Day Four - Close: Warwickshire are promoted
Warwickshire clinched promotion back to the Specsavers County Championship Division One at the first attempt by batting their way emphatically to the draw they needed against Sussex at Hove.
Under no pressure to push for victory, having banked enough points from eight wins in their first 12 games, the Bears spent the entire final day at the crease before finishing on 381 for three.
Vice-captain Dominic Sibley led the way, batting throughout the day for his third championship century of the season and second in successive matches: 144 not out (342 balls, 12 fours).
Sibley shared in two big partnerships that snuffed the life out of Sussex's challenge: 158 in 45 overs for the first wicket with Will Rhodes (88, 146 balls, 11 fours, one six) and 168 in 54 for the third with Sam Hain (90, 165 balls,12 fours).
The match ended with cheers and celebrations among Warwickshire's players up on the dressing-room balcony and from their travelling supporters.
Promotion assured, the Bears now face a mouth-watering final match of the season, a Division Two title duel at home to Kent starting at Edgbaston on Monday. Both teams are going up but the winners, if there are any next week, will go up as champions.
Further positive news arrived for the Bears regarding Ian Bell who retired hurt in the morning session after taking a rising ball from Ollie Robinson on the right thumb. An x-ray revealed no fracture and, though there is serious bruising, Bell could be fit to face Kent.
Warwickshire resumed on the final morning on 141 without loss and Sibley and Rhodes extended their partnership to 158 before Rhodes fell lbw to Robinson. Bell's innings was quickly truncated by that Robinson lifter and Jonathan Trott chipped Chris Jordan to mid-wicket but Hain immediately settled in alongside Sibley.
A Sussex victory would have kept them in the promotion hunt but their challenge was extinguished as the afternoon session deepened. Their acceptance of that showed when captain Ben Brown gave batsmen Phil Salt and Michael Burgess their first bowl in first-class cricket.
Salt collected his maiden wicket when Hain, ten short of a deserved century, edged to the wicketkeeper, but there was no shifting Sibley. Back to Division One go the Bears.
Day Three - Close
Warwickshire subdued a strong fightback by Sussex to end the third day back in total command of their Specsavers County Championship match at Hove - and thereby move to the brink of promotion.
The Bears closed the third day on 141 without loss in their second innings - 238 ahead overall - after bowling the home side out for 343 (Keith Barker three for 42, Olly Stone three for 59).
After two wickets just after lunch for Jeetan Patel hurried Sussex's innings towards a conclusion, opening batsmen Will Rhodes (76 not out, 131 balls, nine fours, one six) and Dom Sibley (43 not out, 110 balls, three fours) advanced Warwickshire into a very strong position.
Rhodes batted with great fluency while Sibley added the perfect opener's role to a second-slip catch, taken off Olly Stone earlier, which is a valid candidate for greatest catch ever taken for Warwickshire (even challenging Varun Chopra's similarly spectacular grab to dismiss Chris Nash off Chris Wright, also at Hove, in 2013).
After Sussex resumed on the third morning on 224 for five, David Wiese (93, 116 balls) and Ben Brown (99, 167 balls) continued their defiance to add 196 in 38 overs before the latter was bowled by a Wright in-ducker.
Brown's excellent captain's innings merited a century but he had to settle for a standing ovation from the appreciative spectators in the Hove deckchairs after he edged Patel and Jonathan Trott took a sharp low catch at slip.
Patel soon added the wicket of Chris Jordan, who top-edged a sweep to short fine-leg, before the innings concluded with a brilliant grab at second slip by Dom Sibley who clung on when Jofra Archer edged an exocet from Stone.
That left Warwickshire with a handy first-innings lead of 97 and teed up a crucial 21-over session up to tea. Early wickets would have put Sussex right back in the game but Rhodes and Sibley played it immaculately to take the Bears to 78 without loss at the interval, with Rhodes having already reached his half-century from 65 balls (seven fours, one six).
In the last session, the openers maintained their concentration to further tighten the Bears' grip on the match before the light, which had been indifferent for most of the day, finally closed in to lop off the last 13 overs.
Another solid day tomorrow will seal Warwickshire's promotion back to Division Two at the first attempt.
Day Two - Close
Olly Stone celebrated his England call-up with two wickets as promotion-chasing Warwickshire turned the screw against Sussex at Hove.
After being bowled out for 440, Keith Barker’s three-wicket burst with the new ball left Sussex, a batsman down because of opener Tom Haines’ ankle injury, reeling on 14 for 3.
Luke Wells and Michael Burgess effected a recovery of sorts, adding 72 before Stone, whose first over had cost 12 runs, hit back with wickets in successive overs.
Burgess, who had hit nine fours in his 46, was beaten for pace and lost his off stump then Wells (26) was strangled down the leg side. That wicket may have been a tad fortunate but in a five-over spell there were glimpses of the raw pace that have attracted the England selectors.
Stone’s burst left Sussex 87 for 5 and a long way off the follow-on target of 291 but skipper Ben Brown and David Wiese counter-attacked impressively thereafter.
Wiese made a 62-ball half-century and Brown his seventh of the season in 67 deliveries with both hitting seven fours. By stumps they had 137 in 24 overs to take their side to 224 for 5, still 216 behind.
But Warwickshire are still handily placed to force the victory that would secure promotion and set up a title decider against Kent at Edgbaston next week.
They would have been in an even better position had it not been for an afternoon collapse which saw them lose six wickets for 19 runs, four of them to Jofra Archer who ripped through the tail by taking the last four wickets in 11 balls.
Warwickshire lost Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott before lunch, but not before both had improved on their outstanding individual records against Sussex.
Bell’s 112 took his aggregate against the county to 1518 runs at an average of 65. The pair extended their third wicket stand to 230 – a new Warwickshire record against Sussex at Hove – before Bell, who had faced 260 balls and hit one six and 11 fours, was leg before sweeping Danny Briggs.
Trott will retire next week with 1879 runs against Sussex, nearly 700 runs more than he has made against any other county, after scoring 124, his seventh hundred against them with power to add if he has to bat again here. Trott eventually clipped a ball from Wiese to mid-wicket and after Sam Hain (53) shouldered arms to lose his off stump to Ollie Robinson the innings went into a tailspin.
Tim Ambrose (14) was also leg before sweeping Briggs before Archer returned to the attack and, with a strong wind behind him, swept away the tail. Barker (6) lost his off stump, Stone fell in similar fashion for a fifth-ball duck and in his next over Chris Wright (10) was bowled and Ryan Sidebottom leg before two balls later. After Bell’s dismissal Warwickshire had lost eight wickets for 108.
Briggs was promoted from No.11 to open but he had no answer to left-armer Barker, bowling round the wicket and angling the ball into the stumps. Phil Salt and Harry Finch both made ducks and Briggs 12 with all three were trapped in the crease.
Burgess and Wells counter-attacked impressively before Stone’s double strike. The 24-year-old returned for a second spell down the slope before stumps but Wiese and Brown were well set by then with Wiese passing 5000 first-class runs in his unbeaten 66.
Day One - Close of Play
Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott enjoyed another profitable day against Sussex to put second division leaders Warwickshire in a strong position after day one of their Specsavers County Championship match at Hove.
Bell scored his fifth Championship hundred against the county and Trott is in sight of his sixth against Sussex in his final away game before retirement. Together they helped Warwickshire reach 308 for 2 at stumps. Bell will resume on 108 and Trott 86 after they shared 206 in 68 overs for the third wicket.
A draw would seal an immediate return to the top flight with a game to spare for Warwickshire and Bell and Trott made sure they didn’t waste the advantage of winning the toss and batting first on a slow pitch expected to turn later on.
Dom Sibley and Will Rhodes laid solid foundations with a stand of 96 for the first wicket and although both fell just before lunch that proved to be the most productive part of the day for Sussex’s seam attack who were blunted by a combination of the pitch and Bell and Trott’s enduring excellence.
They came together Sibley and Rhodes had departed in the space of 15 balls. Sibley (44) was rightly furious with himself when he squandered a good start by picking out mid-wicket after coming down the pitch to drive left-arm spinner Danny Briggs only to get a thick inside edge.
Rhodes played on to David Wiese and lost his leg bail shortly after reaching his seventh half-century of the season but that was as good as it got for Sussex, who used seven bowlers trying to part Bell and Trott including medium-pacer Tom Haines, who was struck for six by Bell before limping off with an ankle injury.
Leg-spinner Luke Wells, one of seven bowlers used, got a couple of deliveries to turn and Sussex took the new ball immediately it became available but Bell and Trott rarely played a false shot, never mind offering a chance, on a placid surface.
Bell reached his fifth Championship century of the season by driving Chris Jordan to the cover boundary for his 11th boundary and by the close he had batted for just over four hours and faced 235 balls.
It was his 57th first-class hundred and he became only the second batsman this season after Surrey’s Rory Burns to reach 1,000 Championship runs when he reached 106.
Trott has so far hit ten fours from 183 balls faces in a shade under four hours at the crease.
Briggs and Wells sent down 31 overs of spin between them but it was a tough day for Sussex, who need to win this game and beat Northamptonshire next week to have any chance of sneaking into the top two.