It is mid-afternoon on the south coast. For the first time, the brooding clouds that have covered the south coast have dispersed and the sun has broken through, glinting on the ear stud of the strapping young pace bowler striding up the hill from the sea end.
Jofra Archer has a couple of Pakistan wickets to kickstart his first-class career and is seeking a third. At the other end stands the brilliant Younis Khan, angular and knobbly-elbowed. Before the lunch interval he had raised his bat to acknowledge the applause as he passed a 16,000-run milestone and already he is looking good for many more yet.
Archer reaches the crease. He has a shuffling, easy run, hands pumping gently in front of him rather as does Chris Jordan, fellow Bajan and team-mate at the county. His run, though, is deceptive for he has a strong action that generates easy pace as both Pakistan openers, Mohammad Hafeez and Shan Masood, had discovered to their cost. The delivery is straight, off stumpish, a swing bowler’s length perhaps but a shade overpitched for this lad.
Younis has been waiting for this patiently and is on to it, driving it with exquisite timing back past the bowler’s left hand, threading it to the right of a hapless mid off and down towards the coast. Younis follows it down the pitch with a couple of strides, the checked follow-through held theatrically high. Just four more runs among the thousands but worth the trip for that one stroke alone.
Familiarity has changed the perception of touring sides these days. A little of the mystery has gone and there are fewer games outside the internationals. But provided these matches that precede the Tests are played properly, without recourse to the Feydeau-farce entrances and exits of some of the free-for-all efforts of recent times, there is still much to be gained by watching.
The Sussex side here is some considerable way from their best, and the pace bowling is callow. But that detracts neither from its subsequent keenness, nor the quality of the batting that saw a beautifully compiled 145 from Azhar Ali, 59 from Younis before he decided he had had enough, and a typically robust 68 from Misbah-ul-Haq, the glue in this Pakistan side, who even more than Younis continues to confound the passing of time.
Pakistan reached 363 for 5, decent enough practice for them, but the day belonged to young Archer who finished with four for 49 (four for 34 at one stage before he flagged a little) and led the team off. All his overs were delivered from the sea end, the slope up holding him in check rather than allowing him to run away with himself down the hill: sensible planning for it is easy to do. In truth, with the cloud cover and a fresh pitch it was not a bad Hove morning on which to have a bowl and he, more than his pace bowling companions Ajmal Shahzad and Abidine Sakande (the latter on his county debut having got a 2.1 from Oxford University in human sciences under his belt in the morning), provided a strong challenge.
The left-handed Shan Masood did not survive for long, beaten and left groping twice in a row outside off stump and then, to the next ball, edging to Ben Brown from just back of a length, a memorable maiden wicket. Young bowlers, keen to impress, can try too hard and from both ends there was a considerable amount of wasteful bowling: send half your deliveries down the legside and you halve your wicket-taking opportunity. But Archer had the experienced Hafeez missed at fourth slip, a very tough, low chance to Matt Machan, before driving him back into the crease and having him so very lbw the batsman might have considered walking.
Azhar and Younis now added 125 for the third wicket, before the latter, down the pitch to Danny Briggs’s left-arm spin, lofted the ball to Shahzad at deepish mid off, who made amends for an earlier miss there that reprieved Azhar. Another century stand, 146, followed between Azhar and Misbah, ended only when the new ball was taken, and the Pakistan captain, misjudging the line and movement, offered no stroke to Archer and was lbw. This was a more relaxed and consequently more impressive spell from Archer, and a fourth wicket came when Azhar, attempting to hook a bouncer but late on the shot despite more than five hours at the crease, touched it through to the keeper.
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