Sussex start party early as Mushtaq makes mark

Leicestershire 179 Sussex 137-1
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The Independent Online

To see the wild celebrations and cavorting around the pitch by Mushtaq Ahmed, followed by hugs and huddles by the whole team on the stroke of lunch yesterday, anyone would have thought Sussex had just won the County Championship.

They had not. Although by mid-afternoon they had got halfway to the six points that they require to be crowned champions for the first time in their history. That should happen sometime today.

The reason for the seemingly premature party mood was because Mushtaq, in dismissing the Leicestershire batsman Brad Hodge with a leg-break that picked up a bit of pace off the pitch and forced the batsman on to the back foot before bowling him, had reached the historic mark of 100 wickets for the season.

It made Mushtaq the first spinner since Anil Kumble in 1995 to reach three figures and also made the Sussex man a tidy sum of money. He had negotiated a deal for every wicket after 50, which reportedly was worth £50 for 51-60 wickets, £100 for 61-70, £200 for 71-80, £300 for 81-90 and £400 for 91-100.

Little wonder that the former Pakistan Test player ran around like a lunatic before coming off for lunch - his 100th victim was worth £10,500 to him. After his successes of the day Mushtaq, who has been sounded out by the Pakistan selectors about his availability for the forthcoming series against South Africa, revealed that he is in negotiations to play for Sussex for a further two years. They will probably be willing to pay a king's ransom for him.

Leicester is something of a rabbit warren for Mushtaq. Last season, in the second of his two games for Surrey, he picked up eight wickets at Grace Road. On his return to the ground this summer he went even better, claiming 10 wickets in the match.

Yesterday, after reaching his hundred, he carried on the good work and sparked a dramatic collapse which saw Leicestershire lose four wickets in successive overs, two to Mushtaq, two for Billy Taylor.

The former's re-emergence after so long in the wilderness - he was playing for Little Stoke in the Staffordshire League when Surrey unearthed him - is little short of miraculous. He took 118 wickets for the club and said he has also been the leading first-class wicket-taker for National Bank in Pakistan for the last two seasons over there.

"I never gave up hope of playing county cricket again," the 33-year-old said. "And if I do not get called up by Pakistan this time, I will keep on trying." What with Mushy's magic - he finished with 4 for 71 - and Robin Martin-Jenkins' return of 12-6-20-3, Leicestershire had no chance. They are already relegated and their first-innings demise underlined their lowly status. Only Darren Maddy provided resistance with a dogged half-century.

Although Sussex then lost an early wicket, when Richard Montgomerie pushed forward to Phillip DeFreitas and was caught behind, the champions elect recovered quickly, with Murray Goodwin scoring a fluent, unbeaten half-century as he and Tony Cottey compiled an unbroken century stand that put Sussex well on the way to that all-important total of 300.

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