Prior glimpses promised land

Middlesex 392 Sussex 401-8

Their team may be on the verge of winning the County Championship for the first time in 22 years, but their supporters either cannot, or will not believe it. It is almost as if they want something to prevent it happening.

So yesterday, while Matthew Prior and Mark Davis were compiling a record seventh-wicket stand for Sussex against Middlesex, rumour enveloped the County Ground like one of Hove's famous sea frets.

Apparently Mushtaq Ahmed had been called up by Pakistan and was off at the end of the match. Mushtaq, who last played Test cricket in 2001, has claimed 95 Championship wickets to date, so it is little wonder that his country want the 33-year-old leg-spinner back into the Test fold.

But they will not get him just yet. Peter Moores, the Sussex director of cricket explained: "The Pakistan board have certainly talked to Mushy, but he is committed to Sussex until the end of the season. However, there is a very real chance that he will play for Pakistan this winter."

Mushtaq did feature late on yesterday, but as a batsman, clubbing, flogging and slogging his way to a useful half-century after the top order had fallen foul of conditions in the morning.

That was when the excellent Chad Keegan and Simon Cook exploited the heavy atmosphere, the swing and movement they induced leaving Sussex not so much by the sea as all at sea. The specialists were barely into double figures (Tony Cottey did at least pass 1,000 runs for the eighth time in his career) as the Middlesex attack reduced them to a quivering 107 for 6.

Had it not been for that magnificent seventh-wicket partnership of 195 between Matthew Prior and Mark Davis the pretenders to Surrey's crown would have been in a sorry state.

Prior, who has been short-listed for an academy place this winter, has been given responsibility as a batsman latterly, the role of wicketkeeping falling to Tim Ambrose.

And the release from the pressure of maintaining standards in two disciplines appears to have paid dividends. Since he was relieved of his gloveman's duties seven matches ago the South Africa born right-hander has flourished with the bat.

This was his fourth century of the season, his second in successive innings, and it positively glittered. It came at a run a ball, and he even threatened to reach three figures in the way he had done so against Essex at Colchester in the previous match, with a couple of sixes. The first yesterday took him to 99 but on this occasion he eschewed flamboyance, contenting himself with a single to mid-on off the 101st ball of his excellent innings.

For a 21-year-old the former Brighton College pupil displayed immense character and circumspection as he, with no little help from Davis, pulled Sussex out of the mire and safely past the follow-on figure of 242. And Davis carried on the good work, finishing the day unbeaten on 97 with more than four hours of graft at his back.

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