August 2009
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RMJ: No consolation in final defeat

August 4th, 2009 by Robin Martin-Jenkins in County cricket


Three years ago I experienced probably the best day of my cricketing career when we won the C&G final at Lord’s. Losing the Friends Provident final two weeks ago was probably one of the worst.

Perhaps that is unfair. How could playing in front of 20,000 people at the home of cricket constitute a bad day at the office? There were plenty of moments to relish I suppose. The good wishes of the hundreds of people queuing outside the ground as we arrived at 8.30 on the morning of the game. That special feeling of awe and anticipation as I walked out through the Long Room, across the immaculate outfield, inspecting the wicket, before having a net and stretch on the Nursery Ground. There were more people watching us warm up than would usually watch a County Championship game at Hove.

Then, again, the moment it came for me to bat (albeit for only the last three overs of our innings), I’ll always savour the wall of sound that hit me as I made my way out to the middle – 20,000 people all murmuring as one: “this shouldn’t last long”. I remember thinking what an incredible feeling it must be to walk out to an even bigger, partisan, noise in an Ashes Test.

But alas, for Sussex supporters, we batted like novices against some very tight Hampshire bowling and our total of 219 was always going to be woefully inadequate. The crowd knew it and the lack of tension amongst them in the second half was palpable. We knew it too but the atmosphere in the dressing room at half time was upbeat. It had to be. In the same match three years before we had made an even more inadequate 172 against Lancashire. That turned out to be more than enough, however, as the clouds descended, the ball nipped around and we bowled them out for 154. This time, as we walked out to field the sun was baking any remaining moisture out of the pitch and after ten wicketless overs with the new ball we knew the game was up. My bowling was described by one analyst as like “shooting a water pistol into a desert”. That was probably giving too much credibility to water pistols.

The contrast between the remaining overs of the FP final, when Hampshire rolled inexorably towards our target, and the last hour of the final three years ago, when the tension built to an almost unbearable crescendo, could not have been greater. The Sussex faithful had long stopped singing “Sussex by the sea” and the Hampshire fans chanted the occasional “Hamp-shire, Hamp-shire”, but rather like an audience watching the final act of a boring play, there seemed to be relief all round when the final curtain came down and the winning runs were hit.

Later, as I left the ground, all the spectators long gone, song still rang out from the Hampshire dressing room. With runners up medals round our necks, we headed back to the hotel where sponsors, friends and families waited for us. The champagne had been swapped for warm, sour-tasting beer and we consoled ourselves during the rest of the long evening that we were fortunate to have been given a chance to perform on such a stage. I wasn’t the only one however who knew deep down they hadn’t really ‘performed’ at all.

Robin Martin-Jenkins is an allrounder with Sussex

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