Sussex began their year as County Champions with a whimper, allowing a tail-end batsman to record his maiden hundred and another promising Leicestershire youngster to score his second century in five innings. But at least they finished with a bang.
After a gaffe by John Carr, an England and Wales Cricket Board official, who initially congratulated "Surrey" on winning the title (boos from the good-natured crowd quickly put him right), a fusillade of fireworks saluted the handing-over of the winners' cheque for £105,000 and the Lord's Taverners' Trophy to the 2003 County Champions.
But they took their time about disposing of Leicestershire. It needed a stunning spell of five wickets for six runs in 25 balls by the left-arm paceman Jason Lewry to wrap up their 10th victory of the campaign. That equalled the record for the number of wins set last season by the deposed champions, Surrey.
Until Lewry took matters into his own deadly left hand, it had been an inauspicious start to Sussex's reign as the champion county. They looked and played like 11 men with a monstrous collective hangover. This was the morning after the day and night before. And it showed.
If the Pakistan selectors had been watching the goings-on, it would have backed up Aamir Sohail's dismissal of the County Championship when speaking of the possible selection of Sussex's leg-spinner, Mushtaq Ahmed, for the forthcoming Test series against South Africa.
"The quality of opposition in the County Championship is not very high," the chairman of selectors said, so Mushtaq, who claimed 103 Championship wickets for Sussex, will have to prove himself in a one-day practice game against the South Africans next week.
It was Leicestershire's last man, David Masters, who proved himself yesterday - with the bat. He had been sent in on Thurday as a nightwatchman, but on an overcast morning he was allowed to progress in relatively troublefree fashion to his first first-class hundred - the second 50 of his near four-hour effort occupying just 49 balls.
The 208 runs he helped put on with the excellent John Sadler - the latter playing in only his sixth Championship match - made serious inroads into the Sussex first-innings advantage of 435 runs.
And with Sadler going on to reach 145, the same score that he made to thwart Surrey a month ago, there was a real prospect of the game dragging itself into an anti-climactic fourth day.
Thankfully Lewry had other ideas, whipping out Darren Maddy and Paul Nixon in successive balls. Two overs later Sadler and the Leicestershire captain, Phillip DeFreitas, departed. When Vasbert Drakes was caught behind shortly after, it presented Lewry with a career best 8 for 106 and the celebrations started all over again.Reuse content