Vitality T20 Blast: Masterful Wright leads from the front to compound Hampshire misery

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Hampshire’s barren run continued after captain Luke Wright’s mercurial 83 from 59 balls inspired Sussex to their fifth straight win in the ‘El Classicoast’ derby.

Sussex Sharks: 159-5: Wright 83* (59) & Wood (29-2)

Hampshire Royals: Alsop 43 (37) & Briggs (20-2)

Sussex Sharks win by 13 runs

It’s now five successive wins for Sussex against Hampshire after a captain’s knock from Luke Wright excellently ushered the Sharks to an above par total of 159-5, on the same pitch that was used for all three of England and Australia’s T20’s over the past week.
Hampshire could only muster 146-6 in response and remain winless in the ‘El Classticoast’ since 2014.
Due to the international scheduling commitments, Hampshire finally returned to play their first competitive fixture at the Ageas Bowl in 12 months. But incessant woes in the outfield with seemingly an untold amount of catches dropped, was intertwined with batting artistry from Luke Wright.  James Vince would later describe his team’s outfield display as “pretty poor,” and that was being polite.
While Hampshire’s most lucrative domestic game of the cricketing calendar was consigned to be played behind closed doors, there was a sense of “as you were” between the two sides.

James Vince, in his first appearance for Hampshire this season, won the toss and elected to bowl.

With the Ageas used as one of the two bio-secure bubbles for the England side, the pitch itself was unsurprisingly sluggish.

Having been played on so often, so regularly, the pitch at the Ageas was a used pitch. Only 48 hours prior, England and Australia played their third T20 on the surface within the space of just six days.

But the condition of the track would play no part in delivering Hampshire’s first wicket after huge mix up at the end of the first over. It was Calum MacLoed who was sent packing, after probably making the wise decision to sacrifice his wicket, rather than the one of his captain and the man in form, Luke Wright.

Timing unsurprisingly was proving tricky and the nature of slow surface was accentuated in Delray Rawlins’ dismissal. The left-hander opted to take the aerial route and hit down the ground, but only managed to send the ball skywards rather than in the stands. The ball had stuck in the pitch and ended up in the grateful clutches of Sam Northeast, who took a good catch running backwards.

It fell to the incoming Ravi Bopara and Wright to rebuild the innings after the two quick wickets. The experienced duo ended the powerplay with Sussex 39-2, Wright’s uppercut boundary off Shaheen Afridi’s bowling the eye-catching highlight:

The conclusion of the powerplay meant Mason Crane was brought onto bowl. Crane was in good form heading into the clash, leading Hampshire’s wicket column with five, at an average of 10.80.

Fellow homegrown Hampshire leggie Calvin Harrison, who was on debut, operated in tandem at the other end. And he could have picked up his first wicket just three balls into his spell, but dropped Bopara off his own bowling.

Though Harrison didn’t have to wait long to pick up his first in the Vitality Blast when Bopara struck a drag down straight to James Vince at mid-off, breaking up Sussex’s fourth-wicket stand of 38.

Harrison bowled four overs on the trot to finish with figures of 39-1, with the last one costly, conceding 18 runs. However, the figures could have looked a lot different and a lot better and easily ended up with a 4-fer. Misfields were becoming a regular occurrence in the outfield and on the cricket strip too, with Harrison dropping another two of his own bowling.

After a controlled first dozen overs, the Royals were showing signs of unravelling with Wright and the new batsman David Wiese finding their timing. Wright moved to his half-century in the 14th over, taking 39 deliveries to reach the landmark.

The 5o-run partnership soon followed between the pair, with Sussex set for a score well above par at 108-3 after 15 overs. The England-Australia internationals played on the same surface showed any total in the region of 145 to 160 was a competitive, usually match winning score.

A pattern was beginning to emerge towards the backend of the innings. Every Hampshire mistake – this time Vince being completely bamboozled by the flight of a lofty cover drive – was subsequently punished by an enormous shot ensuing the following ball.

The home side were now having a dark night in the field. James Fuller was the next victim to drop a clanger and Hampshire’s umpteenth of the evening. Finally one was taken, though.  Seeming the only fielder to not drop a catch, Joe Weatherley picked up David Wiese’s pull shot in the deep. The South African departing for an excellent 41 runs off 26 balls.

Hampshire weren’t done with their self-implosions, however. Harrison then dropped another one, this time stationed at long off. The next ball – you guessed it – went for six as Wright towered into Afridi’s alarmingly expensive bowling.  The Royals overseas signing finishing with figures of 37-1.

Luke Wright was eventually dismissed by the last ball of the innings. The captain departed for a magnificent 83 from 59 deliveries and spearheaded Sussex to a more than respectable 159-5 from their 20 overs. Considering how arduous international batsman have found the surface to bat on over the last week, Wright’s innings proved to be a knock full of poise and immense skill.

Hampshire’s erratic performance continued in their batting after Vince (10) – who swept for four the ball before – holed out to mid-off in the third over. The master of his downfall was Danny Briggs, Vince’s former long-time Hampshire teammate.

While Hampshire opted for the ‘trial by spin’ method in the first innings, Sussex’s reading of the pitch was in stark paradox. With international quality seam in their stocks, the Sharks looked to Chris Jordan and Tymal Mills, who started off operating at different ends.

However, by the end of the powerplay Hampshire were quietly going a long well. Sam Northeast joined Tom Alsop out in the middle and guided Hampshire to 43-1 after six overs. With conditions changing and the night dew causing the ball to skid onto the bat, pace-on appeared to not be working.

Wright sensed something similar, subsequently turning to the wily veteran Ravi Bopara and his off cutters to find a breakthrough. But it was the introduction of Will Beer that did the trick. In the off-spinner’s first over, Northeast dragged on to leave the Royals 59-2, exactly 100 runs behind.

Mills returned for his second spell armed with a change of plan and renewed vigour. In what was perfectly astute bowling, Mills altered tac, opting to take pace off the ball.

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Former Royal Danny Briggs grabbed control of the second innings – photo: @SussexCCC/Twitter

It proved conducive. Tom Alsop (43) mistimed a slower ball bumper straight into the deep and to the seemingly omnipresent Bopara, Hampshire still needing 65 runs off 7.4 overs.

Fuller (4) was the next man sent back to the dugout as Hampshire were requiring 10 an over with five still to go.

But it would prove to be too difficult a task as the spin pair of Beer and Danny Briggs strangled the life out of the innings. The pair returning figures of 47 for 3 from their combined eight overs.

Hampshire’s chase quickly went south, with the period between overs 11-17 only going for 30 runs at the cost of three wickets.

Weatherley (25), McManus (14) were both demised as Hampshire finished 13 runs short to give Sussex victory.

Hampshire Royals: Vince (c), Alsop, Northeast, Weatherley, Fuller, McManus (wk), Holland, Harrison, Wood, Crane, Afridi

Sussex Sharks: Macleod, Wright (c), Rawlins, Wiese, Bopara, Garton, Jordan, Brown (wk), Beer, Briggs, Mills

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Football, Boxing and Cricket correspondent from Hampshire, covering southern sport. Editor and Head of Boxing at Prost International. Accreditated EFL & EPL journalist.

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