Sussex 354 for 6 (Alsop 113, Orr 99) vs Middlesex
Things were looking up for Sussex as they sought their first win of the season after heavy defeats to Worcestershire and Nottinghamshire plus draws against Durham and Derbyshire left them seventh in Division Two, ahead of only Leicestershire.
But it was Alsop and Orr who shone on the perfect spring day at Hove where bright sunshine occasionally gave way to innocuous cloud cover, staging a second-wicket partnership worth 204 after their captain, Tom Haines, won the toss and chose to bat on an accommodating pitch.
All that said, Sussex have breached the 500-mark three times so far this season without winning a match as debate gurgles about whether the pitches for this edition of the Championship have been prepared too heavily in favour of the batters.
And by the close, Orr had fallen one run shy of his century, Sussex’s two-time double-centurion Cheteshwar Pujara was back in the pavillion with just 16 to his name and Middlesex had snatched four wickets in the evening session to put the contest on a more even footing.
Orr rode his luck, having been dropped on the second ball of the match, a Shaheen Shah Afridi delivery which he struck straight to square leg where Mark Stoneman put down a regulation chance.
Afridi produced an impeccable opening spell in which he steamed down the hill from the Cromwell Road end and repeatedly beat Haines outside off. He was duly rewarded when he took the top of Haines’ off stump with a gem of a delivery to leave Sussex 21 for 1 inside nine overs.
Orr was patient, punching Afridi through midwicket for four to bring up his fifty from 124 balls. He survived two more chances, on 57 and 58, before pulling Blake Cullen for six over deep midwicket.
Alsop, meanwhile, was compact and showed off some excellent strokeplay in a chanceless innings, finding the boundary six times en route to his half-century, which came from 80 balls.
The pair upped the tempo after lunch and 10 minutes before tea were both in the 90s, Alsop having surged slightly ahead. On a season-long loan from Hampshire, Alsop brought up his first ton for Sussex – and fifth in first-class cricket overall – by driving Afridi down the ground, celebrating with a gleeful skip down the pitch and punch of the air.
Orr, on the other hand, looked decidedly nervous as three figures approached and Middlesex captain Peter Handscomb forced him to call on the same sort of patience he had used earlier in his innings by crowding him with fielders who kept cutting off singles.
Orr’s resolve wore out on the stroke of tea when he spooned Luke Hollman to Handscomb at first slip and was left to trudge off, fuming and with his hand covering his face having seen off 204 balls for his 99.
His dismissal brought Pujara to the crease after the interval and the India batter struck Hollman for consecutive fours off his first two balls. Pujara’s six off Hollman in his subsequent over went missing out of the ground over the short boundary at deep square leg. But Pujara then chased a wide half-volley outside off stump from Ethan Bamber which went to Max Holden at backward point to make it 246 for 3.
Sussex then lost two wickets in the space of four balls, Martin Andersson uprooting two of Tom Clark’s poles when the batter played on and Stoneman ending Alsop’s knock on 113, caught by Handscomb at square leg and the home side were suddenly 273 for 5.
It fell to Mohammad Rizwan, who had shared a 154-run partnership with Pujara in the previous match, and Garton, playing his first first-class match since the corresponding fixture at Hove last September, to steady the Sussex innings against the second new ball.
They did for a time with a 64-run stand, Rizwan’s six dropping to one knee as he lifted Stoneman over mid-on particularly eye-catching. But when Cullen had Rizwan caught by Handscomb leaping smartly at first slip for 31, all Sussex eyes were on Garton and Robinson to see out the day.
Garton, who had shaken off the effects of long Covid sufficiently to win selection, looked solid in reaching 37 from 61 balls while Robinson, making his long-awaited return after back spasms which troubled him during the Ashes and England’s Caribbean tour and more recently a tooth infection, remained unbeaten on 11 at the close.
Valkerie Baynes is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo