Jack Carson said it was a buzz to play in front of spectators at long last.

But that was not the only reason his maiden first-class 50 was perfectly timed.

Sussex opened the Hove gates for the first time since the end of the 2019 season as Covid restrictions were eased.

Which meant Carson walked off to a standing ovation from an all-ticket gathering of about 500 after his part in a 99-run ninth-wicket stand with Henry Crocombe to save his side from a major batting embarrassment.

Perfect timing in two respects for Carson, the spinner from Northern Ireland who believes he can bat far more effectively than he has so far shown.

As his colleagues teased afterwards, he turned it on for the crowd.

He also did it to help his side from the wreckage of 67-8.

This is Carson’s 11th first-class match but the first to which spectators have been admitted.

He said: “People can say it is still the same, a game of cricket.

“But, especially I think for the young boys, it is so different.

“Even when you are warming up, there are people knocking about and coming into the ground.

“It is just a different buzz for us. There are three or four of us who had never played in front of fans.

“I think there is that little extra bit to it.

“You are buzzing in warm-ups, you are buzzing around the field and hopefully it continues.

The Argus:

“I know Tom Clark has played in an under-19 World Cup so he will have experienced that.

“But, for me, it was probably the biggest crowd I have played in front of and it gives you that extra buzz.”

It was a day with an extra dimension at Hove after the depressing spectacle of cold weather and empty seats for too long. It felt like cricket was back.

One of the timeless sounds we have missed was heard again from the second ball of the day.

A ripple of applause on the gentle sea breeze as Aaron Thomason cut through the covers for four.

Spectators were dotted around the large Jointing Tech Sharks Stand and the old pavilion.

A queue of about 20 had built up by the time gates opened at 10am.

Some watched the action from in front of hospitality lodges in the south east corner.

The deck chairs have been put away for now. Temporary stands – larger than in previous years to aid social distancing – are in place at the Cromwell Road End ready for the Vitality Blast.

As for Thomason, he did not last long. Not many did. He departed lbw to Ben Sanderson for four.

Having won the toss under a blue sky, Sussex seemed in a rush to introduce their 2021 line-up to the returning spectators.

Ben Brown was the sixth batsman to be applauded to the middle inside the first hour.

Accuracy, bounce and enough seam movement from Sanderson and Gareth Berg, plus some clean handiwork at the wicket and in the slips, had them in disarray.

Tom Haines edged to first slip with a loose shot.

Travis Head could only nick a terrific delivery by Sanderson chest-high to second slip as it moved way from him.

Ricardo Vasconcelos held on to a super catch low down at first slip when Stiaan Van Zyl edged to leave Sussex 30-4, having lost three wickets for two runs.

Brown has become too used to going out in such circumstances in recent years and a brief show of defiance was ended by an excellent catch low down by keeper Adam Rossington as he got an inside edge to a ball moving into him.

Sussex counter-attacked through their fresh faces.

Crocombe and Carson gave the members the sort of long, golden afternoon in the sun which will have seemed a long way away during those dark months of winter, lockdown or sport behind closed doors.

Northants entered into the spirit by temporarily forgetting how to catch, reprieving Crocombe twice and Carson once.

But it was terrific stuff to enjoy and applaud – and a great storyline as the pair introduced themselves to an audience who had previously watched them only via online streams.

Carson has at times looked like he might do something with the bat and, after a watchful start, he delivered here, his 52 coming from 108 balls with five fours.

Quick, daring running was a feature of the partnership.

That was in evidence with the one-turned-into-two which took Carson to his half-century.

He was picked up at third slip soon after as Sanderson completed his five-for.

A similar exit for Jamie Atkins left Crocombe stranded four shot of his 50, having faced 88 balls and hit seven fours.

But Sussex had something to work with.

The spectators had something to savour from their day.

Brown gave them more to cheer with a fine running catch when Ben Curran top-edged a pull off Crocombe.

The keeper later accepted routine chances off Atkins and George Garton to remove Luke Proctor and Vasconcelos.

And a decent proportion of the crowd stayed on into the gentle early evening sunshine, enjoying the overdue good weather and even more overdue Championship cricket.

Delray Rawlins’ sharp catch at mid-wicket to give Carson the late wicket of Rob Keogh maybe just about meant Sussex edged the day.


But it was already a special day for plenty of people, Carson included.