Will Beer, opening for Sussex for the first time, scored a career-best 76 not out against Gloucestershire at Arundel.
He could not be described as a like-for-like replacement for the in-form dasher Phil Salt, who is missing this game with a badly cut left hand, sustained in the match against Middlesex at Lord’s last week.
In that same match leg-spinner Beer, batting at No 9, made an unbeaten 50, his highest score at the time. Because of that, and some good form with the second team, for whom he averages over 100 in all forms of competition, he was selected to go in first with Luke Wells. Beer made his Sussex debut in 2008, but this is only his 18th first-class match.
This Specsavers County Championship Division Two game got under way with conditions still damp after heavy rain the previous day. The pitch was low and slow, and the outfield was difficult too. Because of this, and some mean bowling from the Gloucestershire seamers, Sussex were only 47 for two at lunch. It felt like retro cricket as both batsmen fought to see off the opening bowlers David Payne and Chadd Sayers and take the shine off the new ball. After 12 overs the score was 15 without loss.
Then Matt Taylor and Ryan Higgins replaced the new-ball attack and, very slowly, the scoring picked up. Wells hit a back foot cover drive off Payne for four . Then Beer cover-drove Higgins for four before leg-glancing Taylor for another.
The loss of two wickets in the half hour before lunch heaped more responsibility on Beer. Wells received a delivery from Taylor which left him late and he and was caught behind for 15, scored off 77 deliveries. Sussex were 34 for one after an hour and a half of batting. Then Harry Finch, flat-footed and playing away from his body, was caught behind off Payne for ten. Beer lunched unbeaten on 17, scored off 85 balls.
In the afternoon the cricket brightened up through a combination of a drying sun and some positive strokeplay from Stiaan van Zyl. Van Zyl hit an 89-ball 54 before he scooped a drive to mid-on. Laurie Evans was badly dropped at wide mid-off early on but didn’t make the most of his reprieve – he was caught at long-off for 24. That made it 199 for four, which became 241 for five when Ben Brown was bowled by Taylor for a chirpy, 32-ball 33. But Beer battled on, with the air of a man intent on carrying his bat. He has faced 276 balls - most of them dots.
As well as Salt, Sussex are without fast bowler Mir Hamza, who is suffering from a stiff back. He has been replaced by Abi Sakande.
Beer said afterwards: “I’ve been opening a bit for the second team and we wanted to play an extra spinner here, so the chance came along. Hopefully I can get a few more runs – and wickets – tomorrow.
"It was tricky out there for an hour or two. It was old-school, attritional four-day cricket. I will happily go back down to No 9. It’s a lot easier down there. I started at Sussex, at Under-10 level, as an opening batter, and my dad was an opening batsman before my leg-spin took over. Bowling is my main skill. But I’ve always worked hard at my batting and consider myself an all-rounder.”