Sussex 155 for 1 (Salt 72*, Bopara 56*) beat Hampshire 154 for 7 (Vince 36, Lenham 3-14) by nine wickets
It was a wonderful occasion for all those who witnessed it and even Hampshire’s players, once the professional hurt at a nine-wicket defeat has softened, once age has begun to do it work, will tell the tale of how they fell prey to a slight, but ever so sprightly kid with a spring in his step and a world ahead of him.
Legspinners always have an emotional hold over cricket watchers. Sixteen-year-old leggies even more so. Sixteen-year-old leggies who drop the simplest of catches then before the blush has faded take a wicket, and then follow up with a wicket in each of their next two overs to finish with 3 for 14 – well that was a story to match any in the Blast’s 18-year-history.
Lenham watched Sussex hit the winning runs – emphatic half-centuries by Phil Salt and Ravi Bopara sealing victory with 22 balls unused – sandwiched between two players who have enjoyed distinguished England careers, Luke Wright and Chris Jordan, and both marked the moment with warm congratulations and a ruffle of the head: county cricket’s values there for all to see.
The dropped catch would have embarrassed him, and could sympathetically be put down in part to the presence of the Sky TV cameras. Joe Weatherley, Hampshire’s No. 4, reverse-swept the first ball he faced from Sussex’s senior legspinner, Will Beer, (there was a time when you could suggest that reverse sweep was a surprise, but batters have been doing that for Lenham’s entire life) and he dived gently towards it and put it down. Only 16 remember – but he looked 12 as he dwelt upon his error.
Jordan, a stand-in skipper who captained him kindly and faithfully all night, stuck to the plan and threw him the ball for the next over. Lenham was bowling down the Hove slope, which reduced the risk of the straight hit. Tom Alsop immediately sought to assert himself with a slog-sweep and, a foot in from the midwicket boundary, Aaron Thomason caught the ball above his head, hopped on his left leg four times, initially fearing that he might overbalance and ultimately turning it into a victory dance.
In his second over, Lenham removed Lewis McManus, who spliced him to deep midwicket. But it was his third over, when he had Weatherley stumped, that said much about his night. He had bowled throughout with an energy and a length which made him hard to get down the pitch to, a youngster with a natural affinity for T20. With overs running out, Jordan wisely did not bring him back for a fourth over, a stick rather than twist.
“It was pretty surreal,” he said (and for once this most over-used of sporting descriptions was appropriate). “I wasn’t feeling great after my dropped catch. It was a good thing I got straight into my bowling and started to redeem myself. It helped my nerves and everything.”
Hampshire’s T20 cricket is on the decline. From 2010 to 2017 when they reached seven out of eight Finals Days, and won twice, no county won more matches. Since then, no county has won fewer.
They now have two defeats in three (Sussex have won both their opening matches) and their opening partnership is their stand-out feature. Bearing that in mind, and factoring in an excellent batting surface and a beautiful night, and 3 for 1 after three overs was not exactly what they had in mind.
D’Arcy Short is an Australia opening batsman of great destruction, his reputation built at Hobart Hurricanes and maker of 483 runs for Durham in 2019. James Vince could be mentioned as an England candidate again – although it has taken months of abysmal England Test batting to make it happen.
They were met by an electrifying start by Sussex’s left-arm pace pair, George Garton and Tymal Mills, both of them fast and aggressive. Vince survived Mills’ appeal for a catch at the wicket, but Garton silenced Short, who edged to the keeper attempting a foot-fast leg-side flick to one that bounced a little. A paltry 35 for 1 in the Powerplay represented a recovery of sorts, but it set up Lenham for the night of his life.
Hampshire’s 154 for 7 was well below par, even if they had successfully defended 155 against Essex the previous night. It soon became apparent that this would be a Sussex party night, Travis Head the only batsman to fall, Salt, overlooked by England, registering his second successive 70-something and Bopara, who first played T20 before Lenham was conceived, never mind born, made his first half-century for Sussex, rounding things off with some wondrous inside-out blows over extra cover that must have made him imagine that he, too, was young again.
David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps