussex head to Arundel Castle next week for five days of cricket and this year’s festival marks a special anniversary as it’s 25 years since the county first went there to play Championship fixtures.

Over the years, the wickets there tend to be a touch on the slow side, although after the traumas Sussex batsmen have experienced at Hove this season, when they have only scored one century between them in four games, a surface where the ball isn’t pinging around their earholes could be just what they need to restore confidence and form.

Slow pitches have produced attritional cricket at times but in such a timeless setting no one seems to mind too much. And it doesn’t mean that there has been a lack of drama over the past quarter-century.

Back in 1994 Sussex won there for the first time against Middlesex thanks to an inspired debut by local lad Jason Lewry, who went on to take 600 wickets for the county. On the first day Lewry took 4 for 40, his victims including former England captain Mike Gatting.

Another high-class operator, New Zealander Chris Cairns, produced the best bowling performance on the ground a year later. Surrounded as it is by trees, the Castle Ground has often been a haven for bowlers who can get the ball to move through the air and Cairns ended up with 15 for 83 as Nottinghamshire shredded Sussex in two days. The visitors’ Tim Robinson, the former England opener, took advantage of the unscheduled day off by umpiring in a club game down the road at Arundel CC.

Sussex won their in two of their Championship winning seasons of 2003 and 2007 at Arundel while current Head Coach Mark Robinson enjoyed one of his finest moments as a batsman in 2005, defying his former county Yorkshire for 11 balls and 18 minutes as Sussex clung on for a draw with nine wickets down.

Batsmen have prospered too. In that same game Darren Lehmann of Yorkshire, who will be here soon for the Ashes as Australia coach, smashed a brilliant 216, although that is not the highest score on the ground. Sussex’s Murray Goodwin made 235 a year later against the same opposition, one of 28 hundreds scored at Arundel.

Whatever happens, watching cricket there from the grass banks which hug two sides of the ground is always a treat. When the sun is out there are few better places to be in England to enjoy the summer game than the Duchess of Norfolk’s back garden.

Outnumbered: Bert Wensley

When two beat 11

Throwback Thursday


Bert Wensley was a player’s player, a hard-bitten Sussex professional who rendered yeoman service to the county for 14 seasons after making the first of his 400 first-class appearances in 1922.

He did the double – 100 wickets and 1,000 runs – in 1929 and on four other occasions he took 100 wickets in a season, including a hat-trick against Middlesex at Lord’s in 1935. Unerringly accurate and with a strong repeatable right-arm action he gave runs away grudgingly. His team-mates, in particular the great Maurice Tate, were fond of him. He is only one of four Sussex players to have scored more than 10,000 runs and 1,000 wickets.

In 1936 Bert was presented with an unusual offer. A team of amateurs who drank at Norton’s Inn in Wittersham, a hamlet on the Sussex-Kent border on the Isle of Oxney, had once challenged two Kent players to a game in 1834 and been thrashed by an innings. Now the idea of a re-match – 11 amateurs v 2 pros - surfaced more than a century later.

The rules were simple. Bert and Kent’s Bill Ashdown were allowed the services of a wicketkeeper but effectively the two gnarled old pros would take on the opposition on their own. No fielders, no chance of a rest. And when they batted if they lost a wicket the innings was over. They were up against a coal merchant, three gardeners, two carpenters, a hop-dryer, two farmers, a bricklayer and a motor mechanic.

Interest in the game was tremendous. Estimates of the crowd vary between 2,000-4,000. There was even live commentary on the radio.

Ashdown and Wensley had to keep bowling until they had taken 10 wickets. Good balls were lashed to the unattended boundaries but professional pride kicked in. In the end they only had to send down 24.4 overs to dismiss the locals for 153. Now all the Isle of Oxney bowlers had to do was take a solitary wicket and bat again.

Unfortunately, their bowling was no match for the two professionals. Wensley and Ashdown smashed 186 in 36.4 overs with Wensley hitting 13 fours and three sixes in his 96 while Ashdown was unbeaten on 83.

Just as the locals were about to start their second innings the rain came and the match was abandoned. The professionals had won on first innings lead and they donated their prize money went to charity. Two – a good two admittedly – had beaten 11. Professional pride remained intact.

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