Sussex confirmed they are serious contenders for the Championship and kept the points gap between themselves and leaders Surrey to 26 with a victory forged on a 172- run fourth-wicket partnership between Tony Cottey and Tim Ambrose. Their discipline and skill mirrored their first-innings efforts, when they put on 178, and ensures Sussex's game in hand is not wasted.
It also sets up a fantastic contest against Surrey at Hove, starting on 30 July. A classic double-pointer with many personal battles to distract those interested, and none more exciting than that between the two forgotten Mushtaqs of Pakistan spin bowling, Ahmed and Saqlain.
It did not look so promising when Cottey and Ambrose came together before lunch, however. Chris Adams had gone first ball, well caught at short leg by Aftab Habib, and the scoreboard showed 32 for 3. The target of 256 was never daunting, but the pitch was slow and lacked bounce, incredibly so, really, and therefore offered little to either batters or bowlers. Indeed it is the only negative about cricket at Arundel Castle, because the setting, a wooded bowl and rolling fields, is magnificent.
The two doughty competitors initially stemmed Essex's momentum with stout defence, stonewalling even, and then started to whittle away the runs required with aggressive running between the wickets, shrewd nudges into gaps in the cover area and midwicket, and a selection of deft sweeps and cuts behind square.
Cottey is just the man for these situations. He fairly bristles defiance, schemes and plots like a Shakespeare villain, and left the field to suitable applause two short of a deserved century, with 52 still needed. Jonathan Dakin's efforts warranted the wicket, as he had run in hard, but Ambrose immediately assumed the aggressive role, slashed him twice through cover and regained the initiative.
It was a mature performance from Ambrose; although he was well marshalled by Cottey, he never threatened to offer the Essex bowlers the succour they craved. Instead he continued to grind out a high-class innings - one based on substance rather than style, but rarely will he score a more substantial 93.
It was some of his stubbornness that Essex missed in the morning. Their last three wickets added only 20, when 50 or even a few more would have allowed Ronnie Irani to be slightly more attacking with his spinners and forced the Sussex batters to pursue more adventure and risk.
Irani had the perfect combination, with an off-spinner, James Middlebrook, and left-arm tweaker, Paul Grayson. Instead, possibly aware of the few runs to play with, Grayson bowled over the wicket and into the bowlers' footmarks.
It was negative, albeit understandably so with the small target, but was much easier for Sussex to defend against. Essex needed invention or pressure, but it gave them neither as Cottey and Ambrose were too shrewd and manipulative. Both padded up frequently, aware that any error in line or length could be nudged for a run and that wickets were their enemy, not runs.
Essex now must be concerned about the relegation zone. They have played more matches than every other side. They need to eke out another couple of victories, but their bowling looks too weak to blast a side out and their spinners are not match-winners.
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