Twelve days after his heroics in the World Cup final, Jofra Archer made a highly impressive return to action with two wickets as Sussex Sharks tied with Surrey in a Vitality Blast thriller at Hove.
The 24-year-old showed no ill effects from the side injury which troubled him throughout the World Cup during four hostile overs, bowled in three spells at a cost of 21 runs, during which he picked up the wickets of Aaron Finch (6) and Surrey’s top scorer Ollie Pope, who was dropped on 16, for 43.
Fifteen days after removing him for a golden duck in the World Cup semi-final, Archer had Finch well caught on the square-leg boundary by Delray Rawlins. He returned in the 14th over with a superbly disguised slower ball to dismiss Pope, who had just hit four boundaries in an over off Danny Briggs and appeared to be guiding Surrey to victory.
Archer had bowled in the nets under the supervision of England’s medical staff earlier in the day and could now be in the Ashes squad when it is named on Saturday.
A 6,000 sell-out crowd had given Archer a standing ovation when he went out to bat earlier in the evening and they were treated to a thrilling finale. Surrey looked favourites with 29 needed off the last five overs with five wickets in hand, but Tymal Mills dragged Sussex back into contention when two searing yorkers accounted for Tom Curran (19) and Ryan Patel (0) in the 18th over.
Then off the final ball of the 19th Rikki Clarke holed out to long on leaving ninth-wicket pair Gareth Batty and Imran Tahir with the task of scoring 12 from the last over from David Wiese, who was bowling his only over of the night.
Wiese conceded singles off the first two balls then Tahir stylishly upper-cut a full toss for six. Two runs came off the next two deliveries, leaving Batty to score three to win off the final ball. He drove to long on and the pair scrambled back for a second after Sussex missed with two throws at the stumps, either of which would have run him out had they been on target.
Mills said: "We played some good cricket and it was a shame we couldn't quite get over the line but credit to Surrey, they kept going.
"I have had a little bit of a sore back in the last couple of weeks but I felt good tonight. I haven't really bowled much since March so it was good to be back out there. We didn't win but we're still unbeaten and although we're probably not going to see much of Jofra (Archer) again we've got Alex Carey, who had a fantastic World Cup, and Chris Jordan to come in so we're in a good place as a team."
Earlier, Sussex had finished on 144 for 8 which was something of a disappointment after skipper Luke Wright and Phil Salt had smashed 50 in the first four overs.
Salt, dropped by Curran off his second ball when on nought, hit 27 off ten balls including successive sixes off Jade Dernbach. But the Sharks were never the same when he holed out later in the same over and it needed an unbeaten 76 from skipper Wright to get them to a competitive total.
Sussex only managed six boundaries after the sixth over with Wright unable to go onto the offensive because wickets were falling too regularly at the other end. Veteran off-spinner Batty had figures of 3 for 8 at one stage while only Ben Brown (10) got into double figures. Wright hit 14 off Jordan Clarke in the 18th over and finished with 76 off 59 balls including a six and nine fours.
THE TURNING POINT: Surrey were on course for victory when Tymal Mills produced two rockets in the 18th over to dismiss Tom Curran and Ryan Patel.
SHOT OF THE DAY: Imran Tahir’s upper cut for six in the final over off David Wiese should have set up Surrey for victory but they were unable to close the deal.
UNSUNG HERO: Gareth Batty knocked the stuffing out of the Sussex batting with three wickets in successive overs.
WHAT’S NEXT: Sussex head to Taunton on Sunday to play Somerset while Surrey are back at the Kia Oval next Tuesday when they entertain Kent.