Sussex 11 for 3 (Pattinson 2-4) trail Nottinghamshire 447 (Wessels 202*, Broad 57, Magoffin 5-51) by 436 runs
Given they were relegated, it might be argued that every Nottinghamshire batsman paid the price for the collective underperformance that defined their 2016 season, yet it was Riki Wessels who found himself carrying the can, dropped for the last four matches after scoring just 489 runs at 25.73, of which 159 came in one innings.
After two exceptionally good seasons, across all formats, it came as a painful blow, especially since there were several other experienced hands in Nottinghamshire’s misfiring middle order who might equally have been singled out as the county sought to give younger players the chance to prove their worth.
So when, during a pre-season interview, he suggested that it would be folly for Nottinghamshire to trust young players to lead them back into Division One he must have known he would need to produce supporting evidence of a pretty compelling nature.
It is to his great credit, then, that as Trent Bridge witnessed Division Two cricket for the first time in 10 years it was Wessels who responded to a familiar crisis with the innings that transformed the day, leaving the dressing room just as 84 for 4 was about to become 88 for 5 and not returning until Nottinghamshire were 447 all out, by which time, unbeaten, he had crafted his maiden double-hundred – at quicker than a run a ball, too.
He has only once before come close to such riches in first-class cricket in England and Wales, coincidentally against Sussex, when he was out on 199 at Hove in May 2012. He must have feared he would run out of partners this time but with Stuart Broad making 57, Luke Fletcher 25 – after his extraordinary 92 at Chester-le-Street last week – and Jake Ball 18, he will have several drinks to buy.
There was one obvious moment of good fortune, when Harry Finch spilled a fairly routine chance at slip, off the promising young pace bowler, Jofra Archer. Wessels was on 47 at the time, and had that one stuck Nottinghamshire would have been 174 for 7, facing the prospect of making not one batting point, let alone five.
Yet that moment apart, this was the Wessels of 2014 and 2015, his footwork and timing increasingly impressive, mixing power with ingenuity as the confidence flowed back.
Poor Sussex, who must struggle to remember when they last had a full complement of fit bowlers. Vernon Philander and Ajmal Shahzad have joined the injured list since last week’s heavy defeat against Kent. Steve Magoffin returned but otherwise they arrived with a hugely inexperienced attack in which Adam Barton, a 21-year-old left-arm seamer who had bowled against Nottinghamshire for Cambridgeshire MCCU last month, was making his Sussex debut.
Barton took a mauling, suffering the indignity of being scooped for six twice by the imperious Wessels, although the heaviest toll was inflicted on Stuart Whittingham, another seamer with only a handful of matches, punished to the tune of 43 runs from just 20 deliveries to Wessels, 40 of them in boundaries. In a way, they perfectly illustrated his point about trusting to youth.
It was unfortunate for Sussex that Magoffin, the principal architect of Nottinghamshire’s rocky morning session, was unable to bowl more than 18 overs, leaving the field after taking his fifth wicket soon after lunch.
Yet even without that setback, Sussex’s decision to leave out David Wiese, their South African Kolpak, seemed a gamble. Archer had his moments, including the wickets of Alex Hales and Jake Libby with the first four balls of his second spell, but took some punches too.
Under a heavily cloudy sky and with Nottinghamshire willing to risk preparing competitive pitches, Luke Wright’s decision to forego the coin toss and bowl was the right one, of course. Indeed, the scorecard did nothing but endorse it until Wessels and Broad put on 132 for the eighth wicket.
Five wickets for 37-year-old Magoffin, putting all his experience to good use in a textbook display of quality seam bowling, underpinned it beyond argument and at 180 for 7 the only interruption to the dominance of Magoffin had been provided by Hales, whose 45 off 39 balls was also mostly at the two rookies’ expense.
Magoffin, the man who denied Wessels on 199 in 2012, has taken five wickets or more on 27 occasions, including six times in his last 11 innings. He took 12 in the match, six in each innings, when he last bowled at Trent Bridge two years ago.
Yet he was on the losing side then and it will take a mighty effort from here by Sussex for there not to be a repeat as Nottinghamshire look to consolidate their start with a third win in three. Two wickets for James Pattinson, in what will now be, at least for the time being, his final Championship match for Nottinghamshire, and one for Broad left them 11 for 3 at stumps.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.