Next to bottom a little over three weeks ago, Sussex, the defending champions, could leap to third place in the First Division table should they win here. Yet they face a trickier task than looked to be on the cards at tea yesterday, when they were probably contemplating a day off.
Instead, they will come back this morning with 162 runs to chase and, if the weather matches up to yesterday's grim forecast, the possibility that they will be thwarted by a rainy Saturday for the second weekend in a row.
For that they can blame themselves a little but not before credit has been duly given to Lancashire's intrepid tail, who turned a tea score of 181 for 8 into 285 all out, leaving Sussex with the awkward matter of 176 runs to score on a dusty, biscuit-coloured pitch with an unreliable nature.
Their tormentors yesterday were Dominic Cork and Glenn Chapple, two wily old campaigners with unparalleled knowledge of conditions here, who sized up the threat posed by the Sussex spinners and decided there was little point in being timid.
Targeting Ollie Rayner, the talented but inexperienced off-spinner, in particular, but certainly not sparing Mushtaq Ahmed, who struggled to establish a consistent rhythm on his comeback from knee surgery, Cork smashed an exuberant 43 off only 36 balls in a partnership for the ninth wicket with Chapple that added 78 runs in 12 overs.
After his five wickets in the first innings, this was a test of character for 22-year-old Rayner as the veteran Cork – 37 two days ago – charged down the track to hit four fours and two sixes in consecutive overs.
He was out trying to slog-sweep Mushtaq, the ball flying off the leading edge to Luke Wright at mid-off. But Lancashire's late flourish was not over. Chapple, 34, and with six first-class centuries in his career, continued the assault, if in a more measured way, to pass fifty for the 34th time and, farming the strike cleverly, might have added more had Saj Mahmood not been unluckily run out at the non-striker's end when Jason Lewry directed a Chapple drive on to the stumps.
It meant that Stuart Law's 73 was not the wasted effort it appeared to be when the departure of Luke Sutton, caught off bat and pad off Mushtaq, left Lancashire eight down at tea. Law took his aggregate against Sussex for Lancashire to 1,539 at an average of 109.93 but was denied an eighth hundred when, mistiming a drive, he chipped Lewry straight to cover.
Cork was unlucky not to finish with a wicket in a hostile spell at the Statham End, Steven Croft putting down a chance at gully when Chris Nash was on nought.