Sussex 339 & 243-3, Notts 558-7 dec (Match drawn): Yardy resistance undoes Notts' hopes of victory

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The Independent Online

The Sussex member folded his arms and said, to no one in particular: "You've got to be a real cricket lover to put up with this." He was watching Sussex bat all day to grind out a draw against a weakened Nottinghamshire attack. But real cricket lovers understood that the result was more significant as the performance.

Division One of the County Championship is as close this year as it has ever been, with at least six potential champions vying for top spot with four weeks to go. At 4.50pm yesterday Nottinghamshire, having got four points for the draw against Sussex, moved three points ahead of Somerset at the top. That position could have proved short-lived.

At Scarborough, Kent fought back relentlessly against Yorkshire. Having started the day only 43 runs ahead with five wickets standing, they batted on boldly to reach 433, setting Yorkshire 208 to win. Kent managed to take nine Yorkshire wickets for 179; had they got that last wicket they would have moved top of the table by a single point. Now they lie third.

In fact, the favourites for the title are neither Nottinghamshire nor Kent. Both Somerset and Durham, neither of whom have ever won the championship, have a game in hand of their rivals. Those two teams play each other at Taunton on 9 September.

Asked about Sussex's prospects, Mark Robinson, their coach, said: "Yes, we could still go down, but we could also win it." Having watched his team salvage a draw on a rare hot day at Hove, he was statistically correct. Sussex have 133 points and must now play Durham at the Riverside and Yorkshire at home and away. Three wins and they would be title contenders, but don't bet on it.

Durham have impressed Robinson this season but they have to play, and presumably beat, Somerset and Kent if they are to win. Two of Durham's games are at the Riverside, on a square that Kent's captain, Robert Key, described as "an absolute disgrace" when Kent lost there early on the third day.

The weather will probably be no less significant than the cricket. Rain dealt a cruel blow to Surrey yesterday, when their match against Lancashire at Blackpool was abandoned without a ball being bowled. Surrey are bottom of the table with 110 points and, with games to come against Kent and Nottinghamshire, their chances of survival have become minimal. The number of teams that could accompany them down to Division Two are almost as numerous as the potential title winners, but more rain in Lancashire will put the red-rose county in peril.

After the drawn game against Sussex, Nottinghamshire must feel their chances slipping away. To get maximum points they had to dismiss Sussex for less than 219 yesterday but they only managed to take three wickets. The pitch was utterly placid – a great disappointment to Sussex's supporters – and Nottinghamshire were without Samit Patel and Graeme Swann.

As the end approached, Nottinghamshire's captain, Chris Read, surrendered the keeper's gloves to Bilal Shafayat and bowled the last over himself. By that time Murray Goodwin had scored his fifth hundred of the summer, a fine innings which would have entertained even jaded cricket lovers. But the Sussex hero was Michael Yardy.

He has had a disappointing season but he occupied the crease for all but the last few overs of the innings yesterday. Apart from an uncharacteristic episode when he dispatched Darren Pattinson to the boundary five times in two overs, Yardy was the soul of discretion. His first hundred of the season seemed to be only a matter of time when he gave a low return catch to Robert Ferley, seven runs short of his goal.

Yardy had batted three minutes short of five hours. Goodwin's hundred took only seven minutes over three hours. Sussex have had a poor season with the bat, and during this game Mushtaq Ahmed announced that he is no longer fit enough to play first-class cricket. Robinson described Mushy as Sussex's "get out of jail card". Without him, the current champions are improbable contenders.