Rawlins makes county breakthrough

  • Promising start: Rawlins, centre, joins in the celebrations after the fall of a Kent wicket on a successful first session for Sussex (Photograph by Getty Images)

Delray Rawlins completed a meteoric rise through English cricket to make his first-class debut for Sussex yesterday.

The 19-year-old Bermudian, who was the star of the England Under-19 tour to India this winter, was handed his county cap for his debut in Sussex’s opening Specsavers County Championship second division match against Kent at Hove.

Kent, who won the toss, scored 304 before being dismissed late on the opening day of the four-day match. Sussex replied with 11 for one off six overs to trail by 293 runs.

Rawlins, due to bat at No 3, was held back when Chris Nash was trapped leg-before by Matt Coles in the fifth over, with nightwatchman Ajmal Shahzad coming in and surviving six deliveries before play ended for the day.

Kent’s decision to bat first at the 1st Central County Ground looked questionable after Sussex, led by a good spell from opener Jofra Archer, reduced the visitors to 180 for six at tea. However, a knock of 51 not out, including eight fours, by Wayne Parnell, the No 8 batsman, provided some late resistance for Kent.

Opener Sean Dickson and No 6 Darren Stevens were joint top-scorers with 68.

Dickson scored his runs off 179 balls with eight fours and a six while Stevens faced 83 balls and hit 11 fours.

Rawlins was not called up to bowl his left-arm spin as Sussex used six bowlers, with Archer claiming career-best figures of seven for 67 from 23.3 overs and Ajmal Shahzad three for 91 off 21 overs. Archer, born in Barbados, signed a new two-year contract extension with Sussex in late 2016, after first putting pen to paper on a professional deal in August of the same year.

Like Rawlins, Archer, who turned 22 on April 1, is seen as one of the club’s brightest prospects and the new deal will keep the pace bowler at Hove until at least the end of the 2019 season. The former West Indies Under-19 bowler enjoyed a fine breakthrough season at Hove last year, culminating with him winning Sussex’s Young Player of the Year award last season.

Rawlins left Bermuda six years ago mainly as a spinner, but has improved tremendously with the bat and is now used high in the order. He will come in at the fall of the next Sussex wicket. He is in the company of a slew of past or present internationals, including Vernon Philander, the South Africa Test bowler ranked eleventh in the world, former England players Luke Wright, the captain, and Ajmal Shahzad, and former South Africa Test batsman Stiaan van Zyl, who, along with David Wiese, has signed as a Kolpak player.

Rawlins is the first Bermudian to play first-class cricket and the second Bermudian-born player, after David Hemp in 1991 with Glamorgan, to make the grade at County Championship level.

His decision in the past couple of years to skip Cup Match, following his debut in 2014, and to delay making his Eastern Counties debut with Bailey’s Bay last year have proven to be two significant decisions by Rawlins, with his success in India followed by some outstanding performances with some good performances for his county in preseason.

In a recent Sussex warm-up match against Cardiff MCCU, featuring another Bermudian, Kamau Leverock, Rawlins made 21 and a duck. However, opinions of the youngster had long been formed, with head coach Mark Davis revealing that Rawlins was in his first-team plans for this summer after recently signing a new contract at Hove.

Sussex have a number of new faces in their squad for the 2017 season. Batsman Laurie Evans has joined from Warwickshire, while South Africa trio Philander, Van Zyl and Wiese have all arrived in time for the first match. All four are playing against Kent.

Philander, who is available as an overseas player for the first six County Championship matches and the group stages of the Royal London One-Day Cup, has enjoyed a fine international winter, helping South Africa to three Test series wins.

Matt Machan (wrist), Luke Wells (knee) and Ollie Robinson (shin) all missed Sussex’s first match of the season through injury.