Luke Wright has put Sussex in charge of the battle between the LV= County Championship Division One’s bottom two teams, hitting 111 not out after Northants chose to bowl first on a lively pitch at Hove.
Wright’s superbly-judged attacking innings lifted Sussex to 319/6 by stumps, a position they would not have dared to hope for when the ball was lifting so alarmingly from just short of a length in the first session in particular.
Cracks are already appearing on the surface but the Northants seamers could not find the necessary consistency of line and length. This was a missed opportunity for them to bowl out a weakened Sussex team cheaply, and then press for a first win of a harrowing season in which they have lost seven and drawn just two of their nine LV=CC fixtures to date.
Sussex, who will go above seventh-placed Lancashire if they win this match, were well-served too by Ed Joyce, Luke Wells and Stefan Piolet in an opening session which could have seen them seriously embarrassed in the conditions.
Northants had a last chance of justifying their decision to bowl when Sussex slipped to 116/4 after lunch, but Ashar Zaidi and Ben Brown then helped Wright to counter-attack thrillingly in the second half of the day, with Brown also batting well for 47 in a sixth wicket stand of 136 before he edged Andrew Hall to slip, pushing forward.
By the time Northants took the second new ball, with Sussex 242/5, much of the early devil had gone from the pitch and Wright simply upped the tempo, taking powerful fours off Steven Crook through extra cover and down the ground before, in the same over, pulling him witheringly for six over mid-wicket.
Wright’s second hundred of the season arrived soon afterwards, from 152 balls, and by the end of the day the Northants players were wondering how the scoreboard had come to make such deflating viewing from their perspective. At the close, Wright had faced 172 balls, hitting a six and 17 fours.
It had started so promisingly for them, with Sussex opener Chris Nash – despite being dropped at short mid-wicket off David Willey in the third over – being hit a nasty blow on his helmet by Willey before being caught off the same bowler when James Kettleborough this time managed to cling on to Nash’s clip off his pads.
Crook struck Wells in the lower abdomen, doubling the batsman up in pain, and the left hander was bowled for a gritty 26 when he shouldered arms to one from medium-pacer Hall which was angled in to him from around the wicket.
Joyce was felled by a ball from Willey which hit him in the chest and Piolet, on 18, was dropped at second slip off a by-now clearly frustrated Willey. The left-arm pace man did, however, pin Joyce lbw for a battling 40 before Piolet, on 27, thin-edged a brutish lifter from Olly Stone to Ben Duckett behind the stumps.
Zaidi ruined a bright 22 by top-edging a wild slog at James Middlebrook’s off spin to point, to leave Sussex 166/5, but by the time Northants enjoyed their next success the game had been taken away from them by Wright’s stroke-making brilliance and Brown’s determination to keep him company for as long as possible. James Tredwell, with 14 not out, was still there with Wright at stumps.