It requires only a superficial assessment of Sussex's current state to realise that in what remains of the season the form and fitness of Mushtaq Ahmed are likely to be key to their prospects of winning a third Championship in a row.
No team has achieved that distinction since Yorkshire 40 years ago and the odds are probably against Sussex this time. It was a cause for celebration, then, that their captain, Chris Adams, was able to announce the return of the 38-year-old wrist-spinner after his second knee operation of the summer for what may be a pivotal fixture.
Adams knows that Mushtaq may never again reach the level of effectiveness that enabled him to claim 101 Championship wickets in 2006 and another 90 last season. He predicts also that Mushtaq will have to play in some pain. He will have been delighted, then, to employ him for 28 overs yesterday, during which he bent his knees regularly enough, in pleading for the umpire to see his point of view, to suggest he was not hurting too much.
The cries, as usual, were made in anguish, increasingly until, in what turned out to be his last over, he was at last given the answer he wanted as Gary Keedy was leg before to a leg break. In the event, he had to play second fiddle to a bowler 16 years his junior.
If Mushtaq's best days are behind him, Ollie Rayner, the tall off-spinner, has his to come. The 22-year-old academy graduate announced himself with a century on debut two years ago but it is in his skill with the ball that Sussex have invested most optimism. In that regard, there are signs he has made a breakthrough in the last three weeks.
It was on the back of his first five-wicket return in the Championship against Hampshire at Arundel that Sussex clinched only their second win of the summer. Finding turn and bounce on a sparsely-grassed pitch here, he added another five as Lancashire, having chosen to bat, scraped a solitary batting point.
They were lucky even to manage that. Early swing for Jason Lewry and Luke Wright reduced them to 31 for 4 before a recovery of sorts was forged by Francois du Plessis and Steven Croft, but then Rayner went to work, catching Du Plessis off his own bowling and then tempting Croft into the drive with a nicely flighted ball that was edged to slip. Glenn Chapple fell in similar fashion.
Luke Sutton and Dominic Cork helped Lancashire past 200, the former batting for three hours for his unbeaten 45, Cork chipping in with a useful 32 despite trouble in picking up Lewry's fuller ball from the Stretford End, a problem that obliged the groundstaff to cover some windows with a tablecloth.
Rayner eventually had him leg before when he came around the wicket at the Statham End before completing his five when Saj Mahmood holed out.
l Graeme Hick hit his 136th first-class century as table-topping Worcestershire put Derbyshire to the sword in the Division Two match at New Road. The 42-year-old made 149 before the hosts declared on 450 for eight off 82.2 overs. It was his highest first-class score for two years and contained two sixes and 18 fours from 151 balls in three hours. Hick was joined in the run feast by Ben Smith (76), Steve Davies (71) and Vikram Solanki (54). Derbyshire were 27 without loss off 11 overs at the close.Reuse content