For a while it seemed that Mushtaq Ahmed, whose wickets have turned Sussex into unlikely contenders for the Championship, would run through Leicestershire with some ease, even on a batting track of midsummer friendliness.
Despite sapping heat, the Pakistan wrist-spinner almost singlehandedly reduced the home side to 154 for 6, his first 13 overs at the Bennett End yielding five wickets. His ability to bamboozle batsmen remains wonderfully potent and 60 victims so far make him the leading wicket-taker in the Championship.
Not for the first time, however, Leicestershire were dragged out of trouble by their captain, Phillip DeFreitas. In his 38th year, the former England all-rounder not only leads the side on to the field but does much of the bowling and appears lately to have become their most reliable batsman.
On this occasion, he made a hundred, his first this season and the 10th of his career, taking on Mushtaq and winning. Leicestershire finished with an unexpectedly respectable total, still short of what DeFreitas had in mind when he won the toss but at least providing a foothold in the game.
Leicestershire are not bottom of the First Division without reason and Mushtaq exposed the frailty of their batting, weakened further by the absence because of a back injury of the Indian, Virender Sehwag.
Critically, he removed both Darren Maddy and Darren Stevens before lunch and two more wickets immediately after the interval had Leicestershire in real trouble. A bat-pad catch held by a diving Richard Montgomerie at silly point to halt Brad Hodge's progress left them six down. The loss of Jason Lewry from the Sussex attack because of a strain seemed incidental.
But the fightback began when Jeremy Snape was joined by DeFreitas, who escaped a vivid appeal for a catch. He responded by pulling Mushtaq for four, the first of 15 in an innings that would cost almost three hours of sweat and toil but would amply illustrate the stature the one-time rebel now enjoys as one of the game's elder statesmen.
Snape and DeFreitas added 96 for the seventh wicket, after which the pace bowler, Charlie Dagnall, not known as a batsman of particular patience, played Mushtaq very well in helping his captain add another 69 for the ninth wicket.
DeFreitas was visibly tired by the time he was bowled by Robin Martin-Jenkins but he had left Sussex, who are seeking to close a gap of 26 points between themselves and leaders Surrey, with something to do to get their noses in front. They set themselves up nicely by reaching 51 without loss.Reuse content